Better Breakfasts: Blueberry-Walnut Steel-Cut Oats

Blueberry-Walnut Steel-Cut Oats

Lounging lazily in one corner of the freezer, there’s a bag of at least a pound of plump blueberries left over from a slightly overzealous blueberry-picking expedition last summer. Every now and then, a handful gets tossed into a smoothie, but they’re starting to show signs of freezer burn and I’ve been trying to come up with other ways to use them. This morning, as I reached into the freezer for the steel-cut oats to make some porridge for breakfast, my eye landed on the neglected bag of berries and I thought of stirring some in with the oats as they simmered. I added some walnut pieces as well (toasted first to bring out their warm, nutty flavor) and a little vanilla extract. The result was fantastic: not only did the porridge taste almost freakishly like a blueberry muffin (a much healthier version, however), it had a gorgeous lavender color, swirled with streaks of bright violet. A cheerful touch to a rather bleak and snowy morning.

Blueberry-Walnut Steel-Cut Oats

1 cup water
1 cup milk (I used 2% — you can substitute with your dairy replacement of choice, or use all water, though the result will be less creamy)
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup quick-cooking steel-cut oats (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 TB walnut pieces, lightly toasted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Bring water, milk, and salt just to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Stir in the oats, turn the heat to low, and simmer 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently with the handle of a wooden spoon (or a spurtle, should you happen to have one). When there are about 4 minutes left (for frozen) or 3 minutes left (for fresh), stir in the blueberries.
  3. When the oats have reached your preferred tenderness, turn off the heat, stir in the walnuts, and let sit for 2 minutes to thicken.
  4. Just before serving, stir in the vanilla extract. Serve as-is or topped with brown sugar, maple syrup, honey…or your sweetener of choice.

Strawberry Picking Ice Cream

Berry picking in Ipswich.

This past Sunday, I went strawberry picking with my friend Denise. Our trip to Russell Orchards in Ipswich was not very fruitful (pun most certainly intended). The place was pretty much picked over (I meant that one, too). After hours of backbreaking manual labor we’d each managed to collect barely a quart of tiny, sort-of ripe, slightly shriveled berries that had already started molding the next day.

Strawberries picked at Russell Orchards. “Slim pickin’s.”

But Denise was not about to settle for such substandard strawberries, and tried again yesterday at Verrill Farms in Concord. This time, she hit the jackpot: shiny, sweet, deep red, flavor-packed gems. Armed with this luscious new supply of fruit, I was ready to try out my brand-new ice cream maker, the Cuisinart ICE-21.

Strawberries picked at Verrill Farms. “Super berries.”

Besides the poor quality and scarce quantity of berries, the oppressive heat this past week deterred me from making ice cream, since all of the recipes I found called for cooking a custard base. As soon as I saw the words “double boiler,” I was put off. But then I spotted this beautifully simple GourmetPerfect No-Cook Strawberry Ice Cream” recipe and regained interest in the Strawberry Ice Cream project. My only modifications were to sub whole milk for half of the cream (sometimes I find ice creams made only with heavy cream a bit greasy) and to add a bit of vodka to keep the ice cream from getting too rock-hard in the freezer. This was my first go with the Cuisinart, but clearly the yield of this recipe was a bit much for it, since it started overflowing within the first five minutes. Next time, I’ll either halve the recipe or freeze it in two batches. If you have an ice cream maker with a larger capacity (the ICE-21 allegedly holds up to 1-1/2 quarts, but couldn’t contain this recipe, which supposedly yields exactly 1-1/2 quarts), then go for it all at once. As I frantically spooned the excess into a bowl, the ice cream stopped rotating around the blade at one point, and I couldn’t tell if this was because my machine was malfunctioning (hope not) or because I’d poked at it with a spatula, and it was annoyed. We’ll see how the next batch goes.

As for the ice cream itself, it was fantastic: rich and smooth, and a stunning deep pink color. Actually, though completely natural, it was kind of a crazy pink color — it could easily have been described as either “shocking pink” (my mother’s favorite color) or “Pepto-Bismol-y.” Since it was uncooked, it had retained the tang of fresh berries and wasn’t overly sweet. Ice cream success!

Homemade shocking-pink strawberry ice cream.

No-Cook Strawberry Ice Cream
Makes 1-1/2 quarts

1 lb strawberries, washed and trimmed
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
pinch salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vodka (I used Smirnoff 100 proof)

Partially mash the strawberries with the sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl, using a potato masher. Let sit for 10 minutes. Transfer half to another bowl and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Mix the two halves back together, stir in the cream and vodka until well combined, and chill in a metal bowl in the refrigerator for about 3 hours, then freeze in an ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container (tightly covering the surface with a piece of plastic wrap before putting on the lid) and freeze until firm (another few hours).

Farmers’ Market Friday: Green Garlic

Spring has finally, officially returned and with it, the Copley Square Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a few days, I will start my fantastic new job at America’s Test Kitchen, and since I will only be working half-day Fridays all summer (!!!!), I’ll be able to visit the market on my way home, and early enough in the day that it should still have a good selection. Last year, I had to content myself with whatever dregs were left at the end of the day, and most stands were usually already packing up to leave by the time I arrived at the market. I can’t understand why farmers’ markets in the Boston area have hours that make them practically inaccessible to anyone who works full-time, particularly if you consider their astronomical prices.

This first week, not all of the usual stands were there yet. I saw Old Friends Farm, Iggy’s Bread, and a new fresh-pasta stand, Nella Pasta. At the Siena Farms stand, I was fascinated by the beautiful, long stalks of green garlic. I’d never cooked or eaten it before, so I decided to give it a shot. My goal is to try one vegetable or fruit that is completely new to me each week; I love the challenge of figuring out what to do with it. Green garlic — a young garlic plant harvested before the lower part of the stalk has begun to form the bulbous head of garlic cloves — is a particularly ephemeral item that is only available for a few short weeks in the early spring.

I took the stalk of garlic home, somehow managed to angle it into the fridge (it was nearly two feet long, from the roots to the tips of the leaves), and noticed that the leaves started to wilt soon after. The woman I’d spoken to at the farm stand had told me that the dark green leaves are inedible, in any case. You can only eat the pale green and white parts of the stalk, just like with leeks.

Green garlic can be used raw or cooked. I sampled a small piece raw to see how it tastes. The plant itself gives off a strong garlic scent, and it definitely tasted garlicky, but it’s milder than raw garlic cloves, and with less of a pungent, bitter edge. I decided to cook the garlic into a soup with a bunch of young sweet-pea shoots that I’d also bought at the market. The soup that I made turned out absolutely delicious, tasting of springtime, although it wasn’t as smoothly textured as I’d have liked. I blended with an immersion blender for several minutes but could not get the pieces of pea shoot any smaller. Adding dairy (such as cream or crème fraîche) to the soup might help give it a more velvety texture, but I wanted to keep it light and spring-y.

Green Garlic and Sweet-Pea Shoot Soup

(Serves 2)

1 TB unsalted butter
1 stalk green garlic (white and pale green parts only), finely minced
2 cups water or broth (vegetable or chicken)
1 bunch sweet-pea shoots
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

  1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized stockpot over low heat, and then add the green garlic.
  2. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent.
  3. Add water or broth; season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Cover pot and bring to a boil, then toss in the pea shoots, cover again, reduce heat and simmer gently for about 5 minutes, or until shoots are wilted and tender.
  5. Puree using an immersion blender, blender, or food processor.
  6. Stir in lemon juice and serve immediately.

This would also be nice served topped with a dollop of crème fraîche, either plain or flavored with fresh mint.

William Woodville: „Medical botany“, London, J...

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Carrot and Cilantro Soup

Carrot and Cilantro Soup

Carrot and Cilantro Soup

Our Deep Winter CSA share from Red Fire Farm was far more interesting this week: carrots, baby salad greens, beets, garlic, cilantro (With the roots! Cilantro roots are an important ingredient in Thai cooking and very difficult to find in this country.), red onions, cabbage, radishes, and an amazing Jersey Cheddar cheese from The Farmstead at Mine Brook.

Tonight I used the carrots and cilantro to make this velvety, comforting soup. It’s good served with toasted and buttered slices of a hearty bread. I used Tuscan Wheat from When Pigs Fly bakery.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 lb onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 lbs carrots, peeled and sliced thin
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed, dried, and roughly chopped
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  1. In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add coriander and cumin and stir well.
  2. Add onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add carrots and water and salt to taste.
  4. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, cover, and let simmer for about 30 minutes or until carrots are very soft.
  5. Remove pot from heat and stir in cream.
  6. Puree the soup thoroughly until it is velvety and smooth (a hand-held immersion blender works well for this step, although you can also use a food processor or upright blender).
  7. Adjust seasonings as desired, then stir in cilantro and serve.

Pork Chops with Rubbed Sage and Apples

Pork Chops with Sage and Apples, Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf, Celeriac and Carrots

A comforting meal for “extreme cold” alert nights.

3/4 tsp sage leaves, rubbed between your fingers (to release the flavor) and finely minced
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp (a pinch) ground allspice
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 TB flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 bone-in pork chops, about 1″ thick
1 TB olive oil
1/2 a medium onion, thinly sliced
1 Braeburn apple, sliced into thin sections (about 1/4″ thick)
1/2 cup applesauce mixed with 1 TB water to thin
1/2 TB brown sugar

Mix flour with spices and salt in a bowl. Distribute half of the minced garlic evenly over the pork chops and then sprinkle seasoned flour evenly over the surface of each chop.  Turn and repeat – reserving about 1 tsp of the seasoned flour for later.

Heat oil in a large skillet, then add chops and brown on both sides over medium-high heat. Remove chops from the skillet and set aside. Add onion to skillet and cook for 3 minutes or until softened, stirring frequently. Add apples to the skillet, cook and stir for about 2 minutes.

Add in the applesauce, water, brown sugar, and reserved seasoned flour. Mix well. Clear a space in the middle of the skillet and return chops to the skillet. Bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to low – cover and simmer for about 5 minutes over low heat or until pork chops are done.

We had this for dinner last night with toasted almond rice pilaf and celeriac cooked with carrots (both the  celeriac and carrots were from our winter CSA share).

Pickled Beets

Rainbow Beets

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious…The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip…The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.

The beet was Rasputin‘s favorite vegetable. You could see it in his eyes.”

Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

I just bought a bunch of absolutely beautiful rainbow beets from the Copley Square Farmer’s Market, and prepared them by roasting them in the oven, then pickling them. A lovely way to bid a bittersweet farewell to the farmer’s market, to the Fall, and prepare for the approaching Winter…

Pickled Beets

  • 4-6 large beets, tops cut off, leaving about 1″ remaining (Do not discard beet greens! They’re delicious and nutritious and can be cooked like any other hearty green.)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 TB kosher salt
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400 °F. Wash beets well, then wrap each beet in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, testing with a knife – when the blade slides in easily, they are ready. Remove from oven and cool enough to peel off the skins – they should slide off easily when the beets are rubbed.  Slice the beets into 1/4″-thick slices.  Bring the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to a boil. Add the beets and onion and cook for a minute or two.  Cool and refrigerate.  Can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.

Welsh Cakes

I bought these lovely little cakes from a bakery stand at the Swiss Cottage Farmers’ Market.  They remind me of something that might be eaten by Hobbits in Lord of the Rings.  They’re small (about 2 to 3 inches in diameter), dotted with currants and dusted with sugar.  Cooked on a griddle, they somewhat resemble tiny pancakes. Very traditional in Wales, they were originally cooked on heated stones and often served to travelers upon their arrival at an inn. They’re quite simple to make and very nice for afternoon tea.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 8 TB unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup dried currants (or raisins) – optional
  • 6 TB caster (superfine) sugar (plus extra for dusting cakes)
  • milk (as needed to wet dough)

Mix flour and salt well in a medium bowl. Using your fingers (or a pastry cutter), rub the butter into the flour until it forms a coarse, even mixture resembling corn meal. Mix in the egg.  Stir in dried currants and sugar. Add  milk as needed to form a fairly stiff dough that you can shape into a ball. Roll out pastry onto a lightly floured surface to about 1/4″ thick and  cut out 2″-3″ rounds using a small pastry cutter.  Cook on a heavy iron griddle that has been greased with butter, over medium heat, for about 3 minutes on each side or until well browned. Remove from griddle and sprinkle with sugar while still warm. Best served warm, with butter and/or jam.

[Recipe inspired by Welsh Teatime Recipes and the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen.]

Moo Gratiem Prik Thai (Thai Garlic and Pepper Pork), with Prik Manow (Lime Chili Sauce)

Black and white peppercorns

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Now that I’ve moved back to California from Italy and again have easy access to Asian ingredients, I’ve started cooking Thai dishes more often. After testing several different recipes and some experimenting, I’ve improved upon one of my favorites — Moo Gratiem Prik Thai. It may come as a surprise to many lovers of spicy Thai cuisine, but since chili peppers were not introduced to Thailand from the Americas until the late 16th century, prior to that time black, white, and green peppercorns were used liberally for a “spicy-hot” flavor. In fact, the Thai name for peppercorns (black, white, or green) is prik thai or “Thai pepper”, hinting at its origins as the “original” Thai pepper. It may also surprise many Westerners to learn that this bold dish is often served for breakfast, with a steaming bowl of soft jasmine rice and chili-lime sauce.

Ingredients (to serve 4):

  • 1 lb lean, boneless pork chops or loin, cut into thin slices against the grain
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 TB crushed garlic
  • a few dashes of soy sauce (about 1/4-1/2 tsp, to taste)
  • 1/4 cup finely-chopped coriander (cilantro) root (it is sometimes difficult in the U.S. to find cilantro with the roots still attached — try a farmers’ market)
  • vegetable oil for frying

Pound the garlic, coriander root, white pepper and salt together to form a coarse paste in a mortar and pestle, or pulse in a food processor or blender. (If you use a blender or food processor, you may need to add a small amount of vegetable oil). Stir in the soy sauce.

Spread the resulting paste evenly over the pork slices and let sit for 1/2-2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.

Heat vegetable oil (traditionally the pork is deep fried in about 1 inch of oil, but I usually stir-fry it in a smaller amount — approximately 1 TB) in a wok until shimmering. Stir-fry the pork in the heated oil until it has lost all pink color but is still moist.

Serve with Prik Manow, a.k.a. Chili-Lime Sauce (below) and steamed jasmine rice.

Ingredients for Prik Manow:

  • 1/4 c + 2 TB freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3 TB fish sauce (nam plaa — I recommend “Tiparos” brand)
  • 4 small red Thai chili peppers (prik kee noo*) or Serrano chili peppers

Cut stems from peppers and chop them finely. Combine all ingredients in a small serving bowl and serve with the pork and rice.

*The name of this chili pepper means “mouse dropping pepper,” presumably referring to its size and shape.  They are usually sold as an assortment of green and red and can be found in most Asian markets.