Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Things I Learned: 11/29/11

-T-rex didn’t run. Because it had strong buttocks and weak ankles, it power walked.

-The Egyptian vulture has a yellow head because it eats poop.

-Surficial is a word. It means of or pertaining to the earth’s surface.

-A group of starlings is a murmuration.

-A “mean sidereal day” is the period of time during which the earth makes one revolution on its axis relative to a particular star. (23 hrs, 56 min, 4.09 sec)

-Rabbit hopping is a sport. And FYI: The world record in high jump is 39.17 inches by a Danish rabbit named Tosen. Yaboo, who’s also Danish, has the long jump record with 9.84 feet.

-Delicata squash and sweet dumpling squash are the same squash, in different shapes.

-The woman’s voice in all airport announcements comes from a real person—and she lives in Maine.

-Janet Reno is 6’1”.

-The Astros are moving to the American League.

-Moose calves are born without any bacteria in their systems so mamma moose lick their babies incessantly to give them bacteria.

-Orogeny is the process of the earth’s crust smashing together to make mountains.

-Two hundred years ago there were 27 letters in the alphabet. The last letter was & (the symbol for “and”). Because ending the alphabet with “X, Y, Z and and” sounds funny, people called the & “per se and” and finished the alphabet by saying “X, Y, Z and per se and.” Eventually “and per se and” became ampersand. (And at some point it was booted from the alphabet.)

-22 people invented the incandescent bulb before Thomas Edison.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pumpkin Flan

We went to El Camino for my birthday (in October) and had an amazingly delicious organic, local, gluten-free meal (as usual) and an amazingly delicious gluten-free dessert (also, as usual) and then something magical happened. I asked the server if she had any idea how to make the amazingly delicious pumpkin flan I’d just eaten and she said, “sure, wanna look at the recipe?”

Of course I did. So I did. And then I made it. And it was AWESOME—so awesome that we’re having it again on Thanksgiving. And I’m sharing it now in case you want to do the same.

(Adapted from “Fresh From Maine: Recipes and Stories from the State’s Best Chefs”)

¾ cup plus 1/3 cup organic sugar, divided
½ cup water
1 1/3 cup skim milk
½ cup heavy cream
4 large eggs
½ cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
whipping cream
maple syrup

1. Preheat oven to 300° and place ramekins in a 9 x 13 deep baking dish.

2. In a small saucepan (ideally, one with a spout), combine ¾ cup sugar and ½ cup water.

3. Bring the sugar and water mixture to a boil and continue to boil until the mixture turns a light amber color.

4. Pour equal amounts of the caramel into the ramekins.

5. Add the eggs to the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until well blended.

6. Add milk, cream, pumpkin, 1/3 cup sugar pumpkin pie spice and vanilla to a medium saucepan. Stir to combine.

7. Bring the mixture to a simmer (but not a boil!) and pour the hot mixture into the beaten eggs, whisking constantly.

8. Transfer the almost-flan mixture to a bowl with a spout. (Hold on! If you have a fine mesh sieve, strain the almost-flan through the sieve on its way into the bowl. We don’t have a fine mesh sieve…)

9. Divide the mixture evenly among the ramekins.

10. Pour boiling water into the baking dish so that the water reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the baking dish with foil.

11. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the center of the flan still has a slight jiggle.

12. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and allow them to cool a bit before serving (or cool completely before refrigerating).

13. Whip the whipping cream to turn it into whipped cream.

14. To serve, run a knife along the edge of the ramekin. Place an upside-down plate on top of the ramekin and flip, keeping the plate and the ramekin in contact. Gently pull the ramekin straight up off the plate—the flan should remain on the plate like a sand-castle.

15. Top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream and a drizzle of maple syrup. (We skipped the maple syrup because we don’t have an appropriate drizzling tool.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Maple Pots de Creme

Pots de crème, pudding, mousse, custard, flan, crème brulee… What’s the difference? Is crème brulee a pot de crème with a torched top? Is flan a pot de crème sans pot? It doesn’t matter. (Except that it does. If you know the answer, please enlighten me.)

What matters is Pete’s love of maple syrup. I like maple syrup, but Pete LOVES it—in a way that only native Quebecers and native Vermonters do. Because I love Pete and Pete loves maple syrup, I made these creamy cups of maple-y goodness.

(Adapted from Cooking Light)

½ cup maple syrup
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 ¾ cups half-and-half
½ tsp. ground ginger
dash of ground cloves
2 short cinnamon sticks
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 300°.

2. Add maple syrup, brown sugar and egg yolks to the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk to combine.

3. Add half-and-half, ginger, cloves, cinnamon sticks and vanilla extract to a medium heavy saucepan over medium-high heat.

4. Cook the half-and-half mixture until it reaches that critical pre-boiling phase where bubbles start to form around the edge.

5. Slowly add the half-and-half mixture to the maple syrup mixture, whisking constantly.

6. Pour everything back in the saucepan and reduce the temperature to medium.

7. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken (at least 2 minutes).

8. Remove from heat and (carefully) pluck the cinnamon sticks out of the mixture.

9. Divide the mixture (I suppose this would be the crème) evenly among 8 ramekins.

10. Put the ramekins in a 9 x 13 metal baking pan and add about an inch of hot water to the pan.

11. Bake for 1 hour (or more…), until the center loses most of its jiggle. (See note below.)

12. Cool completely at room temperature.

13. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

NOTE: They never stopped jiggling. I baked my little pots for 90 minutes and finally gave up. I suspect the excessive jiggle was due to my last minute substitution for the half-and-half: I used about ½ cup heavy cream and enough skim milk to reach 1 ¾ cups. They were still yummy!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Broccoli-Basil Mac and Cheese

There was no way to make this look attractive. We tried...

This dish is kinda crazy and totally delicious. Like traditional mac and cheese, it certainly falls in the comfort food category, but it’s so much more complex (in a good way). You can actually taste the individual ingredients, but they go together really well. It’s hard to describe. Try it. You’ll like it.

(Adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

1 delicata squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
olive oil
bunch of basil leaves (a couple handfuls)
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 slices of hearty bread (we used Udi’s Gluten-Free Millett-Chia bread)
1 small head of broccoli, roughly chopped
4 tbsp. fat-free sour cream
1 ¾ cups shredded white cheddar cheese
1 ¾ cups shredded Gruyere cheese
1 package brown rice penne or macaroni (if you’re not gluten-free, go with whole wheat noodles)

1. Preheat oven to 400° and make sure you’ve got a rack set in the center.

2. Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet. Toss with olive oil. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the squash is golden brown.

3. Place bread on a baking sheet and put it in the oven for a couple minutes. The goal is to stale-ify (ie. dry out) the bread, not toast it.

4. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, cheddar and gruyere. Set aside.

5. Combine the now-stale bread, the broccoli, half the basil and a “glug” of olive oil in a food processor. Pulse until it’s a fine crumb mixture.

6. Transfer the crumb mixture to a bowl and set aside. Rinse the food processor.

7. Toss the rest of the basil and all of the grape tomatoes into the food processor. Pulse until it’s well-mixed.

8. Add the tomato-basil mixture to the cheese and sour cream mixture. Stir to combine.

9. Cook the pasta until it’s al dente. Drain (reserving a little pasta water, just in case).

10. Dump the pasta into a casserole dish. Add the squash and the cheese mixture. Stir it up until the cheese sauce coats the pasta and the squash is evenly distributed. (If you prefer a runnier cheese sauce, add the reserved pasta water.)

11. Top with the green breadcrumbs and bake until the breadcrumbs are crunchy, about 25 minutes. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Not Bananas Foster

Bananas Foster is an iconic American dessert invented in New Orleans in 1951. It’s a dramatic dessert—the kind that involves flames. This does not involve flames (or the alcohol required to create the flames). This is not Bananas Foster (even though that’s what Cooking Light calls it). It’s a super-easy, super-tasty caramelly banana dessert. If you’re looking for the real thing, go to the place it was invented: Brennan’s Restaurant. If you just want dessert, here:

(Adapted from Cooking Light)

2-4 bananas, sliced (and peeled, obviously)
6 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. (plus a wee bit more) orange juice
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted
fat-free plain Greek yogurt

1. Combine brown sugar, orange juice and butter in a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat and cook until the mixture begins to bubble, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the bananas to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the bananas start to get mushy (about 2 minutes).

3. Plop some Greek yogurt into a bowl. Top with the banana mixture and sprinkle with toasted almonds.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Muffins with Raisins

My initial feelings on this recipe were mixed. Sweet potatoes? Yum! Sweet potatoes in muffin form? Enh. I wasn’t so sure about the whole vegetable-based baked goods concept…and then I remembered carrot cake. (How could I forget carrot cake?) Putting carrots in cake was a brilliant idea, therefore making muffins out of sweet potatoes must be equally ingenious. Fantastic logic, eh?

Well, it turns out that making muffins out of sweet potatoes resulted in something that had the taste and texture of a biscuit, but was shaped like a muffin. They were good, but a little dry and a little boring. So I added raisins and a bit of cinnamon and they were YUMMY! (So yummy that there’s no photographic proof of their existence. The photo above is of the original sweet potato muffins.)

(Adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe in Runner’s World)

2 ½ cups gluten-free all purpose flour
¾ cup organic sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. cinnamon (might add more next time)
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ cup melted unsalted butter*
¼ cup vegetable oil*
1 large sweet potato (cooked and mashed)
1 egg, beaten
½ cup fat-free buttermilk (or equivalent…we used skim milk with lemon juice, but plain yogurt might work as well)
¾ cup raisins

*Note: I would usually substitute applesauce for at least some of the butter and oil, but we were out of applesauce.

1. Preheat oven to 375° and grease a muffin tin.

2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon and baking soda in a large bowl. Mix.

3. Add melted butter, oil, sweet potato, egg and buttermilk to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until combined.

4. Continue mixing as you gradually add the dry ingredients to the sweet potato mixture. Mix until just combined.

5. Add raisins and stir until they’re reasonably evenly distributed.

6. Pour batter into muffin cups and bake 20-25 minutes.