June 25, 2012

Polish-Asian Fusion!?

It must be recipe Monday, because I have another to share with you!  This was a blissful experiment that started by Googling "what to serve with kielbasa."  I had thawed a Polish kielbasa for dinner, but I was looking for something interesting to serve it with besides the ordinary potato or beans.  In scrolling through side dish suggestions I read the phrase "browned with brown sugar" and I stopped instantly... ideas!  The brown sugar instantly reminded me of the very ripe pineapple that's been living on my counter for several days (that I keep passing saying to myself, 'I really need to use this?').

But before I embarked on the main part of the dish, I wanted to make some of those long, skinny, crunchy breadsticks.  I used this recipe for Crisp Rosemary Breadsticks but scaled down the recipe to a serving size of 12, and then modified as necessary.  I required a bit more flour than the calculated ratio called for, and I also added more rosemary and a generous dash of paprika to the flour,  I brushed melted butter and sprinkled on parmesan cheese and some sea salt before baking.  The result was a lovely paprika-toned breadstick which was aromatic and flavorful.

While my dough was rising, I did the prep-work for the rest of the dish.   I had no brown sugar, so I called up one of my favorite unexpected sweeteners--dark molasses.  To substitute brown sugar, you can mix molasses with plain granulated sugar, stirring it up in a little bowl or ramekin until the sugar absorbs the molasses and it's more or less sugary not liquid. I used about a teaspoon of molasses and a couple tablespoons of sugar.  I prefer dark molasses for its unique and bold flavor, but light molasses will do as well.  To this sugary mixture, I added a generous portion of ground ginger, to taste, again mixing with a fork.

I prepped my pineapple, which was quite ripe and so very sweet and tender.  I chopped it finely after removing the core.  If you need help with this, there are many resources online, such as at this link from the Casual Kitchen.  Likewise, I sliced the thawed (already fully cooked) kielbasa and quartered the slices.  I removed any skin that was hanging off the pieces.  My dog appreciated that!

Next, I sliced some serrano peppers to punch up the heat on this otherwise sweet dish.  I like it spicy, so I kept most of the seeds with them.  The serranos we grew this year possibly cross-pollinated with a hotter pepper, and so they are really, really hot.  If you use a hot pepper, don't forget to clean your cutting board (and your hands) really well, lest you transfer that flavor to other things (or rub your eyes! Ouch!).

I collected some thyme, mint, and parsley from the garden, rinsed and chopped it (reserving a bit for garnish).

Think about your timing for a moment.  I knew I was making some tri-colored rotini to go with the kielbasa mix, so I knew it would be several minutes to boil water and about 7 more to cook al dente.  The breadsticks would have to rise 45 minutes then bake 20-25 minutes.  I like to have my prepped ingredients ready and waiting for me (cooking show style!) so I don't run into unexpected delays.  I start on the thing that is going to be most time consuming (obviously) which is usually a bread item, and do my prep work while that's rising.

To heat up the kielbasa, I fired up the cast-iron skillet with a little olive oil to medium-high.  Into a hot pan, I added the kielbasa, pineapple (only a couple handfuls of the chopped pineapple), and molasses-sugar-ginger mix.  These hit the hot pan and wonderful things started to happen:  the pineapple caramelizes, the sugar & molasses "melt" and everything releases a wonderful aroma and browns a bit.  I immediately turned the heat to the lowest setting, and added the peppers and toasted sesame.  The mix can sit on low for a pretty long time in the cast-iron skillet, with occasional stirring.  This helps bring out the pepper and the subtle flavors of the ginger and sesame, and prevents the pineapple and sugars from scorching. Don't add the chopped herbs until you're within 5 minutes or so of serving, because you don't want them to loose color and become totally limp.

When the pasta is al dente, drain, and add to the skillet with the rest of the goodies, and stir gently to avoid breaking up your pasta.  The pan sauce that's been forming with the meat and pineapple juices will be all you need to wet the pasta.  Add any more herbs, salt, sesame, or pepper to taste.  Plate and garnish, and enjoy!

Don't let the gingery sweet warmth of the essentially grilled pineapple fool you--right behind that first Hawaiian-pizza-reminiscent bite comes the spicy heat!  And how often do you get to pair Polish with Asian-inspired ingredients?

Garden Fresh Eats

 Our urban garden is already producing an abundance of fresh romaine and artisan lettuces, many herbs, peas, and peppers.  We are anxiously awaiting the ripening of the dozens upon dozens of green tomatoes and tomatillos of numerous types, broccoli, celery, summer squash, cucumber, and strawberries, but for now, all the fixings of a good fresh salad are still available.

Something about the summer heat makes cool salads all the more appealing.  My daughter and I like to walk along the garden, large colander in hand, picking out some lettuce and fresh herbs.  Ideally, it's best to harvest in the cool early morning or evening, but if I'm picking mid-day in the heat, I only take whatever I want to eat just-then for ultimate freshness and to disrupt the plant as little as possible.  I rinse the greens in cold water immediately, to help perk up heat-wilted lettuce leaves, then tear up the lettuce and basil leaves, mixing the fresh leafy herbs right in with the lettuce.  For this salad I used basil and lemon thyme.

I like to add fresh herbs right in with the greens because it's a great flavorful addition, and I don't have to add more calorie-filled options to get a complex flavor.  I also added some orange and yellow sweet peppers, sliced grape tomatoes, and a spoonful of feta, with a drizzle of Greek vinaigrette.  Instead of croutons or a slice of bread, I used a warm, crispy tortilla bowl.

These are so easy to make and they really jazz up a simple salad!  For even more flavor, you can use specialty tortillas like whole wheat, spinach, or roasted red pepper.  Preheat your oven to 425, and preheat a couple ceramic or oven-safe bowls or ramekins placed upside down on a cookie tray.  Brush your tortillas on both sides with a little bit of olive oil, and sprinkle on a spice of choice (I used paprika) and a pinch of salt.  When your oven and ramekins are pre-heated, brush the top (the bottom of the bowls) with a little olive oil and lay your tortillas over them, gently shaping them around the bowls, pinching here and there to secure the bowl shape.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden crispy brown.  Let them cool a bit, then gently pull them off the ramekins.  Wait until you're ready to eat to fill with the greens, as you don't want the salad to wilt with the heat of the tortillas.


June 11, 2012

Nothing says "I'm hot" like a plasma cutter!

Nothing says "I'm hot" than a plasma cutter!  Making recycled garden art at the Ladies' Welding class at the Columbus Idea Foundry, Columbus, Ohio.   Photos/graphics: Casey McCarty
Recently I started volunteering with the Columbus Idea Foundry, which is a brilliant collective workshop space in which community artisans, students, and hobbyists can partake of an exciting plethora of tools: from welding to wood shop, metal work, 3D printing, CNC, laser cutting and etching, a dark room, glass shop, blacksmithing and much more.

Inside, you'll find dozens of creative entrepreneurs that call the CIF home, either as their full-time gig or their side businesses.  Artisans make everything from all natural handmade wooden children's toys at Little Alouette (visit their site here) to recycled metal artist Allison Meade's furniture and sculpture creations ot Old Soul Studio (check her out here).  There's the fun meets functional small business solution specialists at ReFab (visit their site here) who have designed things such as pop up store POS and display sets, signage, bamboo laptop trays, iPad mounts and more.  The in-house SignForge can handle all kinds of printing and banner needs, and many, many more (see a list of current businesses here).

No matter what your interest, you can find classes that will help you get started:  take a welding/plasma cutter class (you can even take a ladies' only version with Allison), bladesmithing, create dichroic glass jewelry, stained glass, black & white, tabletop or cyanotype photography, learn how to cast bronze or pewter, learn how to laser cut wood or laser etch glass and metal, and much more (see a complete class listing here).

There's always something going on and something being made. Learn more at www.columbusideafoundry.com.  It's easy to come check the place out--we've recently organized some volunteer-run open hours where perspective members can learn more and take a tour.  We're at 1158 Corrugated Way, Columbus OH 43201.  You can email cifscheduling@gmail.com for the current week's open hours, or call 614-299-IDEA. 

June 1, 2012

Mint-Melon Soup-- Modern Israeli Cooking Recipe Adaptation #2

In my last post, I mentioned the cookbook and travelogue The Foods of Israel Today. (Read the last article HERE)  I'd like to share another successful adaptation of a recipe for a cold melon soup I made!

The original recipe is shared with author Joan Nathan by Jerusalem Theater art director Maya Bailey, and it has both Greek and Israeli versions, with the use of an anise-infused grape-based liqueur called ouzo (Greek) or arrack (Israeli).  Of course, I have access to neither.

The rest of the recipe for this cold soup includes cantaloupe or honeydew melon, sour cream or yogurt, sugar, milk and a mint garnish.

My adaptation ends up being a perfect base for other variations: smoothie, blended with iced green tea, and sorbet.

Making the base:

I coarsely chopped a whole honeydew melon and blended in the food processor with plain yogurt, and a handful of fresh mint, as I wanted mint to take on a central flavor in the dish since I wouldn't be using the anise-flavored liqueur.  To this I added the juice of about half a lime, freshly squeezed. I added a splash of milk, just enough to smooth the texture.  It was plenty sweet from the melon and yogurt, so I did not add any sugar.

I used the food processor for the first couple handfuls of melon with two tablespoons of yogurt to help the blender do its job. My husband got a bit impatient and used the immersion (a.k.a wand or stick) blender to process up the rest of it, but then complained about the foamy consistency caused by all the air bubbles he whipped in there with the immersion blender.  I didn't mind the texture, but that's something to consider when choosing how to process the melon.

In total, I used about one cup of yogurt.  This is double the amount from the original recipe but I used only a fraction of the milk, so I guess it's your preference if you'd like it thinner (more milk) or slightly thicker (more yogurt).  Plus in the original recipe, yogurt was the substitution with sour cream being the preferred ingredient, and I was going for something less tart.

The dish should be refrigerated for a few hours or overnight to let the flavors mingle and to achieve a pleasant temperature.

No-dairy idea:  You could try omitting the yogurt and milk, and use some almond or soy milk instead.  This would preserve the creaminess, without the lactose.  Of course plain yogurt or Greek yogurt has those great probiotics that make this recipe even healthier.  There are non-dairy yogurt alternatives available with the same probiotics but without the dairy.  Ricera (rice-milk based), Whole & Soy Co., Wild Woods Organics, and  Turtle Mountain (coconut milk-based) all make varieties of dairy-free yogurt with probiotics.

Serving Ideas
This is a wonderfully refreshing cold soup, which is more like a dessert soup or a snack than an entree.  It's great when you want a little something sweet and cold.  I served with a lime wedge and a mint sprig for an extra kick.

I discovered that it works in several other permeations too!

Blended with ice, it makes for a great smoothie, or add iced green tea for a less milky but equally refreshing version.

For the iced tea, I prefer about a third of the chilled melon-soup base to 2/3 glass of iced green tea.  I usually make my iced green tea by the cup, because the delicate flavors of green tea do not do well in the fridge for a long time.  Make a cup of hot green tea with two bags instead of one, then swirl around with ice until cold.  You can re-use the double tea bags for another cup, but you don't want to over-steep since green tea bitters easily.  Sweeten, if desired, before you add the ice so the sugar melts properly.  I like cane sugar (like Sugar in the Raw) or agave syrup for this blend.

It also makes a delicious sorbet, and looks very attractive with a pale sea foam green color garnished with a sprig of mint.  To make an "ice box" sorbet, simply interrupt it during freezing about every half-hour or so to stir.  I prefer to do this in a zip-lock bag so I can just squish it up with my fingers.  Continue to freeze and squish until it reaches sorbet consistency.

My husband and I actually preferred it in smoothie form or blended with tea than as just a cold soup (but again, that has to do with Chad not liking the airy texture after he used the immersion blender), and of course, my 4 yr old daughter prefers it in sorbet form (because she thinks she's getting ice cream!).