Archive for the ‘Activities’ Category

Kitchen Tip: Preserve Fresh Ginger Practically Forever

Do you use fresh ginger in your cooking? There’s nothing like its pungent flavor to perk up a stir-fry and candied ginger makes a sweet and tangy addition to quick breads and cookies. Dried ground ginger is a poor substitute; it just doesn’t have the same flavor.

How to preserve fresh gingerTo keep ginger fresh, and also make a yummy condiment, I keep it in a glass jar filled with dry sherry in the fridge. The alcohol in the sherry prevents any microbes from contaminating the ginger. I use a Microplane grater to put minced ginger in a stir-fry sauce or to garnish fried rice, and as you use the ginger, small pieces of it end up in the sherry. That flavors the sherry with yummy ginger, so you can use that in a recipe as well.

Just make sure to top off the sherry as you use it, so the ginger stays submerged. It will last practically forever.

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Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Homemade Crackers

Daring Kitchen logoDan gave me a KitchenAid mixer for Christmas, so I could expand my cooking in a new direction. But since I’ve never baked much, I have a hard time thinking of things to do with it! So I decided to challenge myself and try new techniques by joining the Daring Bakers, an online group that comes up with a baking challenge each month. All members bake the same item and publish a blog post about it on the same day each month. The item is known only to the members until the publication day. Which was yesterday. Yes, I’m late on my first challenge, but it turned out well!

Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

The only requirement was to use two different methods to make two types of crackers:

  • icebox crackers, where you mix ingredients, shape them into a log, refrigerate to firm up, then slice and bake; or
  • rolled crackers, where you combine ingredients in a mixer, then roll out by hand or with pasta rollers. From here, you can cut out shapes with a cookie/biscuit cutter or cut the sheets into cracker shapes after baking.

Dan and I were out of town the first two weeks of July, so I had limited time to get this done. Last week, I tried a cracker recipe I had printed out years ago – Ina Garten’s Parmesan and Thyme Crackers. But I measured the flour wrong and they crumbled. Lesson learned.

Next I decided to try the Seedy Crisps, an Alton Brown recipe. These are so good! Thin and crisp, filled with poppy and sesame seeds, these crunchy little bites go great with cheese. They rolled out very easily and didn’t stick to my granite countertop, which I love. It’s important to cut them while they’re still warm; otherwise, they just break apart.

Seedy Crisps
Seedy Crisps. Recipe by Alton Brown.

The third recipe I made was really easy, too. I just need to remember to take the butter out to soften! Since I don’t bake much, I’m always forgetting about that part. Anyway, these were Rosemary, Cheddar and Walnut Icebox Crackers from “Garde Manger, The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen” by the Culinary Institute of America. I used pine nuts nuts instead of walnuts since we like those better.

These are like a cheesy, herby little shortbread. These are one of the icebox types; I still have another log in the fridge to bake off later. Because of the high fat content from the cheese and nuts, these will not last as long as the crisps, but the dough will keep in the fridge for days. Now, it just needs to be sliced and baked so we can enjoy it again.

Rosemary, Cheddar and Pine Nut Crackers
Rosemary, Cheddar and Pine Nut Crackers

The recipes and tips are all available on the Daring Kitchen website.

This was a really fun challenge, and I look forward to participating in many more!

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Moroccan Preserved Lemons for Tagine

A couple of years ago, after I admired it in the Le Creuset outlet store in Williamsburg, Dan gave me a beautiful tagine (Moroccan cooking pot) for Christmas, along with a Moroccan cookbook. I haven’t used it a whole lot, but it looks great in the kitchen ;-)

Tagine (Moroccan cooking pot)

I want to use it more, but it seems like most of the recipes call for preserved lemons, which I haven’t been able to find around here. Preserved lemons are used as a flavoring in Moroccan cuisine, especially stews. The preservation method softens the lemons skins, like watermelon rind pickles, and gives a sharp lemony-salty kick to the dish.

It costs $10 for two preserved lemons in a jar from an online source, which seems like a lot to me. So I’ve just kept putting it off. I’ve thought about making my own preserved lemons; there’s a recipe for them in the book. But I’ve felt uncomfortable about the idea. Would I poison us?

But then, if you look at the recipe, the lemons are brined for a month in pure lemon juice and salt. Not much could survive that environment. And since I canned homemade salsa, watermelon rind and hot peppers last summer, I feel a lot more comfortable about preserving food at home.

Then in January, Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes wrote a blog post on making preserved lemons. A couple of weeks later, another food blog I follow, Food in Jars, posted an article on preserved limes that referred to a previous post on preserved lemons. The article on preserved lemons had over 70 comments where people described different ways of using the preserves.

So finally, on March 4, I made preserved lemons. They’re still softening up in the fridge, but they should come out nicely in another 10 days or so. And they’ll keep for at least a year. Can’t wait to start using them.

Making preserved lemons

Preserved Lemons

Adapted from “Cooking at the Kasbah: Recipes from My Moroccan Kitchen” by Kitty Morse

The traditional method for preserving lemons involves cutting the lemons a different way and sprinkling salt into the cuts; I found it awkward, so I just cut the lemons into wedges. This also makes it easier to remove a small amount for a recipe.

  • 1 dozen lemons, five cut into eight wedges, the rest reserved for juicing (I bought organic lemons, since we’re eating the rind)
  • 1/2 cup pickling salt or fine sea salt (kosher salt isn’t a good choice because you want the salt to dissolve quickly)
  • 1 quart-size canning jar
  • Place the salt in a medium bowl. Press both sides of each lemon wedge into the salt and place into the canning jar. Juice the remaining lemons until the juice covers the wedges in the jar. Cover and refrigerate. Turn the jar gently every few days to redistribute the wedges. They’re ready to use after 30 days.

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Photo Friday: Floral

I took this photo of a hyacinth in our yard when I was taking a photography class at the Muse Writers Center in Norfolk. It turned out so beautifully that I framed it and hung it in my office.

I used my GorillaPod mini tripod to set up this photo. I love that thing – the flexible legs can wrap around anything, I can set it up on a table or the ground, and I often end up carrying my camera around with it, which sometimes makes it easier to make a shot. Cool tool.

Photo Friday: Floral

This is my contribution to Photo Friday‘s weekly photo challenge. This week’s topic is Floral.

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Food-writing class: Recipe writing

For the food-writing class I’m taking at the Muse, we have an assignment to take a badly written recipe and rewrite it in proper format with good directions. Patrick gave us several to choose from and we practiced in class.

This selection sounds like it would make a good casserole for a potluck, and since this is the season … enjoy.

Garden veggies from our 2008 garden
From our 2008 garden: ingredients that could be used in this dish

Black Bean Tortilla Casserole

A meatless meal with lots of zip. Good for vegetarians and those on a budget.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
4 ounces jalapenos, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained (or, if in season, 2 large tomatoes, chopped)
3/4 cup salsa
2 15-ounce cans black kidney beans
12 6-inch corn tortillas
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (divided use)

2 medium tomatoes, sliced
2 cups lettuce, shredded
3 green onions, sliced
1/8 cup black olives, sliced
1/2 cup sour cream, optional

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, peppers, jalapenos, garlic and cumin. Saute for five minutes. Stir in undrained tomatoes and salsa. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Stir in beans.

Spread 1/3 of the bean mixture over the bottom of a 13”x9”x2” baking dish. Top with half of the tortillas, overlapping as necessary, and half of the cheese. Add another 1/3 of the bean mixture, the remaining tortillas, and the rest of the bean mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 30-35 minutes until heated through.

Sprinkle with remaining cheese and let stand 10 minutes. Top with tomato slices, lettuce, green onion and olives. Cut into squares and serve with sour cream.

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Restaurant Review: Tortilla West

Tortilla West, at the end of Orapax Street near Lambert Point Docks in Norfolk, is not easy to find the first time you go, but it’s really easy to go back to again and again.The style is Mexican flavors with a modern twist using fresh local ingredients and for the most part, they do it very well.

I visited Tortilla West on a recent Sunday for lunch with Patrick Evans-Hylton and members of the food writing class we’re taking at The Muse in Norfolk. We ordered a variety of dishes to share tapas-style.

We started off with drinks. My companions went for the Bloody Mary bar, but as I’m not an aficionado, I ordered the house margarita on the rocks with salt. It always has the perfect balance of tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur, and a crunchy rim of kosher salt.

The most memorable dish for me was the fried oysters with a creamy dipping sauce. The plump, juicy Chinoteague oysters were coated with a crackling cornmeal crust that broke apart with the first bite, releasing the sweet meat. The creamy, slightly spicy sauce was the perfect counterpoint to the crunchy coating. I used to think I didn’t like oysters – they’ve made a convert of me.

Tortilla West dishes

More disappointing was the Mexican pulled pork sandwich, served on ciabatta rolls with tomatillo dipping sauce. While the pork was fork-tender, the sauce was overly salty, which really detracted from the flavor. The Mexican-influenced macaroni & cheese, however, made up for it. It was delivered nice and hot, with curvy cavatelli pasta soaking up the flavor of a perfectly melted, beautifully balanced spicy-creamy cheese sauce flecked with bits of jalapeno.

Pulled Mexican pork with tomatillo dipping sauce

I’ve been to Tortilla West many times since they opened several years ago, and I don’t believe I’ve ever not liked a dish, until this pork. So I’m sure I’ll be back – the food is generally outstanding, the prices are reasonable and the service is fast and friendly.

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