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Quick Pickling

August 19th, 2013 — 9:03pm
pickled vegetables 300x275 Quick Pickling

Pickled Vegetables

As the summer season for vegetables reaches its peak it becomes harder and harder to find recipes for the wave of tomatoes, followed by zucchini, and then followed by eggplant. In some cases you forget to look closely under the plants and over night a cute little zucchini morphs into a gigantic relatively flavorless squash. And with all your hard composting, planting and mulching at stake you really do not have the heart to give up and toss the freakish excesses of the vegetable garden into the compost pile.

This year not wanting to turn on the oven or cook over the stove I have also given over to the uses of kitchen chemistry to salvage the larger versions of the vegetables. Kitchen chemistry of course involves the use of pickling, although not with the intention of saving food for the winter, but with the intention of creating something edible out of something relatively tasteless. It involves thinly slicing vegetables and then soaking them in a pickling solution for a brief period of time before serving them as a side dish or condiment.

The key to success is the correct ratio of vinegar to sugar, and the selection of the pickling spices. I find the spices labeled “Pickling Spices” in the grocery store can work their magic over a long period of time. But in the short span of a few hours they can be downright overwhelming, and, too pickle-like. After all we are not using cucumbers necessarily but things that you would be more accustomed to sauté, or use in a red sauce. So the “Quick Pickle” requires something a bit more subtle. In my case I found a bit of caraway seed and fennel seed work just perfectly. As to what you choose to pickle I have come to the conclusion that necessity is greater than the influence of taste. Eggplant and zucchini work just as well as cucumber or carrot. Incredibly thin slices are important with the heartier zucchini and eggplant than with the cucumber or onion. You may want to invest in a mandolin or lose the tops of your fingers. So I offer my recipe for general purposes. What you choose to include is up to you. You really cannot go wrong.

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Meyer Lemon Curd

June 7th, 2013 — 9:09am
lemon curd 300x210 Meyer Lemon Curd

Meyer Lemon Curd

We will finish our Meyer lemon theme with two recipes. The first is a classic lemon curd. The second is a lemon curd and blueberry tart. I have to admit that I often buy lemon curd and then find myself at a loss as to what to do with it. You can of course spread it on just about anything. I like to spread it on freshly-baked scones. It is not bad even on a piece of toasted bread. And although I do not have the baking tenacity, it is an excellent filling for stuffed pastries. The Meyer lemon version is especially smooth tasting.

In this case a tart was made using the lemon curd and fresh blueberries. A simple pastry dough was placed in a tart pan (removable bottom recommended) and was baked. The lemon curd was spread on top of the dough. The lemon curd was topped with fresh blueberries. You can serve the tart at room temperature or even cold from the refrigerator. It seems to be a perfect summertime dessert.

By the way, I do not make lemon curd, nor do I bake. So both of these recipes were prepared by Will. He is the only one in our household who has the patience to prepare either recipe. Not that either recipe is cumbersome. It is just that exact measurements are required. Things that require an exact anything are just not my specialty.

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A Healthy Dip

May 10th, 2013 — 8:53am
garbanzo and preserved lemon 300x184 A Healthy Dip

Garbanzo and Preserved Lemon Dip

I really enjoy a good hummus. But more often than not it is served a bit too oily or garlicky for me. Of course the olive oil makes it taste very rich and silky. But if I want to taste olive oil I can just drink it out of the bottle. And the over-garlicky pandemic sponsored by the the Food Network has become just too much to bear. It is a bit disingenuous to think that if we add more salt, oil, and garlic to a recipe it is going to be appealing to the taste buds. What ever happened to subtlety in cooking?

While on our preserved-lemon jag, I came up with the idea of using garbanzo beans and preserved lemon to create a tasty but more healthy spread than the usual hummus. (I am not condemning hummus.) To me it has a lighter, brighter flavor while still featuring the beans. You can add one clove of garlic, or none, and still come out with a pretty close interpretation to the original concept; something to dip your pita bread into while watching the news after work. I used it in place of mayonnaise on a sandwich one day and the idea of an all-purpose spread came to mind.

So as not to be confused with hummus, the recipe does call for some changes. including, preserved lemon, cumin, cilantro, and a hot pepper. You have to watch the amount of salt you use, the preserved lemon is quite salty. If you want to cut back on the oil I found that some chicken or vegetable broth can substitute for some of the olive oil. And, of course, the garlic is optional.

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Chicken Delight

May 1st, 2013 — 9:12am
Moroccan chicken 300x256 Chicken Delight

Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Meyer Lemons

While researching ways to use Meyer lemons, quickly, I came across the idea of preserving them. Preserved lemons came up as a staple of Moroccan cooking. Apparently using them to make sauce for lamb or chicken (in that order) is the most common way of using them. Not being a big fan of lamb I naturally migrated to chicken for my first recipe.

Recipes for Moroccan chicken have many variations. I am sure like most recipes for every grandmother in Morocco there is a chicken recipe ostensibly handed down for generations in the family. Most of these chicken recipes do not even call for preserved lemons. Olives and dried fruits seemed to be common ingredients for most recipes. And the use of a a tangine, a Moroccan clay cooking vessel, seems to be the preferred method for cooking.

I had gone to all the trouble of making preserved lemons, so I included them in my recipe. I included olives and omitted the dried fruit. I wanted the dish to be more savory than sweet. And with no tangine I found that a dutch oven, or covered saute pan worked just as well. I am amazed by the subtlety of the lemon flavor when it is preserved. It gives the dish a silky, lemony flavor without screaming “lemon.” And the mix of spices, olives and lemons give the dish a unique taste and texture. It comes together in about 45 minutes which makes it a convenient weeknight dish. So even without a Moroccan grandmother you can make a tasty version of Moroccan chicken.

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Lemony Preservation

April 28th, 2013 — 11:43am
preserved meyer lemons 295x300 Lemony Preservation

Preserved Meyer Lemons

As with most things in our garden we either get nothing (like our paltry tomato crop) or you get so much all at one time you either start eating the crop three meals per day or you end up composting the rest. Our Meyer lemon tree burst forth with fruit last year, most of it ripening within two weeks. I love lemons, but 40 in two weeks is a bit much to handle. A bit of quick research led to the idea of preserving lemons.

Unbeknownst to me preserved lemons are apparently an important part of Moroccan cuisine. I guess they have the same issues we had: too many lemons and not enough time to use them up before they go bad. Although the Moroccans do not use Meyer lemons I figured the sweeter Meyer lemons could be preserved just as well.

The process is very simple. It does require some waiting before you use the preserved lemons. Since you use the whole lemon, the rind has to soften first in the liquid. The result is a taste that is surprisingly subtle. You would think the use of the whole lemon would overwhelm a dish. The preserving process, which is essentially a brining process, takes the lemon notes to a very low level. It really produces some unique results in flavor that are hard to describe.

So first the recipe for brining. We will follow up with a couple of recipes, one borrowed from Moroccan cuisine and another of pure, delicious invention.

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Back to the Blogging Front

April 23rd, 2013 — 4:28pm
pickled peppers 300x187 Back to the Blogging Front

Pickled Peppers

The silence on the blogging front does not mean that nothing meaningful has been going on at the Busy Gourmand.  The hiatus was a means of going back to basics and included a period of experimentation in the garden and in the kitchen.  There have been plenty of new recipes developed.  We have figured out better ways to get more out of the garden. And we have even been able to figure out improvements in the ways to use herbs and spices along with producing our own spices.

preserved meyer lemons 295x300 Back to the Blogging Front

Preserved Meyer Lemons

The new recipes will dribble out slowly as we are sure they have been perfected.  And the gardening tips and techniques will be shared so you too can have the freshest of herbs and spices in your kitchen.  As with life the journey from idea to recipe is often more interesting than the outcome.  We will include more narrative so you can figure out what the heck has been going on here in North Texas.

deep dish pizza 300x247 Back to the Blogging Front

Deep Dish Pizza

The recipes will be as diverse as deep dish pizza and a kind of hummus-like spread.  The new techniques will include smoking meats and peppers as well as the best way to use dried oregano (warning it can be a bit messy). I do not want to spoil all the fun on the front page of the blog.  If you want a syllabus of what is to come you can find out more at the link here.  In the mean time it is great to be back at the keyboard.  I hope our time away will prove fruitful for your cooking ideas as well.

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Simply Grilled

July 22nd, 2012 — 8:17am
grilled chicken breast 300x234 Simply Grilled

Curry-Marinated Grilled Chicken Breasts

Sometimes I just crave an unadorned piece of grilled meat. One that does not require sauce or condiments. In the case of a steak I am perfectly happy sprinkling the meat with salt and pepper, letting it rest for an hour or two and then grilling to medium rare. Between the outer char and the seasoning the steak can stand on its own without any further support. You could of course dress it with some compound butter or a complex sauce. For me the simple steak is all I really need.

Other cuts of meat tend to present a challenge. Chicken and pork are hard to cook on their own due to the lack of fat. Lamb is one of the meats I also feel needs a bit of an assist with something more than a bit of salt and pepper. My go-to option in these cases is a relatively long marinade in something salty and savory. Unfortunately I am usually stuck in a rut, using the same marinades over and over again.

This week I decided to try something new with chicken breasts. I used many of the usual ingredients. To speed things up I used powdered versions of ginger, and garlic and added some curry, the sweet version, to see what would happen. I find that marinades with chopped ingredients tend to get flavor hot spots. In an earlier version where I use chopped ginger and garlic you come across bites that have a more intense flavor of either or both. Not entirely unpleasant, but not really the idea behind the marinade.

This new version had a very subtle ginger and garlic flavor with a more intense flavoring from the curry. The new marinade also had the added benefit of an incredibly mouthwatering smell while the chicken was grilled. The curry gave the chicken a bit of a yellow hue to contrast with the deep brown grill marks. Nothing better than a dish that looks, smells, and tastes good. This chicken marinade has the added benefit that it takes about 5 minutes to prepare (no chopping). It is hard to imagine a more simple and tasty grilled chicken breast.

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Wherefore Art Thou Inspiration?

July 20th, 2012 — 8:01am
chicken meatballs 3 300x178 Wherefore Art Thou Inspiration?

Chicken Meatballs in the Baking Dish

I am never really sure from where recipes come. Often the inspiration comes from laziness. I do not want to go to the store, therefore I use whatever is on hand. Many recipes are borrowed ideas that are rearranged and approached from a different perspective. Other ideas come from the “it’s on sale” mentality. Too cheap to pass up and no recipes to choose from.

Sometimes the recipes work. Other times they do not work. Sometimes the inspiration leads to other recipes. On a few occasions the inspirations get you into trouble. (When your sister tells your parents you borrowed some of the wine in the refrigerator to put in the carrots for example.) More often than not they are not really good enough to write down, passing into the oblivion of forgotten “good ideas.”

In the case of chicken meatballs the inspiration comes from taking a different perspective on an old dish, and the fact that both ground chicken and chicken sausage filling were on sale at the same time. Although I have to admit the “too cheap to pass up” motive was probably the more potent driving force.

The ground chicken and the chicken sausage filling collided with the usual ingredients to create an incredibly tasty, moist, satisfying meatball. There was enough interesting flavor from the sausage filling without screaming “sausage.” The added ingredients kept the meat moist in the absence of any real fat content. It is hard to say “satisfying” and “low in fat” in the same sentence. I often think combining the statements is oxymoronic. In this case, however, it really works. I might even pay full price for this meat combination in the future!

Chicken meatballs 1 300x237 Wherefore Art Thou Inspiration?

Chicken Meatballs

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Smoke and Mirrors

July 16th, 2012 — 8:35am
DSC06237 300x238 Smoke and Mirrors

Smoked Turkey Legs With White Beans

Another day, another trip to the grocery store, and of course another unintended purchase while suffering from food boredom. In this case smoked turkey legs were mixed in among the usual poultry products. It was clear that this was some sort of purchasing mistake as the grocery store had marked them down to $0.99 per pound and three smoked legs came to $1.99. How could I pass that up?

I did not feel like creating a new recipe so I tried the smoked turkey legs as a substitute for smoked pork shank braised with white beans, and a couple of days later I substituted the smoked turkey for roasted turkey in the Asian-style turkey soup. The smoked turkey legs in the white bean recipe tasted remarkably like the smoked pork shank. I guess the smoky flavor takes over in the long braise. The pork version contains more fat so the meat is a bit more tender and juicy. And with more fat the beans take on more flavor. In order to overcome the fat deficit, and to help use up an avalanche of peppers from the garden, I spiced up the turkey version with some serrano peppers worrying that the turkey and white beans might be a bit bland together. The peppers added just enough heat to give the beans a good depth of flavor without being too hot. I think if you can afford the pork shank, which usually runs about $8 per recipe, that would be the better option. But the smoked turkey provides a leaner, less expensive, though still tasty option.

The Asian-style turkey soup was a toss up between roasted versus smoked turkey. In either recipe I prefer the turkey legs with their dark meat. The question really comes down to how much you like smoky flavor in your food. Unlike the braised, smoked turkey legs, the smoked turkey in the soup still tasted like turkey with the smoke adding a bit more character to the recipe. This recipes probably comes down to which type of turkey you have on hand at the time. I usually only make this soup around Thanksgiving weekend to use up leftovers. However, if you find some turkey legs on sale it is a tasty soup just about any time of year.

plumeria 300x293 Smoke and Mirrors

From The Garden: Plumeria

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Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf

June 22nd, 2012 — 7:16am
chorizo and beef meatloaf 173x300 Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf

Chorizo and Beef Meatloaf

Every once in awhile I do crave something very basic for dinner. Macaroni and cheese, lentil soup, and meatloaf often pop into my head when I am looking for some home cooking. No matter how hard I try it is pretty difficult to make an inspiring meatloaf. Sure you can play around with the meat mixture, add some hot sauce, or make it extra moist by draping it with bacon. I have tried all those variations. The meatloaf is always pretty good, but not what I would call extraordinary.

While leafing through some cookbooks from the western culinary tradition, I saw a ho-hum meatloaf recipe which had an added footnote. “For something special try mixing the ground beef with chorizo.” I filed the idea way back in my brain waiting for the time when I would have some ground beef and some chorizo at the same time. It turns out that this week the fates placed the two ingredients in my refrigerator and the “special” chorizo and beef meatloaf was born.

I wanted it to be moist without adding a bunch of fat. I finely diced some celery, onion, carrot, serrano peppers and garlic using the food processor, reducing the vegetables to a fine confetti. I also wanted to add some intensity so I added some fresh oregano and basil along with some ground cumin and curry powder. And to make sure it had a spicy topping I added some chipotle hot sauce to the usual mixture of ketchup, mustard, and honey which baked on top of the loaf for the final 30 minutes.

I can see why the cookbook author referred to this as something special. The spicy chorizo really added some zing to the meat mixture. The vegetables were spread throughout and gave the loaf an interesting texture and kept it moist. The hot sauce in the topping rounded out the spiciness of the whole meat loaf. If spicy is not your thing you could skip the serrano peppers and the hot sauce. You will still get some spice from the chorizo. But honestly, go for it! You only live once.

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