Saturday, February 27, 2016

7 Ways to Use the Microplane Grater

I have a tiny Bay Area apartment kitchen with only one drawer! Luckily, I have a hutch in the other room for flatware and things like that, but there's a limit to the number of kitchen tools I can hang over the sink. The Microplane grater gets a primo spot up there because it's such a multitasker! There are three grated items on this lovely bowl of strawberries and cream...#1, #2, and #7. 

1. Citrus zest 
One of the most popular uses for this tool is zesting lemons, limes and other citrus for recipes. When you do this, though, it's important to hold the Microplane on top of the fruit so you can see when you're starting to hit the white pith and stop before it gets into your food. My favorite uses: grated into sauces and batters or onto salads.
2. Nutmeg  
Many people only use ground nutmeg or have a special tool for grating only that. Ground nutmeg loses its flavor punch after a year or so in the cabinet, though, and my kitchen has little room for a unitasker like a nutmeg grater! This funky old bottle used to be refilled with ground nutmeg every couple of years, but now it houses whole nutmeg. Uses: pumpkin recipes, smoothies, on top of coffee, bechamel sauce.
3. Garlic:
If you want garlic very finely minced, you can peel a whole clove and grate it into your bowl or pan. It's best to use large cloves for this so you don't hurt your fingers! 

Peel the garlic clove by cutting off the flatter bottom and taking off the papery outer layer. Grate on the Microplane until what's left is almost uncomfortably small, then stop before you scrape your fingers. Throw what's left of the clove into a zipper bag in the freezer with other kitchen scraps and use it for broth. 

4. Onion
Grating an onion can save you a lot of sautéing time. It breaks down the structure of the onion so it cooks very quickly. I often do this when I'm in a rush to make dinner. If you're making a big recipe, it might be more convenient to use a grater with larger holes. 

5. Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, and other hard cheeses: 
I also have a Zyliss grater, you know, the cute little white one with the turning handle. It looks great at the table, but that thing can be hard to clean. Usually, I just use the Microplane even if I'm grating a cup or more of cheese for a recipe.

6. Ginger 
Peel the end of a piece of ginger root and use the rest of the piece as a handle. Grate onto a cutting board to measure the ginger, or right into a pan if you're winging it. This ginger went into some brown rice congee with those scallions and some garlic. 

...and did I mention...

7. Chocolate! 
Rather than dirty a bowl and a spatula melting your favorite dark chocolate, grate a little over some coffee, cake, or whipped cream to make it even more scrummy. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Chickpea Crackers with Cumin and Sesame Seeds

My obsession with chickpea/garbanzo flour continues! It can't do everything wheat flour can do, but it's fun to check out the possibilities while I'm avoiding things that trigger cravings. I took these to my friends' annual warm, wonderful Valentine's Dinner to rave reviews! Also called gram flour (not graham), besan flour, or garbanzo flour, you can find it at a good market with a bulk section or in packages with the alternative flours. As a last resort, it's available online. 

I've adapted these from Dolly and Oatmeal, changing up the spices because I don't love za'atar. You can make them your own with other spices...if you use ground, blend them into the dough rather than pressing them on top. 

First, toast 2 tsp cumin seeds and 4 tsp sesame seeds. Put them in small dry pans over medium-low heat. 

For the sesame seeds, toast until they just start turning brown, stirring often, and then turn off the heat and let them brown a little more on the residual heat. 

For the cumin seeds, toast until you can smell the toasting cumin from a couple of feet away, then also turn off the heat and let them finish in the warm pan. 

Put 2 cups chickpea flour, 3/4 tsp fine salt, and 1 tsp baking powder in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix well. 
If you're not planning to use Maldon salt later (see below), bump up the salt to 1 tsp. 

Add 2 Tbsp olive oil and mix in with your fingers until evenly distributed. Have fun getting your hands messy! 

With the paddle from the stand mixer or a wooden spoon, stir the flour quickly while you slowly add 1/3 cup warm water until it turns into a stiff dough. If it isn't holding together, add more water 1 teaspoon at a time. Don't let it get sticky, or you won't be able to roll it out and put the pieces on the pans. One test batch ended up in the trash for this reason. Sadness. 

Turn out the dough onto a board or a piece of parchment paper and knead for a minute or two to make sure the ingredients come together. Put a bowl over the dough and let it rest for ten minutes. Turn on the oven to 350 Update: 375 to pre-heat while the dough rests. 
If you have a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, put the seeds in it and break them up a little. If you don't, no problem. 
Put the dough between two pieces of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to roll it out to about 1/8 in thickness. The more evenly you roll it out, the more evenly the crackers will bake. 

Trim the edges with a knife or a pizza cutter. You can roll that out again later. 
Put the seeds on top of the dough and put the top piece of parchment paper back on. Roll the seeds into the dough so they stay in there instead of coming off. 

Trim the uneven edges again and cut the dough into whatever size pieces you want, making them as even as possible so they bake evenly.

I guess I should get a ruler for this kind of thing, but hey, life isn't perfect, so my crackers don't have to be, either! 
Place the crackers on two baking sheets. I've lined these with parchment for easy, compostable cleanup, but you probably don't need to. Make sure they're not touching. 

Put them in the 350 375 degree oven for 8 minutes to start, then remove and brush crackers with olive oil. Sprinkle with a few grains of Maldon salt flakes per cracker (the salt is optional) and return them to the oven in the opposite position (switch the front to the back). 

Bake for another 7-12 minutes depending on the size of your crackers. This shade of brown is just about perfect for crunchy crackers! 

Serve with tahini sauce, hummus or whatever else strikes your fancy! 

To make a tahini sauce, start by blending 1/2 c tahini, 1/4 c olive oil, juice of one lemon, 1/4 c parsley leaves, one crushed, peeled clove of garlic and 1/2 tsp salt. Blend in 1 cup water, then taste and add more of whatever ingredients you feel are lacking. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Salted Dark Chocolate Cashew Clusters

For me, 70% cocoa content chocolate has long been a special treat that doesn't trigger crazy sugar binges. Now, I've adapted a recipe from Always Hungry by Dr. David Ludwig and Chef Dawn Ludwig that has their official stamp of approval. The recipe makes 4-6 servings, but you can easily double or triple it if you plan to share. Let's get to it!

There are just four ingredients: 

  • about 3 oz dark chocolate, 70% or higher cocoa content
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut (unsweetened is important if you're following their program, less so if you're not)
  • a pinch or two of flaky sea salt (I used Maldon, which was cheaper than I thought)
If your cashews are whole, cut them in smaller pieces (halves or quarters). 

Measure out the coconut and put the two ingredients in a dry pan over medium low heat. 

Toast the coconut and cashews just until the coconut starts to take on a golden color (left). Turn off the heat and let the pan sit on the stove while you chop and melt the will continue to darken (right) thanks to the residual heat in the pan, but you won't risk overdoing it this way. 

I've tried making these without toasting, and they were good, but definitely missing a little something. 
All hail the Chocolove! Thanks to their dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds and this 70% bar, it has become my favorite brand. 

Chop up the bar using a serrated knife and place it in a microwave-safe bowl, preferably glass. 

Place the bowl in the microwave and put it on 50 percent power for 45 seconds. Take it out and stir, then repeat this step until the chocolate is fully melted. As you get closer to being finished, reduce the time to 30 seconds. 

You can also melt the chocolate in a double boiler, I just find that I end up with less cleanup this way. Plus, I gotta use the microwave for something other than the cat's medicine :) 

Stir the coconut and cashews into the chocolate...try not to eat it all with a spoon...
...and then drop spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat or a piece of parchment paper. I like to do more small clusters rather than fewer small ones. 

Let them cool for a few minutes, then sprinkle a few flakes of the salt on each one. 

Set the sheet in a cool area for a few hours to set up, or in the fridge to speed up the process. 

Enjoy one or two after dinner!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Swiss Chard, Beef and Bean Stew

Swiss chard has long been one of my favorite vegetables, ever since I was little--my parents used to grow it in our little yard in Philadelphia. We ate spinach more often (usually frozen), so that was my official favorite. Some of my students turn up their noses when I tell them this, though, as apparently it's considered pig food in parts of China! Others have learned to eat and love it since moving here. 
When I saw the recipe for Beef, Bean and Barley Stew in the book I'm using to get my health on track, Always Hungry? by Dr. David Ludwig, it called for 8 cups of chard, and I knew I had to make it happen (and I could do it in my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker, which made me even happier). Alas, it seems to be mislabeled for all phases of the program, so I had to omit the barley. I also replaced the water with broth, which always improves flavor, and subbed white beans for kidney beans since I only had the former on hand. 

The white beans are hiding in the container behind the olive oil...I cooked those in the pressure cooker the day before. A well-drained and rinsed can of them would be perfectly fine, or a can of kidney beans. 

Sprinkle 1 lb cubes of beef (stew meat or chuck) with salt and pepper. Pre-heat electric pressure cooker on saute or Dutch oven on stove with one Tbsp olive oil. Brown beef on at least two sides, being careful not to overcrowd the pot like I did here. I still got a little browning, but that foamy stuff is liquid that's really steaming the beef. Better to do it in two batches.
Finely chop 1 medium onion and 1 stalk celery. Remove beef from pot and add celery and onion to the drippings. Saute until soft but not brown, 3-6 minutes.

Wash the chard and remove the leaves from the stems.
Chop up the stems - you might as well use them, no? If you just can't even, save them in the freezer for your next batch of broth or stock.

Mince a clove or two of garlic. Add chopped stems and garlic to onion and celery mixture, then saute for a couple more minutes. Add 1 tsp thyme and 1/2 or 1 bay leaf.

Chop chard leaf into strips and add 1/3 to 1/2 to the pot.

Add tomatoes, stir well, then add 4 cups of beef or vegetable broth and let warm up a bit. Add beef and 1 1/2 cups white beans.

If using Instant Pot, lock on lid. Cancel saute function and set valve to "seal". Press "Meat/Stew" button. Allow 20 minutes of natural release time before opening up, then switch valve to "vent" to release remaining pressure. Open lid and stir in remaining chard, letting that cook in the hot stew for a few minutes while you get the table ready.

If you're using a Dutch oven on the stovetop, bring everything to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook
over low heat for 1 hour, then stir in remaining chard and let cook for a few minutes.

Top with sour cream and fresh parsley if you have parsley wilted on me, so it was no longer picture-friendly :(