Monday, June 20, 2011

Canning Adventures

Several weeks into summer vacation and I'm still having trouble unwinding. After the seemingly endless cycle of classes, studying, and exams, with little time for other activities, it's strange to have nothing I have to do. No one is going to give me a failing grade if I don't finish the book I'm reading today, or tomorrow, or next week. There will be no negative consequences if I sleep until 11 AM or spend the entire day in bed watching TV. But I'm still having some trouble letting go of all that anxious energy. Therefore, I've been canning.

Canning is a soothing process. For each recipe, you follow the same routine: filling a huge pot of water, sterilizing jars, softening lids, heating brine, processing full jars in boiling water. It takes patience. But it requires few ingredients, just salt, vinegar, sugar, and fresh fruit or vegetables. As many who know me will attest, I like delayed gratification and there is nothing that captures that more than nine jars of pickled brussel sprouts that will be eaten many months from now in the depths of New England winter.

Here is what I've made so far:

Crunchy, strange, and deceptively delicious.
Note: I omitted the dill (didn't have any). I also realized that my vinegar was less than 5% acid, so I refrigerated them instead, as 5% acidity is required to kill the bacteria that lurk in canned goods.

I'm in love with these! Ruby hued and sweet with hints of clove the beets are as wonderful as the pink-stained eggs.

I adore all things Chinese and pickle-y, so this was heaven for me. I will say they might not appeal to all taste buds. Even better than the fermented beans themselves was the pork dish we cooked them in last night. Utterly divine!
Note: this recipe was taken from Fuschia Dunlop's Land of Plenty. She is one of the best contemporary Chinese cookery writers out there. If you have any interest in cooking authentic Chinese food at home, her cookbooks are a must!

And last, but certainly not least, many jars of pickled delights from my new cookbook obsession, Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff. The recipes are interesting -- it's not just another collection of dusty versions of blackberry jam or strawberry preserves. So far I've made: Sushi Ginger, Pickled Asparagus, and Wasabi Dilly Beans. All have been phenomenal and I'm looking forward to trying out her recipes for Pineapple Jam with Five Spice Powder and real Kosher sour pickles.

I hope you've enjoyed this new style of post. I think the Student Epicure is going to become a blend of my own recipes and what gems I've found amidst my myriad cookbooks and Internet searches. Let's see how the summer goes!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Best Way to Kill Your Food Blog... to fall in love and go to medical school. This might explain why you have not heard from me in quite some time. I kept thinking I would find time once school started to keep up the Student Epicure, but alas physiology, anatomy, and pharmacology prevailed. Blogging and cooking had to get in line behind sleep, boyfriend, family, friends, and exercise.

But now it's summer vacation -- my last summer off, as many people in the medical profession like to tell me in sombre tones. I've decided to revamp this blog a bit to become more of a food journal. What I'm cooking everyday, which restaurants I'm going to, what I wish I were eating. We'll see what happens. I've noticed over this past year that what I cook is so reflective of my mental and emotional state: pickles begin to overflow the shelves when I have too much free time and nervous energy; I eat scrambled eggs for breakfast when I'm stressed out and overwhelmed; Rob & I cook more elaborate meals together when I'm relaxed and feeling carefree. This is a work in progress that I hope will help capture some memories of daily life. Stay tuned...

~ Rachel

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pasta with Egglplant, Walnut Pesto, and Ciliegine

I'd like to start by saying a big THANK YOU to all my dear classmates from Williams who have been keeping up with the Student Epicure. Your kind words last weekend were wonderful to hear and very encouraging. I hope you keep reading and cooking!

This week's recipe was inspired by the weekly recipe contest on food52, which urged us home cooks to find your best recipe using fresh mozzarella. Although my favorite use of fresh mozzarella is a simple caprese salad (a little cliched, perhaps, but delicious like tiramisu), I wanted to try something using ciliegine, which are tiny fresh mozzarella balls. I wasn't sure if this recipe would actually be realized since I kept popping them into my mouth on the walk home from the grocery store. I had beautiful Italian eggplant from Russo & Son's inimitable grocery store in Watertown. I've also been trying to eat through my cupboard in preparation for my iminent move to Worcester, so the boxes of pasta must be eaten and all the bags of Trader Joe's nuts be consumed! Et voila, with a little inspiration from Jerry Traunfeld, this recipe was born.

Another nice addition to this recipe would be some halved cherry tomatoes for an extra bit of color and a little crunch. I used tri-colored rotini, but whole wheat penne would be delicious too.

Pasta with Eggplant, Walnut Pesto, and Ciliegine

serves 2
  • 2 Italian eggplants, in 1 inch cubes
  • 4 large garlic cloves (unpeeled!)
  • ~4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 cup dried pasta, like penne or rotini
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
  • 8 ciliegine, halved
  1. Preheat oven to 400. In a large baking dish, spread eggplant with garlic cloves in a single layer. Drizzle with 2 T olive oil or until you can evenly coat the cubes by tossing. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until eggplant is tender, 15-20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.
  3. Roughly chop walnuts and set aside in a small bowl. Finely chop basil and add to bowl with remaining 2 T olive oil.
  4. When eggplant is tender, remove garlic cloves and peel. Roughly chop garlic and add to walnuts and basil.
  5. In a serving bowl (or you can use the pot you used to cook the pasta), toss together the eggplant, pasta, walnut-basil sauce, and ciliegine. Season with salt & pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Breakfast Eggs with Kale

Whoa, hello, world. Sorry I've been MIA. Too much weekend travel for this food blogger. After my college reunion this weekend, I look forward to spending more time cooking in Cambridge. Last weekend I was in the Berkshires to celebrate my dad's 60th birthday. My parents' garden is looking lovely: vibrant beds of young lettuce, lots of potato plants, tracts of garlic shoots. Much to my surprise, their kale was ready of picking. I associate kale with the beginning of autumn -- it's a hearty vegetable meant for darker, colder nights. I brought a large bag back with me and have been amazed at the tenderness of the leaves. You don't have to cook the life out of this kale. Rather, you can just saute it a little longer than you would spinach leaves.

I also had Berkshire free-range eggs and fresh ciabatta bread. I've been jonesing for Sunday brunchy eggs and so decided to make a healthful eggs benedict-like lunch dish. Toasted ciabatta is topped with sauteed kale, followed by a runny fried egg and a sprinkling of cheese. I added garlic, chili flakes, and red onion to the kale of a little extra kick. Some nice variations on this might be: adding chopped kalamata olives to the kale or replacing the ciabatta with a toasted slice of your favorite bread.

Breakfast Eggs with Kale
serves 2
  • 4 T olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 t. red chili flakes
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 c. chopped kale (I used cavalo nero), large stems removed
  • 2 slices toasted ciabatta
  • 2 eggs
  • Parmesan for sprinkling
In a large frying pan, heat 2 T of oil over med-high heat. Add garlic, chili flakes, and onion, sauteing until onion is soft, about 4 minutes. Add kale and continue to saute. Using tongs makes it easier to evenly cook the kale until wilted, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove kale from pan and set aside. Stick bread in the toaster. Over high heat, heat another 2 T of oil in the same pan. When hot, add eggs and fry 2 minutes per side so that yolk is still runny.

To assemble, place one slice of toast on a plate. Top with half of the kale, followed by an egg. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and eat immediately!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

No Recipe This Week

Sorry, dear readers, but there will be no recipe this week. I had been working on pasta sauce with almonds and asparagus, but just couldn't get it quite right. And I couldn't bear to send you off to the kitchen with a mediocre recipe!

Stay tuned for next week. I'm feeling inspired after my new man and I made two cast iron pots of seafood paella last night, accompanied by Spanish cheeses, delicious wine, and an orange-cardamom yogurt cake. We're off to NYC tonight for what I'm sure will be a hedonistic extravaganza. I expect to bring back some good ideas!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Spinach and Sorrel Gratin

I prefer my vegetables unadulterated: steamed artichokes with butter for dipping, lightly salted asparagus spears eaten with my fingers, or spinach sauteed with a drizzle of olive oil. I like simple vinaigrettes for my salads and never eat corn on the cob with butter. But every now and then a dish comes along that gives me pause and makes eschew these basic vegetable preparations for something more elaborate.

A new friend had recently suggested I consider including foraged food in some of my recipes. Brilliant. As a medical student and soon-to-be resident, he pointed out that foraged food was perfect for the student budget because it's free! True, you do need to know where to look and take the time to actually forage, but we can't spend 12 hours a day chained to our desks. That just wouldn't do.

As fate would have it, my mother had brought me a bunch of sorrel this weekend from the Berkshires. Tangy and lemony sour, it tastes like spring. Taking inspiration from my latest culinary obsession Jerry Traunfeld, I adapted his recipe for Spinach and Lovage Gratin to make a healthier spinach and sorrel gratin. Although you can buy sorrel at the grocery store, here is more info on how to forage for it. I love sorrel, but it becomes a rather drab army green when cooked, so spinach is the perfect foil for keeping it bright. The active time for this dish is minimal, about 10 minutes, but you will need to bake the gratin for about 15-20 minutes. I think this would be a nice side to a pasta main course, like last week's Whole Wheat Pasta with Rosemary and Garlic.

Spinach and Sorrel Gratin
serves 4 as a side dish

Special equipment: 4 small ramekins or 4-cup baking dish
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 10 oz bag large leaf spinach
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 T flour
  • 3/4 c 1% milk
  • 1 generous cup chopped sorrel
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3 T panko bread crumbs
  • 3 T grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a saute pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until coated in oil and fragrant. Add spinach and stir until completely wilted (using tongs makes this easier). Remove to separate bowl. Return pan to heat and melt butter. When completely melted, add flour, stirring mixture constantly. The flour will begin to darken just a shade, then immediately add milk, stirring vigorously to dissolve flour and butter. Let milk come to a boil and thicken. Add sorrel and spinach mixture. Toss to coat and then divide among ramekins. Combine remaining olive oil, bread crumbs, and cheese in a small bowl then sprinkle over the top of the spinach. Bake 15-20 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Whole Wheat Pasta with Rosemary and Garlic

My apologies for the delayed post this week. Five days of epic eating in Seattle will do that to a girl. I ate some truly inspiring meals that made me want to give up my East Coast life and flee West where the oysters are melony sweet. The stand out meal was at poppy, where I was tempted to lick clean every dish of the wondrous thali prepared by chef Jerry Traunfeld. But since being back, I've felt the need to eat a bit more simply and a little bit lighter, Italian sausages at Fenway aside.

Waking up a little hungover this morning (the joys of my pre-med school life), all I've been craving is pasta. I immediately thought of this dish, which is yet another week night staple taught to me by my parents. I'm not typically one to advocate whole wheat pasta, as I love the full-carb bleached white flour version, but this dish is different. The ingredients are so simple that you need the nuttiness of the whole wheat pasta to round out the flavors. My mom recently turned me on to the Whole Wheat Organic Italian Pasta from Fratelli Mantova, which resembles a whole wheat linguine. It's sensational and I would urge everyone to seek it out.

A special thanks to my darling friend Lex for being an eager taste tester over lunch. I love when my friends are free during the day and put up with my propensity to make food too spicy at times.
Whole Wheat Pasta with Rosemary and Garlic
serves 2
  • whole wheat pasta for 2 people (about 2 quarter sized bunches)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 t finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/8 - 1/4 t red chili flakes depending on how much spice you can tolerate
  • 4 T olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese for serving
First things first, get the pasta going according to the directions on the package. When the pasta has begun to cook, start on the sauce. Heat a medium saute pan (I use my cast iron skillet) over medium-high heat until warm. Add olive oil. When olive oil is hot and shimmery, but not smoking, add the garlic, rosemary, and chili flakes. Stir constantly just until garlic starts to turn brown and then immediately remove pan from heat. Drain pasta and add to the saute pan. Toss to fully coat in sauce. Serve right away with Parmesan cheese.