Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lemon Blueberry and Ricotta Scones with Lemon Curd

This is in no way inspired by the royal wedding hooplah whatsoever.

It's totally normal to think about making scones for the first time in years on a random Thursday night so you'll have them for breakfast on a random Friday morning with or without a cup of tea or Pimms.

Right?  Right.  No matter, these are fantastic and look gorgeous.  And lemon curd?  Not nearly as hard as I would have thought.  Only five minutes of stove-tending creates a deliciously tart scone topping that would go great with some clotted cream if, for whatever reason, you do decide to go all out for a random Friday morning celebration.

Lemon, Blueberry, and Ricotta Scones
Adapted from my favorite on

Makes 16 small scones
Total time: 35-45 minutes (Active time 15-20 minutes)

  • 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (75g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • zest of one lemon (two teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, frozen
  • 1/2 cup (75g) fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2/3 cup (160g) fresh ricotta
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 400F/200C.  Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest in a large bowl.  Grate butter on the large holes of a box grater and work in with your hands (or to make this step immensely easier, cut the frozen butter into chunks and combine with dry ingredients with a food processor).  Mix in blueberries.

In a small bowl, mix ricotta and egg until smooth and add to the rest of the ingredients in the large bowl.  Stir until large dough clumps form.  When most of the dough has clumped, turn it out on a floured surface and work into one large ball.  Pat into an evenish rectangle about 3/4" thick.  Cut into 8 smaller rectangles, then cut each on the diagonal to form 16 triangles and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar.

Transfer triangles to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place about 1" apart.  Bake 10-15 minutes until golden.

Lemon Curd
Adapted from Baking Bites

Makes ~1/2 cup
Total time: 10 minutes (Active time 5-6 minutes)

  • juice of two lemons (about 1/3 cup/80mL)
  • zest of one lemon (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/3 cup (75g) sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 

In a small sauce pan, combine sugar, lemon juice, and zest over medium heat.  Remove from heat once the sugar is dissolved.

Beat the egg in a medium bowl and add the lemon-sugar syrup in a slow drizzle (this should take at least a minute or two), whisking constantly until well combined.

Pour back in the saucepan and add the butter.  Cook over low heat until the curd is thick (about 5 minutes), stirring constantly.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge when cool.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Panama Via My Stomach

All's been quiet on the Trash Salad front for the past few weeks since I made a sneaky trip to Panama (the skinny country between North/South America, not the retirement community in the Florida pan handle or this).  Why Panama?  Well, I hadn't visited a new country in 15 months (a 7-year record), and Panama seemed like a cheap/upcoming/accessible place to go with little foreplanning.

And it was, for the most part.  I had a fantastic time and tried to see as much as possible, though of course all vacations are never long enough.  Beaches on two oceans, midnight hike up a volcano, snorkeling and hot springs and monkeys and water taxis and wandering around the city etc etc.  Beautiful country unfortunately suffering from awful air pollution (honestly, people still burn their garbage??).  And the infrastructure isn't quite caught up with the volume of tourism (online or pre-booking of anything ever? nope). 

Right, but how was the food?  With limited exceptions, very mediocre bordering on straight up bad.  I attribute this to the hundred year American occupation of the canal zone.  Along with the Noriega thing and Operation Just Cause only 20 years ago, Panamanians likely have more important things to worry about than street food healthfulness.

Almost everything is fried, and almost everything that's fried is bad.  The ubiquitous cheap street food is carne en palito (meat stick), which sounds delicious but in most places can be described as a spiral-cut dessicated hot dog.  Even the rice and beans paled in comparison to most I had in Costa Rica.

But the top three exceptions to this were really quite stellar and are worth a mention:

Seafood Sancocho - This I actually had in a Thai restaurant as the special of the day which was labeled "Panamanian Soup."  But it was basically a sancocho stew with plantains and barely-cooked white fish with rice on the side.  This was awesome, though in hindsight my impression may have been tampered since it was the first non-fried meal I ate in a week.

Ceviche - Raw fish is one of my favorite foods, and it can't be beat when brightened up with lime juice, salt, and herbs.  Ceviche is like bar food in Panama, and also spectacularly cheap.  Beats the pants off of buffalo wings as a beer pairing.

Ropa Vieja - Kind of a spicy, beefy, pulled pork.  Best enjoyed in sandwich form with hot plantain chips.

A special runner up:

Salchicha Guisada* - Panamanians love their hot dogs.  Especially braised in a sweet sauce with onions and peppers as a breakfast item.  Served with fried dough (Panamanian tortillas), naturally.  I actually loved this and it cost $2, but am 90% sure that it was the cause of debilitating stomach cramps for 24 hours.  Worth every agonizing second.

*A google image search for this will produce 50% sausage dog photos!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Repurposing Leftovers: Trash Fried Rice

I had a reader request recently (I know!) for a post on ideas for reusing leftovers.  Yes, there have been many times in my past where I was perfectly content to eat spaghetti bolognese or black bean quesadillas five nights a week, but I like to think that my palate has sophisticated to the point or requiring a bit more day-to-day variation.  Fortunately, this doesn't have to take any more time than reheating a meat sauce, and as an added bonus you don't have to scrape red sauce off of every surface in the microwave.

By boiling up a big pot of staple ingredients that take some time to cook (rice, pasta, beans, etc.), you can mix and match with different flavors throughout the week with just the time of a 10-minute stir fry.  Every time I make some meal with multiple components, I tend to keep them separate as leftovers for this very purpose.  Starches also tend to keep better when they are on their own without being left to soak up juices and get mushy.

So, it's in this vein that I present fried rice, the first of a lazy series of repurposing leftovers as I have them.  You really need leftover rice for this recipe (or better yet, rice that's sat in the pot/cooker overnight to dry out), and it is incredibly easy, filling, and delicious.  Also completely customizable to whatever you happen to have in the fridge.  Not authentic at all of course, but it uses one pot instead of the nonsense of cooking everything individually - perfect for a quick midweek meal.

And in the interest of full disclosure, this picture is of pearled barley and not rice, but the barley actually holds up to the frying pan a bit better than rice does.  Who knew?

Trash Fried Rice

Serves 2-4
Total time: <15 minutes

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 onion, cut in half and sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small knob ginger, minced
  • 1 teaspoon 5-spice powder (optional)
  • 1 cup protein, diced (tofu, beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, anything that won't fall apart)
  • 1 cup vegetables, chopped (anything goes here, fresh/frozen/canned: peppers, broccoli, peas, mushrooms, green beans, cabbage, greens, shredded carrots, celery)
  • 2 cups dryish cooked rice (white, brown, jasmine, or pearled barley)*
  • 2-3 tablespoons salty sauce (soy, fish, teriyaki, or oyster)
  • 1-2 tablespoons wine (Chinese, white, or cooking sherry) or water
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
  • chopped scallions, peanuts, and cilantro (optional garnishes)

Heat oil in a heavy pan over medium heat.  Cook sliced onion until softened (about 5 minutes) and add garlic, ginger, and 5-spice (if using).  Add protein and cook until lightly browned (another few minutes).

Add vegetables and cook for a few minutes until softened (if using fresh veg, just heat through if it is frozen or canned).  Stir in rice until well mixed, breaking up any clumps with a spoon.   Make a well in the center of the pan** and add the salty sauces, wine/water, and Sriracha (if using).  Quickly mix the sauces together with a spoon and then distribute throughout the rice mixture.  Cook for another few minutes until the liquid is evaporated or absorbed.

Remove pan from heat, drizzle with sesame oil, and add garnishes as desired.

* As a lighter variation with the same bulk, substitute half or 2/3 of the rice with shredded cabbage.

** You can also crack an egg in the well at this point, but scramble it in the space briefly before mixing in with the rice.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

PATH Clam Chowder

On my way home from the city on the PATH train Saturday night, I found myself in a conversation about clam chowder nuances with an intoxicated Yankees fan.  Still not sure how it came to that, but the outcome was a realization that though I love clams and I love soup, I have never made clam chowder because I am used to traditional New England versions with recipes like this one which seems to defy the laws of volume by featuring more than 500 calories and and 30g fat per one-cup serving.

Manhattan clam chowder?  Kind of always seemed like a sacrilege in the vein of Canadian bacon and savory oatmeal (sorry Bittman, not on board).  But then I got to thinking about doing a lighter NE version, and maybe mixing it with the tomatoey NY soup to make something with the consistency of a light seafood stew but the flavor of pasta vodka.  I bounded out of bed on Sunday morning with clams on my mind, dead set on making this a reality.

Now, would this be better with fresh clams?  Probably.  But here is a visual aid for cost comparison purposes:

The "Worth it?" vector represents my enthusiasm to make a particular recipe.  The greater the distance above the "worth it?" vector a dish lies, the greater its perceived success will be once cost is taken into consideration.  You'll notice that up to the $10 mark, something can even rate poorly on objective deliciousness, however my perception will be extremely enjoyable since it cost so little.  Once the $15 mark is reached (my typical restaurant decision making price-point), the "worth it" vector rapidly plateaus.

One dozen fresh little-neck clams is approximately equivalent to one 6.5oz can for recipe substitution purposes, and Shop Rite prices rang in at $5.50/dozen versus the most excellent deal of three 6.5oz cans for $4.  So even if the fresh clams score an 8 in objective tastiness, a full point above their canned counterparts, the perceived tastiness of the canned clams is at least double.  Add to that the proportional effort of opening four cans versus steaming and shucking 48 clams and, well, there wasn't even a choice to be made here.

Right.  So now that's thoroughly justified, onto the soups.  Both of these are delicious on their own as well as mixed together, however the pink clumpy soup doesn't make for a super appetizing photo.  Serve these concurrently in a delicately swirled pattern and sell the combination as peace in the northeast.

At least with chowder - not baseball obviously.

PATH Clam Chowder
Cobbled together from Food Network, Martha Stewart, and Gourmet recipes and heavily adapted

If you made these at the same time, you can just drain the bacon grease from the first pot into the second and chop all the veggies at once.  It doesn't really take any more time than one or the other.

Manhattan Clam Chowder
Makes about 2.5L
Total time: 60 minutes (Active time 20)

  • 2 strips of bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) white wine
  • 2 x 6.5 oz (185g) cans of chopped clams in juice
  • 28 oz can (800g) of whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1 large potato, scrubbed and diced (about 3/4lb/340g)
  • 1-2 cups (1/4-1/2L) low-sodium veggie or chicken stock
  • chopped parsley (optional)
  • salt and pepper

Spray a large pot with oil and add the bacon, spreading the bits out over medium heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon bits are crispy and the fat is rendered out, about 15 minutes.

Chop the vegetables while the bacon is cooking.  Remove bacon from the pot when it is crispy and set aside.  Drain all but 1 tablespoon of grease and add the onion, celery, and carrots and cook until starting to brown (5-7 minutes).

Add garlic, oregano, basil, cayenne (if using), and white wine.  Stir to scrape up any browned bits.  Add juice from the clam and tomato cans and add the tomatoes, breaking them up by hand.  Add the potatoes and enough stock to cover them.  Simmer on medium heat until potatoes are cooked (about 20 minutes).

When potatoes are tender, add clams, bacon bits, and parsley (if using) and stir to heat through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Slightly Lighter New England Clam Chowder
Makes about 1.5L
Total time: 45 minutes (Active time 20)

  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease/butter/olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/4 cup (30g) flour
  • 2 x 6.5 oz (185g) cans of chopped clams in juice
  • 2 cups (1/2L) milk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 small potatoes, scrubbed and diced (a little over 1 lb/500g)
  • 1-2 cups (1/4-1/2L) low-sodium veggie or chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Heat fat in a large pot and saute onions and celery over medium heat until softened, about 5-7 minutes. 

Sprinkle flour over onions and celery and stir until well-coated.  Add juice from the clams and milk and stir to combine.  Add the potatoes and enough stock to cover them, and simmer on medium heat until potatoes are cooked (about 20 minutes).

When potatoes are tender, add clams and vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dirty Chai

It's not quite spring yet, as the snow on Friday informed me.  But in the interest of getting a jump on the cleaning process, this weekend's project is dealing with the pantry situation.

the pantry situation, phase one.

This process made me realize a few things: 1) Three different kinds of chili powder/paprika/dried thyme/mustard seeds is about two too many; 2) I need to use random whole spices more often; 3) if you think you have a jar of molasses but you can't find it, it will in fact materialize several months later, on its side and stuck to the shelf.

So what does one do with 200g of whole star anise anyway?  By the time April rolls around, even hot toddies and stock pots can get a little tiresome.  Coffee and tea on the other hand are never seasonally restricted, so I made a chai-spiced concentrate using a lot of the whole spices I discovered during the clean-out to try and recreate the delicious Dirty Chai from Empire.

Highly recommended.  I definitely wouldn't go out of my way to buy all of the ingredients if you don't have them already, but any combination of warming spices would be great here.  It's also totally customizable so you'll save yourself both cash and excess cream and sugar from the cafe version without losing any flavor.  

I amped up the amount of spices here from the original concentrate recipe I saw on The Pioneer Woman and decreased the sugar to my tastes.  The milk and sugar somewhat temper the spiciness, with a nice added bite from the coffee.  If you're fancy enough to have an espresso maker, a shot or two would be a welcome substitution for ordinary coffee.

Fortunately it's also the perfect drink for a day of cleaning and general hibernation, since I need some serious motivation to carry on with the pantry project.

Dirty Chai

Serves one
Total time: < 5 minutes

  • 1/2 cup (120mL) spiced chai concentrate (recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup (120mL) milk (soy, almond, lowfat, whatever)
  • 1/2 cup (120mL) strong brewed coffee
Heat chai concentrate and milk in a saucepan or mug in the microwave.  Add freshly brewed coffee. Pat yourself on the back for not spending $3.75.

Spiced Chai Concentrate
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

Makes 4 1/2 cups
Total time: 25 minutes (Active time 5 minutes)

  • 4 1/2 cups (a little more than 1L) water
  • 1/2 whole vanilla bean
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 12 whole green cardamom pods
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole black pepper
  • 1 small knob of ginger, cut into thin slices
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • zest of 1/2 orange
  • 10 teaspoons of black tea or tea bags
  • 1/3 cup (65g) sugar

Scrape vanilla bean into a small pot, add water, and bring to a boil.

While waiting for water to boil, place cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cloves, star anise, and black pepper in a baggie and smash with a hammer, rolling pin or similarly heavy implement.

When the vanilla water comes to a boil, add ginger, crushed spices from the baggie, nutmeg, orange zest, and tea or tea bags.  Cover and steep for 15-25 minutes depending on how spicy you like it.

Strain out spices and tea and mix liquid with sugar until dissolved.