Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Non Succedat Omnia: Preparing Potatoes for the Plate (Part 2)

Over the past week, I’ve planted, sliced, mandolined, tossed, cooked, and finally baked more potato variants than I ever thought possible! And, throughout this week’s celebration of the lowly, yet ever-so-versatile spud, not all of my efforts have ended well. As the title of this post so cryptically suggests, “not everything succeeds;” a maxim that is frequently (and disappointingly) true in the time-intensive labors of gardening and cooking. In the garden, I was revolted to find that a whole batch of seed potatoes had melted into a fuzzy white paste, and in the kitchen, I tried to make baked sweet potato chips.

My first foray into baking potato slices began with what is, I still firmly believe, a fantastic recipe for chipotle baked sweet potato chips (which you can find {here}). Honestly, the chipotle and

brown sugar glaze that so delicately clung to each perfectly formed slice of golden veg smelled

(and tasted) like a gift from Ah Mun himself. However, due in part to our finicky, ancestral

Perfect slices of sweet potato, so full of hope.

Perfect slices of sweet potato, so full of hope.

oven which tends to burn hotter on the right than the left (or hotter on the left, if the weather’s just right); our slightly rickety baking trays that transmit heat faster than a Phoenix sidewalk; and my continual inability to remember the issues our oven and baking trays tend to have, every batch of sweet potato chips emerged from the oven coated in an undoubtedly carcinogenic blackness that could turn even the brightest of tuberous dreams to ash.

However, despite my continual failure in the area of sweet potatoes, I thought I’d forego the fancily enticing spices and return to the plain old potato for one final attempt at baking an edible chip. Thankfully, this is one story that did not end in failure.

Baked Potato Chips: Ingredients

Russet Potatoes

Olive oil or cooking spray

Sea Salt

Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 475º F (245º C)

2. Using a sharp knife or a mandolin slicer, thinly slice your potatoes as evenly as possible (slices of varying thicknesses will require increased vigilance on your part as they cook)

Papery Potatoes

Papery Potatoes

3. Pat the slices with a paper towel to dry off the potatoes as much as possible

4. Lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil or cooking spray, and arrange your dry potato slices in a single layer on the tray

5. Coat the slices with a thin layer of olive oil or cooking spray, and cook in your preheated oven until brown and crispy (typically between 6 – 10 minutes). I found that flipping the slices every three minutes prevented them from burning, and allowed me to check their level of crisp.

6. When your chips have finished baking, place on a paper towel and lightly sprinkle with sea salt.

Crispy, flavorful, potato chips that are baked, not fried!

Crispy, flavorful, potato chips that are baked, not fried!

My only word of warning with these potato chips is that once they’re ready to eat, you’ll find them quickly disappearing (the batch I made only two hours ago is already long gone)!

Needless to say, I’m quite thankful to be able to present a modicum of success after my initial potato-based disappointment. Hopefully now you will learn from my mistakes, take the plunge, and bake your own (addictive) potato chips as well!

That’s all I have on potatoes for now, but I hope you’ll stop in next week for a simple tutorial on herbal tincturing!

Until next time, happy gardening, cooking, and doing anything else that brings you joy!

Nate

Advertisements

Solum, Nocte, et Farinæ: Preparing Potatoes for the Plate (Part 1)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my brief lifetime in Central Pennsylvania, it’s that one must be willing to be versatile in order to fully enjoy this part of the world. When a single week in May can contain below-freezing temperatures on Tuesday,  top out at 82 degrees on Thursday, and all the while be intermingled with menacing storms and revitalizing Spring breezes, it’s clear that versatility is the key to contentment around these parts. So, with versatility in mind, I thought I’d make (and present) one of my favorite, flexible recipes that uses the potato, which might just be the most adaptably simple, yet continually rewarding ingredient I’ve yet found.

This Swedish style of potato prep is known as “Hasselback,” which simply describes the accordion-

Sliced potatoes ready for accenting!

Sliced potatoes ready for accenting!

esque manner of slicing your tubers before baking. As an inherent lover of all things different, I greatly appreciate the innovation this style of cooking brings to the time-worn baked potato, a culinary staple which has, I must admit, been boring me for years. The recipe I’m sharing with you today is a simple variation of seasaltwithfood’s original design, and is meant to be easy to alter to fit your favorite potato toppings!

Garlic Hasselback Potatoes: Ingredients

6 medium potatoes

4 – 5 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons butter (you may choose to use more or less, depending on your preference)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 425˚ F (220˚ C)

2. Place your potatoes on a cutting board so that they do not roll, and cut deep slits (almost to the base) into each potato, about an inch (3 mm) apart. I find that using a serrated blade gives you the most control for this step, which can help you avoid slicing straight through the potato.

I prefer a hefty amount of garlic with my potatoes, but you may certainly choose to use less (or more!).

3. Place your sliced potatoes on an ungreased baking tray, and insert the garlic into the slits.

4. Top each potato with an equal amount of butter and olive oil, and sprinkle each tuber with salt and pepper.

5. Pop the potatoes into your preheated oven, and bake for at least 40 minutes, or until the outer flesh of the potato is lightly brown and crispy, while the inside of the potato is soft and tender. Depending on your oven and potatoes, this step could take longer than 40 minutes (I usually need to leave my spuds in the cooker for at least an hour before they’re ready).

When your potatoes are out of the oven and on the table, your options for further garnishing

A cooked hasselback, just begging for some sour cream and fresh-from-the-garden spring onions!

A cooked hasselback, just begging for some sour cream and fresh-from-the-garden spring onions!

are only limited by your imagination! But, if you’re like me and would prefer some inspiration, here’s a link to a wide array of creative (and undoubtedly delicious) hasselback variations for you to try: Foodgawker’s Hasselback Offerings.

For part two of our foray into potato recipes, I’ll be giving baked potato chips a go (with hopefully successful results)! So stay tuned for (I promise!), the last potato post of this week!

Until next time, happy gardening, cooking, and doing whatever else brings you joy!
Nate

A Little Egg with Your Tea

With winter finally baring its frigid fangs here in central PA, even I, a lifelong proponent of colder temperatures, have taken to wishing for warmer climes. But, with schoolwork and student teaching compelling me to weather at least one more icy winter here, I’ve resorted to finding (typically culinary) ways  to keep the brumal blues at bay! Lately, my quest for cold-dispelling recipes has led me to finally trying dishes that I’d favorited and bookmarked over the years, but had never actually attempted. First on this list of “eventual eats” was a recipe for Chinese Tea Eggs that I discovered here nearly a year ago. Captivated by the incredible look and purported flavor of these eggs, I knew I had to give ’em a go!

While the tea eggs are extremely easy to make, do ensure that you have enough time to allow the eggs to fully absorb the color/flavor of the tea! I made the mistake of starting my batch rather late at night, so the eggs I ended up with were a tad lighter than the traditional tea egg. However, even though the coloring was a bit pale, the flavor of the eggs was powerful and peculiarly delicious! Plus, as an added bonus, the tea and spices infused the kitchen with an incredible chai-like aroma while the eggs were steeping!

Chinese Tea EggsTea Eggs!
Cooking time: Approximately 2 hours

Ingredients

6 eggs
4 black tea bags, or 2 tablespoons of loose black tea leaves
2 teaspoons of Chinese five spice
1 tablespoon coarse salt
(Optional) Toasted sesame seeds

Instructions

1. Place eggs in a large pot and fill with enough cold water to cover the eggs. Cracked Eggs
2. Bring water to a boil over medium heat and let simmer for 12 minutes.
3. Remove the eggs from the water, and with a spoon, tap the eggs until the shells are covered with cracks.
4. Return the eggs to the pot of water and gently stir in the tea, Chinese five spice, and salt.
5. Cover the pot, heat gently, and let simmer for one hour.
6. Remove the pot from the heat and leave the eggs to cool in the liquid for 30 minutes.
7. Take one egg from the liquid, and peel to determine whether your eggs are dark enough, or if they need to remain in the liquid longer.
Marbled Eggs8. When you’re satisfied with the color of your eggs, remove the whole batch from the water and allow to cool fully.
9. With your eggs completely cooled, peel each egg (taking time to admire the fascinating coloration of the shells), and enjoy! You may also wish to garnish your eggs with toasted sesame seeds before serving.

Without a doubt, the process of creating a clutch of Chinese Tea Eggs wholly served to keep my mind off of the near sub-zero temperatures outside! I can only hope that they’ll do the same for you!

Until next time, happy cooking, gardening, and doing whatever else brings you joy!

Nate

A Scholar’s Return

If you’ve been counting (and I really hope you haven’t), it’s been a good year or more since I last wrote of my own volition. Throughout this past year, I have had to write countless classroom management portfolios, several declarations of teaching style, at least two reports on my effectiveness as a prospective educator (complete with pie charts and bar graphs), and, interestingly enough, one analysis of the Biblical book of Esther; but, until now, I have not  truly written for myself. And, for quite a while, I was more than ok with that. For a time.

Recently, however, my attempts at staving off the desire to assemble words have failed, and I have been led to attempt the act of literary creation anew. The first method which I found capable of sparking my writing spirit came in the form of a new haiku-themed Twitter account (which you can follow in the top-right corner of the main page), wherein I have been attempting to limit my thoughts to seventeen syllables (a delightfully mind-bending, yet altogether peace-bringing exercise). But, while I continue to enjoy the realm of measured, poetic language, I felt that a fresh foray into the unfettered fields of prose was in order. So, at long last, I will be again presenting you with written snapshots of the photographic records I’ve kept over the past year, as well as detailing my favorite plants, hobbies, and recipes that I’ve picked up throughout my travels in the Scholar’s Garden.

Since my time today is a bit limited (no matter how much you prod them, cowpeas just won’t shell themselves!), I thought I’d leave you with my most fun-to-make recipe from this past spring: robin’s nest cookies. I attempted this recipe during the Easter season, when my fascination with the rebirth of plants and animals was at its peak. And, while this cookie may be geared more for the vernal months, it really is perfect anytime you need a dash of springtime in your life!

Robin’s Nest Cookies

Ingredients for the Nests

1 cup of softened butter
1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups of finely chopped walnuts

Ingredients for the Eggs

2 tablespoons of softened butter
3 tablespoons of light corn syrup
Approximately 2 drops of blue food coloring
Approximately 1 drop of green food coloring
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks and stir in the vanilla. Stir in the flour until everything is completely mixed.

3. Beat the egg whites in a shallow dish (I used a small bowl) until foamy.

4. Spread the chopped walnuts on a flat surface, such as a plate or waxed paper.

I had a bit too much fun with my fondant...5. Roll a spoonful of dough into a ball, roll the ball in the egg whites, and then roll it in the walnuts. Place the balls 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Indent each cookie with your thumb, so that they take on a nest-like shape.

6. Bake nests in your preheated oven for 12 minutes.

7. While the cookies are baking, cream together the last 2 tablespoons of butter with the corn syrup, food colorings, and almond extract. Gradually stir in the confectioners’ sugar. After the mixture incorporates into fondant, begin rolling 1/2 teaspoons of the fondant into egg-shaped balls.

8. After the cookies have finished baking, place your eggs in the nests!

And that’s all there is to making a nutty set of robin’s nest cookies! Due to my lack of proper food coloring (I actually had to rehydrate the few flakes of pigment still left in the bottles), my eggs didn’t exactly capture the brilliant greenish hue that robin eggs are known for having; but, I did discover that if you add a touch of color to the fondant ball after its already in its final form, and then continue to fold it, you can create a rather striking marbled effect with your eggs.

Well, the garden, and its never-ending list of tasks, is calling my name; so, I must bid you a fond farewell for now!

Until next time, happy gardening, baking, and doing whatever else brings you joy!

Beginning Again

Wow, I can’t believe how long it’s been since my last post!
One thing that I’m quickly learning through my higher-education experience is that final-exam preparation for an English major is a bit more involved than the late-night cramming sessions that usually accompany this hallowed, college tradition. Instead of test-prep, my past few weeks have consisted primarily of in-depth literary analysis and writing a seemingly endless stream of papers.
But, now that my required list of writing assignments has been completed, I’m raring to start posting on a much more regular basis! Because so many blog-worthy events have taken place since my last post, I’ll be trying to bring you all up to speed with a series of rapid-fire postings that should give you a tiny glimpse into The Scholar’s Garden!

First up is a recipe that I’ve been dying to share ever since I wrote “An Overture to Proliferation.” I mentioned at the end of that particular entry that, if they passed a rigorous taste test, I would share the instructions for making a batch of white chocolate, cranberry cookies. Well, they were a hit at home and at school, so I am honor-bound to share the recipe!

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

What You’ll Need:

2 Greased Cookie Trays

1/2 cup/ 1 stick of softened butter

1/2 cup of packed brown sugar

1/2 cup of white sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon brandy (Since our house is almost entirely devoid of alcohol, save for a lone bottle of white cooking wine, I replaced the brandy with vanilla and they turned out just fine.)

1 and 1/2 cups of flour

1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

3/4 cup of white chocolate chips

1 cup dried cranberries (raisins or currants would probably work extremely well, too- or, you could experiment with whatever dried fruit you have lying around your kitchen!)

Instructions

1. Preheat your oven to 375° F

2. Mix together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth (an electric mixer will expedite this step).

3. Combine the flour and baking soda and pour into the original sugar mixture.

4. Add the white chocolate chips and cranberries to the dough, mixing thoroughly.

5. Drop spoonfuls of the cookie dough onto your greased cookie trays (these cookies had a tendency to hold fast to the tray, so, in this case, an above-average amount of cooking spray is recommended).

6. Bake for 8-10 minutes (don’t let them get too crispy in the oven, they’ll harden as they cool)

7. Leave the cookies on the trays for about 1 minute, and then transfer them to wire racks to finish cooling.

And there you have it! If you’re in the mood for a sweet snack with a tart undertone, these cookies can’t be beat!

Well, that’s the end of my first catch-up post! Tune in next time for the exciting arrival of the bees (yes, they did finally arrive!)!

Happy Baking!

A New Day

Walking through the lobby of our campus always presents one with unique opportunities. While passing through, you might be asked to give blood, donate books for African schools, accosted by any number of businesses who want you to join their summer employment roster, or, as was the case yesterday, given free food and an opportunity to embrace an unfamiliar culture.
Image found at http://www.indianpublicholidays.com/2010/08/parsi-new-year-greetings-pateti-greeting-cards-navroz-festival-2010/
Since yesterday was Noruz, the Iranian New Year, which means “New Light” or “New Day,” an area of our school’s foyer was devoted to teaching us about this holiday and the culture from which it comes. Part of this tradition involves the preparation of several specific dishes, one of which being my favorite dessert: baklava. So, in the spirit of Noruz, I thought I’d share my favorite recipe for this light, nutty pastry which looks challenging to make, but is really quite simple!

What You’ll Need

1 9×13 baking dish

1 Basting brush

1 Medium Sauce Pan

1 16 ounce package of phyllo dough (available in the freezer section of most grocery stores)

1 pound of chopped walnuts and pecans  (this is my favorite combination, but any type of chopped nuts will work)

1 stick of butter (I usually get by with only using a half stick, but it all depends on how you apply it to the dough)

1 teaspoon cinnamon or allspice

1 cup water

1 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup honey

Instructions

1. Preheat your oven to 350° F

2. Butter the bottom and sides of your baking pan

3. Chop your nut mixture – I usually chop the nuts until they’re relatively fine, but having larger chunks will still work just as well

4. Add cinnamon to nut mixture and mix until the cinnamon is evenly distributed.

5. Unroll your package of phyllo dough and cut the stack in half so it matches the size of your pan. In order to keep the phyllo from drying out, I’ve been told to dampen one or two paper towels and place them on top of the dough while you prepare the dish.

6. Now the fun part!
Begin placing sets of two phyllo dough sheets on the bottom of your pan, brushing melted butter onto the top of each set. Repeat this until you have a base of eight sheets of phyllo dough.

7. Now, sprinkle enough of the nut mixture to lightly cover the dough. Cover the mixture with another two-layer set and continue buttering the dough. Repeat this step until you’ve run out of your nut mixture or of room in your pan.

8. Top with six sheets of phyllo dough, buttering the top; and, with a sharp knife, cut the baklava into whatever serving sizes you prefer before placing your pan into the oven for 50 minutes, or until the top layer is crisp and flaky.

9. While the pastry is baking, now is a good time to prepare the sauce. Bring the water to a boil in your sauce pan, and mix in the sugar until it is completely dissolved. Add your vanilla and honey and let simmer for twenty minutes.

10. Once your baklava has finished baking, immediately pour the honey-topping over the pastry and let it cool. To store your baklava, keep the container uncovered, otherwise it has a tendency to get soggy.

And that’s all there is to it! Bear in mind that this is my favorite recipe, not the traditional, Noruz style of Baklava. For a more authentic baklava recipe, here’s a link to CitronandCinnamon’s Lebanese variation: Nutty Baklava.
If you have your own, favorite way of making this dish, or another dessert you love to make, let me know! I’m always looking to try new things!

Happy baking, and happy Noruz!

%d bloggers like this: