Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Indian Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Recently I provided a recipe yielding just two chocolate chip cookies, to allow some snacking within limits (when you can't trust yourself to provide them). But mostly, my dietary indulgences don't involve cookies. They involve salty snacks. And lots of them. Specifically, pumpkin seeds.

I can eat pumpkin seeds until I explode (and often have). So why did I think it was a good idea to make them even more delicious? Scratch that. This is a brilliant idea. Pumpkin seeds are roasted along with a smattering of Indian spices, like a much fresher, lively version of a Bombay hot mix. The spices play off of the seeds' deep roasty flavor, and they're savory and crunchy and taste like the best Halloween ever.

And yes, I know most of you are far, far ahead of me in your autumnal preparations, and have already carved your pumpkins. But for those who are as late to the game as I am (or, say, have carved your pumpkins but left the seeds and guts in the fridge because yeah you're going to do something with them sometime really really soon), this is for you. Happy Halloween!

Indian Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

adapted from the amazing Ruchikala, with just a bit of tweaking because I like a pre-boil and longer roast

seeds from a good-sized pumpkin, rinsed free of pumpkin guts (~1 cup)
1 hefty tablespoon high-heat oil (coconut is especially nice)
3-6 dried red chilies (depending upon your taste for heat)
3/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
15 curry leaves (available at Indian grocery stores — I buy em up, and keep them in the freezer)
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
hefty pinch asafoetida (or a clove of finely minced garlic)
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Place the pumpkin seeds in a pot of water, and salt generously. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes.

While the seeds are simmering, preheat your oven to 400° Fahrenheit, and gather your spices — place the chilies, mustard seeds, and fennel seeds in one small dish, the curry leaves, turmeric, and asafoetida in another, and the coriander, cumin and salt in a third. Then you're ready!

When the seeds have finished simmering, pour them out into a colander to drain. Heat an oven-proof skillet over a medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, and the first dish with the chilies, mustard seeds and fennel seeds. Cook until the mustard seeds sputter and pop — this should just take a minute or two, and you will need a lid at the read to keep them from popping right out of the pan!

After the seeds have popped, dump in your second dish, with the curry leaves, turmeric, and asafoetida (or garlic). Stir to let the spices all hit the hot oil and toast, then dump in the pumpkin seeds. Stir to coat the pumpkin seeds with the spice mixture. Cook for 1-2 more minutes, then dump in the remaining spice dish (coriander, cumin and salt). Turn off the heat, and transfer the skillet to the oven (if you don't have an oven-proof skillet, you can just pour them out onto a rimmed cookie sheet instead).

Roast, stirring occasionally, until the seeds are crisp and lightly browned, ~10—20 minutes (depending upon your skillet, seeds, personal taste, etc). Let cool, then pour into a dish and serve.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Quince Jelly

A few years ago, I asked my Basque friend what to do with quinces. They grow all over Portland (including in the yard of my next-door neighbor, who generously gave me a bagful), but seem to have limited uses. You can stew them with long-cooked meat dishes, or make jelly, or the membrillo paste so beloved as part of an Iberian cheese plate. But I was hoping for some new ideas. "Well," my friend considered, as I leaned in close to get some exciting new inspiration. "Sometimes we put them in a car. You know, to make it smell nice."

So yeah, perhaps there aren't all that many things to do with quinces. But that's okay. Because the few things that you can do? Quite delicious. A raw quince is a rock-hard lump of pale, fuzzy, astringent nastiness. But once you cook them, they slump into rose-scented, rose-hued sweetness. The perfume alone can knock you out. What more do you need?

This jelly is more of a template than a recipe. You hack up quinces, skin and seeds and all (which, in addition to saving you some hassle, contributes a dose of pectin to help the whole batch set in a firm gel). Then you strain the mush, filter it into clarity, and cook it with sugar until it's sets into a gorgeous, fragrant jelly. You can use it to top your toast, or glaze a fruit tart, or add some rosy perfume to a cheese plate. You know, to make it smell nice.

And if you're looking for an aromatic condiment of a different sort, I direct you toward a recent radio story about fish sauce. In Ancient Rome. Sadly no rosy recipes, but on the upside: pirates! You can get a listen over at NPR.

Quince Jelly

adapted from several inspirations, including Food In Jars, Simply Recipes, and Chocolate and Zucchini


Wash your quinces, rubbing off the fuzz. Then hack them into rough cubes, skin and pits and all — trim away any nasty brown or wormy bits, but beyond that it's all fair game. Toss the cubes in a large pot with enough water to cover by barely an inch or so. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat until it's just high enough to maintain a vigorous simmer. Cook until the quince bits are totally mushy-soft, and beginning to take on a rosy hue, about an hour (you can also do this in a pressure cooker).

Pour the mixture through a strainer to capture the quince cooking liquid (you can run the quince pieces themselves through a food mill, or simply compost them — they'll have given up most of their flavor to the liquid). Measure the resulting liquid, and for every quart, add the juice of a small lemon.

Pass the liquid through a single layer of cheesecloth or loose-weave dishcloth, then through a couple layers of cheesecloth (or a coffee filter), to end up with a clear pink liquid. This final straining can take a while. If you are lazy or late-starting like me, you can leave it to drip overnight, and make your jelly the next day.

When you're ready to make the jelly, pour the quince liquid into a wide-bottom pot, and add a generous 3/4 cup sugar for every cup of juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly to a vigorous-but-not-crazy boil. You'll need to cook the mixture down to the gel point, which should take at least a half hour and up to an hour, over which time it will thicken and darken to a ruby color, and the quince flavor will concentrate. When you think it's becoming syrupy, place a few small plates in the freezer to chill. If you want to process the jelly, prepare your jars and start a boiling water bath.

To test the jelly, drip a few drops onto a freezer-chilled plate. Let sit a minute, then push into the edge of the drop with your finger. You don't need to see a full jelly-like set, but it should just begin to wrinkle and mound ahead of your finger as you push it. When it reaches this stage, you're done! Pour into your prepared jars, seal, and process in a boiling water bath if desired. The jelly may take some time to set, but will end up fairly firm.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Two Chocolate Chip Cookies

Several years ago, I was working a boring administrative job, and would often eat my breakfast and lunch at my desk. One evening, as I was washing out my little container of cereal and half-pint jar of soymilk, I wondered — why I was going through this packaging hassle (in my dishwasher-free life)? Why not save myself the trouble? The next day, I brought along a whole box of cereal, and quart of soymilk. And proceeded to eat three complete bowls over the course of the morning. Oooh, that's why.

My measure of self-restraint has grown somewhat in the intervening decade (and is no longer compounded by a soul-killingly boring job). But still. There are times I just cannot be trusted, and some sort of rationing is definitely in my best interest. Which is why I thrilled to see a recipe that yields just two chocolate chip cookies.

Make no mistake, these are nice, hefty cookies — two will more than satisfy. And they are great examples of the genre, crisp and golden on the edges, gooey and yielding on the insides. Yes, it's a bit of a waste to turn on the oven for just two cookies. But c'mon, we know they're at their best in a just-baked state anyways. And if your must-eat-all-the-foods instincts kick in, well, there's really not much harm done.

Two Chocolate Chip Cookies

from the mad genius over at No. 2 Pencil
yields, well, you know

2 tablespoons of butter, softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon sugar
hefty pinch of kosher salt (smoked salt, if you've got it, is also nice)
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
¼ cup flour
1 hefty pinch baking soda
3 heaping tablespoons chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease it well.

In a small bowl, blend the butter with the sugars, salt and vanilla until well combined. Add the yolk and mix again, then stir in the flour and baking soda, then the chocolate.

Form into two balls, and place on the prepared baking sheet (they'll spread quite a bit, so place accordingly — you can chill the dough a bit if you want the cookies to be thicker). Bake until the edges are brown, ~8 minutes. Remove, and give the bake sheet a nice sold rap on the countertop, deflating the cookies. Let cool slightly, and enjoy.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Chanterelle Chowder

I have been a good forager (or, if you will, scrounger) since an early age, impressing my fellow elementary schoolers with my ability to identify (and consume) onion grass on the playground. Or perhaps they weren't really all that impressed. Regardless, I love me a good free-growing meal. And such meals are easy to find here in Oregon, where persimmons, pears, figs and grapes can all be found within a single city block. But I must make a confession: when it comes to mushrooms, I stick to the markets.

I know, I know, that identifying mushrooms can be safely done with a wee bit of training, and a false morel doesn't really look much like its non-toxic cousin. But still. It'd be hard to tell the difference between the I-just-poisoned-myself-with-toxic-mushrooms stomachache, and the I'm-nervous-that-I-just-poisoned-myself-with-toxic-mushrooms stomachache. As someone who manages to spectacularly injure herself on a fairly regular basis (and is still waiting out the scabs from steering a bicycle directly into the lightrail tracks), I'm content to sacrifice my Northwesty cred and forgo the mushroom foraging trips. Which is something of a bummer, as I do love mushrooms. Well, mostly I love chanterelles.

These trumpet-shaped golden mushrooms are Oregon's crowning glory, poking through the pine needles as the rains roll in. But luckily, even at the grocery store they're not prohibitively expensive, especially now during high season. And a little goes a long way. Especially when you stir them into a rich autumn chowder.

This chanterelle chowder is fall perfection. Just a simple base of leeks and fennel, with a shot of booze and thyme and comforting glug of cream. But mostly, it's all about the chanterelles. And they do not disappoint. Meaty and rich, yet delicately tender. Even if you didn't pick them yourself.

And speaking of harvesting the fruits of the Northwest, I recently looked into the agricultural labor shortages that have been plaguing the region (and the country). You can hear my story about Northwest pears harvesters over at NPR.

Chanterelle Chowder

Inspired by the chanterelle chowder with bacon and corn on Not Without Salt, but, as you can tell by the absence of two of the three titular ingredients, tweaked a good bit.
serves ~6

2 tablespoons butter
1 large leek, sliced and washed
1 bulb fennel, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 scant teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
~2 cups chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup sherry or white wine
2 1/2 cups broth
1 large yellow potato, cut into a 1/2-inch dice (swapping celery root would also be nice)
3/4 cup cream
salt and pepper
fresh lemon juice and fresh dill fronds for serving
Heat a soup pot over a medium heat, and melt the butter. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt, simmer for about 5 minutes until starting to soften, then add the fennel and garlic, and saute a few minutes more, until everything is well softened.

Turn up the heat to medium-high, and add the thyme and chanterelle. Cook until the liquid comes out and cooks off, and the mushrooms caramelize in parts, ~5-7 minutes. Add the sherry or wine, simmer a minute to cook off the alcohol, then add the stock and potato. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are tender, ~15 minutes.

When the soup is done, add the cream, let heat through, and turn off the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, topping each portion with a squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavors, and a few fronds of fresh dill.