Monday, June 21, 2010

Spaghetti w/Cauliflower, Broccoli, Mustard

Cauliflower is not my favorite vegetable. This is one of only a handful of recipes that actually gets me to buy it. Blended with the broccoli and mustard butter, the cauliflower gives body to the sauce. It has a light flavor that

This recipe is inspired by a similar recipe from Deborah Madison and Edward Espe Brown, founders of Green's Restaurant, a vegetarian restaurant on San Francisco Bay. To be honest, I've never been there. I just have the Green's Cookbook.

I've modified their original recipe to make it a little easier to prepare with ingredients I had on hand. For example, they used fresh spinach pasta, I used dried spaghetti. Fresh is probably better for this dish. I think it would be perfect over almost any flavored pasta, or even whole wheat pasta. The lovely and light flavors of the sauce enhance the flavor of the pasta, without covering it up.

Equipment needed
Large pot
Electric mixer or whisk
Mixing bowl
Frying pan
Measuring cups and spoons
Chef's knife

16 oz. dried spaghetti or other pasta
7 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons Dijon or other strong mustard.
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced.
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley, or 2 teaspoon dried
3 cups cauliflower florets, broken into tiny pieces
2 cups broccoli florets, cut into small florets
salt and pepper as needed
Parmesan, or other hard grating cheese.

Place the butter, along with the mustard, onion, garlic, vinegar and parsley, in a mixing bowl. Cream together with an electric mixer or whisk, and set aside. This can be done well in advance and refrigerated if needed.

Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. When the water starts to boil, salt the water to taste and drop in the broccoli and cauliflower. Return the water to a boil and cook the vegetables for about 1 minute. Remove the vegetables with a strainer, return the water to a boil, and add the pasta to the water.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the flavored butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cooked broccoli and cauliflower to the pan, along with 1/2 cup of the pasta water, and cook over medium heat for a few minutes to heat through until the sauce reduces slightly. Add the lemon juice and toss well. Cover the pan and turn off the heat.

When the pasta is done cooking, drain the water and toss with the sauce, along with salt and a generous amount ground black pepper to season. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sauces and Preserves Provide Instant Flavor

To add a quick jolt of flavor to a dish, whether it's at the table or during cooking, bottled sauces and preserves can really help. A dash of soy sauce or a few drops of Tabasco can instantly transform the flavor and character of a dish. There are a huge variety of bottled sauces on the market. Which ones to keep on stock are a matter of personal taste.
Tabasco Sauce
A fiery hot condiment made for a secret recipe involving hot peppers, this sauce is a favorite in many kitchens. It can be used in almost any dish where a kick of spicy heat is desired. Adding a few dashes to scrambled eggs gives flavorful life to an otherwise ordinary breakfast.

Horseradish Sauce
Traditionally, horseradish is mixed with vinegar and cream to make this pungent sauce. It can be added to beef, cold cuts, smoked fish, chicken and eggs quite easily to add a strong kick to the dish.

Worcestershire Sauce
A piquant, salty sauce with tones of black pepper, anchovies, molasses and tamarind, Worcestershire can be added to many foods, sauces, marinades, and dressings. Try sprinkling a few drops on simple cooked vegetables, such as peas or green beans when served as side dishes to roast beef or veal to add complexity and help them stand up to the full flavors of the roast.

Tomato Ketchup (Catsup)
A unique blend of tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and spices, ketchup has been a staple in American kitchens for decades. Besides using on hamburgers and fries, it is often added to dressings, stews, relishes and other sauces. It is a base for of one of three different types of barbecue sauce (the other types using either mustard or vinegar). In some western states, it is mixed with mayonnaise to make fry sauce. My own fry sauce replaces the ketchup with chili sauce.

Soy Sauce
There are several blends of soy sauces and each has it's own characteristics. Chinese soy sauce is mild, dark, and has a strong salty flavor. Japanse soy sauce is less salty, and slightly sweet. It is a common ingredient in many Asian dishes and stir-fries. Think of it as Chinese ketchup.

There are as many flavors of chutney as there are curry powders. Some are sweet and fruity; others are hot and spicy. Chutney is used in many Indian dishes, dressings, and sauces. Chutneys can also make a great accompaniment with cheese or in combination with mayonnaise.

Fruit Jams/Jellies
Not just for sandwiches, fruit jellies can be add sweetness and color to gravies and sauces, especially those served with pork, poultry, and game meats. Red current jelly is a classic, but plum jam is a less expensive, and more flavorful alternative.

A stable emulsion of oil and vinegar or lemon juice, mayonnaise has been used for years in Europe and America as a sandwich spread; egg yolks are the most common emulsifier used. It's mild flavor is often enhanced by adding various herbs and spices. As the popularity of mayonnaise has grown, different countries have created their own unique variations.

Photo by OhWoww!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Legend of Zelda – The Birthday Cake

My son, the Boy, turned eighteen and graduated from high school all in the same month. We just had to do something amazing to celebrate. For me, something amazing means making birthday cake. It also means trying out new recipes.

The Boy is an unabashed Legend of Zelda fan. He's spent hours and hours (and days and days and weeks and weeks and ... you get the idea) playing most of the different Zelda games and, to be honest, I've spent hours and hours (do we have to go through this again?) watching him. He good at them, and some of the story lines are pretty cool so, it's kind of hard to look away from the screen. When the Boy's birthday rolled around, it was obvious. I had to make him a cake with a Legend of Zelda theme.

I was kind of pressed for time, but there wasn't a box of cake mix from downstairs, so I decided to make a chocolate cake from scratch, frosting and all. I tried out a particularly rich looking recipe this time around. Mixing up the batter was a nightmare with this recipe. It just seemed too thick, almost as thick as frosting. There must have been a mistake in the recipe, I thought so, I added extra milk until I thinned it down just a bit. It was still a lot thicker than most recipes I've made, even after adding what amounted to an additional cup of milk.

That was mistake number one.

The cake rose beautifully in the oven, but the center just wouldn't cook. I ended up having to bake it for nearly twenty minutes more than the recipe suggested. That wasn't the only problem, though. Because I'd thinned it down, there wasn't enough structure to hold the cake up and it fell before it was done cooking.

Oh, the cake was still tasty and moist. Melt in your mouth moist. It had insanely rich chocolate flavor, too. It was just half the thickness it should be and about as dense as bread pudding.

When things start to go wrong, I can get impatient, so I took it out on the frosting. That was mistake number two.

The home-made frosting came out great, I just didn't wait long enough to let the cake fully cool. When I tried spreading it over the top of the cake, it melted like butter on hot toast. Not the look I was going for.

I was able to salvage things by stopping and letting it cool down a bit more. This included a side a trip to the refrigerator for good measure, but it still looked funny.

Next came the Legend of Zelda part. I had found a copy of the Crest of Hyrule online and made a template of it. I had made yellow granulated sugar to dust the top of the cake with. In the past, when I've used powdered sugar or cocoa to pull off this trick, I'd been able to get away with printing the template out on regular copy paper and cutting it out. Thinking nothing of the relative mass of granulated sugar, when compared to powdered sugar, or the stiffness of copy paper, I laid the template over the cake and dusted it with a healthy helping of colored sugar.

This was mistake number three.

It turns out that granulated sugar is much heaver than powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Duh. Melted frosting is much sticker than regular frosting, too. Double duh. When I went to remove the template, the paper collapsed, sending mounds of yellow sugar down onto the cake while simultaneously taking away a large amount of frosting. It was almost like the sugar and frosting had magically changed places.

Seeing the paper covered in melted chocolate, I wondered if this was how the birds in the Gulf of Mexico feel after taking a dunk in the oil spill. I can just hear them explaining things to their wives, “I'm sorry I'm so late, Dear. I was going after a fish when suddenly everything went horribly wrong. I was covered in black slime and couldn't fly. Some weird humans captured me and cleaned me up. Honest! That's where this blond feather came from. There are no other birds than you, Dear.”

Fortunately my family wasn't home at the time so, I could try and fix things before having to explain the mess to my bird.

First, I blew off as much of the excess sugar as I could. Hours later would I realize that it would all collect in the spaces behind my sink, making the back-splash sparkle. Next, I took the left over frosting and smoothed things out as much as I could, covering the remaining sugar. It worked. Sort of. Not really. It was a nice chocolatey color, but the texture was rather, shall we say, granular?

Now I had to make another template. This time I didn't just print it on copy paper. I pasted the paper to cardboard and cut it out with a hobby knife. About twenty minutes, a cut finger and two adhesive bandages later, I had a template better suited to the job.

While cutting the new template, I had put the cake in the refrigerator in the blind hope that the frosting would harden up just a bit, and not stick so badly to the new template. After placed the new template, I sprinkled the sugar over the cake, gently this time. Things were looking up. I had decided to sprinkle it sparingly, putting on thin coats like a painter might when painting a wall. This time, removing the template was a much easier task. There were still a few bits of frosting that came away with the template, but not much; it was easy enough to smooth out. I cleaned up the crest with strategic sprinklings of more sugar and pronounced it good.

Maybe good isn't the right word. Finished? Abandoned? I guess that's as accurate as anything else.

In spite of the trouble, the fallen cake, and my fallen pride, the Boy loved it. He pronounced it, “The coolest cake, ever!” He hasn't seen the really cool Legend of Zelda cakes I have, but that's okay. He was happy with the cake and his birthday. His smile made every moment of frustration, pain and bloodletting, worth it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Garden is Dying

Or so it seems. I looked out tonight and noticed that my tomato plants, so green and promising just a few weeks ago, are starting yellow. The bush beans don't look too good, either. Some things are at least sprouting, but I was really counting on the tomatoes. They're one of my favorite vegetables and grew like wildfire last year. I had hoped for the same result this year. Perhaps they will recover, with some care.

I don't think it's due to over watering, but I can't be sure. We've had a lot of rain, lately. The clouds are hinting that we'll get more tonight. There was a cold snap, and snow about a week and a half ago so the frost monsters may be to blame, but not for all of it.

In at least one box, dandelions have invaded beyond reason. I had to dig most of it up just to get them out, and I still don't think I got the roots from all of those evil buggers. The weed damage is so bad that I think we've lost all of the lettuce, and maybe the cucumbers. The onions aren't very happy, either, but I think at least a few of those plants will survive.

There are many dandelions left in the walkways, but I'm too tired right now to deal with them all. I just wish I had more than a few hours on the weekends to tend to my garden. Then, just maybe, I could fend off the little beasts, better. They're like evil alien spores from outer space. The Triffids had their day, but dandelions are forever.

Isn't that a a film by Albert R. Broccoli? It should be.

If you want to talk to me about saving the planet and the beautiful balance of nature right now, just keep this in mind. I'm a mammal of the genus Homo Sapians. The top predator species in the food chain. Nature has gifted me with a big ol' brain and an ornery disposition, too. Don't think that because I'm living an agrarian lifestyle that I've forgotten my hunter/gatherer roots. I'm tapping my primitive instincts and killin' me some weeds.

Other species are allowed to follow their instincts. Why not me?

Now if our big brains could just develop a weed killer that doesn't kill vegetables, I could go back to being a peaceful, poisonous, agrarian.

Photo by Jonathan Reitz