Saturday, April 21, 2012

Forays into darkest Moosewood

First beans, then oxtail, what's next? Rye whiskey??

No, no, we will be continuing a review of the classics but leaving the pioneer food to delve into a different genre with today's post:

Moosewood Fudge Brownies

If you haven't heard of Moosewood, here's the short version:

  • restaurant in Ithaca, NY
  • featuring healthful natural foods
  • been around for 38 years
  • has produced a lot of cookbooks...

this of which I love to use for new dessert ideas. In this case I was aiming to use up the last of a jar of instant espresso and some very ripe bananas. The idea was to add them into the recipe for MW's fudge brownies, substituting the bananas for some of the liquid. Which would have worked fine if, as I was pouring the batter into the square pan, I hadn't turned around and seen

and this
i.e. that's what I get for going into the 'zone' of following a recipe and not remembering my intent to add-on to it! Bananas still to use and espresso still to finish. #firstworldproblems for sure.

Anyway, following the recipe yielded an interesting result. The brownies turned out very flat, very dense, and even a bit dry, kind of like a flourless chocolate cake (although I did use flour, a combination of white whole-wheat and whole-wheat pastry flour). This was not a case of me overcooking in my terrible oven, either. The batter suuuuure looked beautiful though, eh?

Pouring that fudge brownie batter into the pan
Here's the order of how it came together. Trader Joe's chocolate discs and butter, melted.

Melted to the perfect consistency to add the brown sugar and vanilla...
Whisking in the egg, giving it a frothy surface temporarily...

Getting artistic... (look Ma, one-handed whisking!)
Adding flour, a bit at a time

Moosewood Banana Muffins
And finally, that fudge-y consistency we all know and love so well. I brought these into work on an off day (we've been having terrible network problems, so a lot of people have been staying home), but they still went over pretty well. Wondering if anyone has had a similar result on the texture/ moisture issue though, since I like a gooey-er brownie myself.

So that was attempt number one. Since I realized I had forgotten the espresso and the bananas right before I put the brownies in the oven, it gave me some time to wash up and start over, which I determined to do. Easiest recipe to turn to in time of need? Well, these were already bookmarked to try in the same book, soooo...


Moosewood Banana Muffins it is (was)! (with add-ins of espresso and chocolate chips)
I had previously made a chocolate banana gingerbread, so I only had 2 bananas. I think this made the muffins a little dry, but the flavor was right on, and if you heat them in the microwave for a few seconds under a wet paper towel...... you can't tell the difference.

I celebrated my birthday yesterday with many good friends, and am leaving in a few hours for Napoli for a solo vacation, so you could say I'm sandwiched between pleasures.
To come when I return: Scottish Cuisine: my take; Cherry blossoms of DC in 2012; and other treats of living this life full throttle. Salute!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Glazed Oxtail Meets Amazing Brown Rice Bowl

As with the beans, so with the oxtail...

Who makes anything with oxtail these days? Wizened Italian grandmothers, that's who. Am I aspiring to be a wizened Italian grandmother?

But again, there's that yearning to live 'close to the ground,' if you know what I mean. If you can't be in harmony with nature due to your society's dependence on oil, then at least you can understand better how to be grateful for what you have. Enter the oxtail, sturdy, hearty, hard-to-get-at-unless-you-take-the-time protein.

Simply Recipes (such a great site, btw) put up this recipe for Glazed Oxtails a few weeks ago, coincidentally right after I had taken the leap at the farmers market to purchase some oxtail joints. Ding! That would be the universe calling.

It took a while, edging around other plans, but I finally made it this week, staying amazingly faithful to Elise's recipe (for me), which included very helpful pictures at all steps along the way.

One of the ways I did depart from her recipe was volume: being a one-person household, I didn't want to either buy or store the 4 pounds of meat, so I bought one vacuum-packed bundle, coming in at 1.3 lbs. I halved most of the other ingredients, which was fine (except then the boiling-off took forever...).

However, after a time, it too was done. But ya can't just eat meat.

Then this eye candy from Vanessa Barrington showed up in my Twitter feed, and I had my idea: Glazed Oxtail meets Amazing Brown Rice Bowl. Done!

I went the easy way for the rice bowl part, already feeling virtuous from the multi-step, multi-hour process that the oxtail required. Brown rice from Trader Joe's went into the micro, spring onions (from the farmers market- it IS spring!) got chopped into the pan with a dollop each of lemonaise and tahini. I added a swish of olive oil to coat, then half of the rice until warmed through, then half of the oxtail (which I had prewarmed to deliquify the gelatin).

In went the rest of the rice (for 3 cups total). I topped a serving for my dinner with the greens of the two spring onions and a splinkling of dashi for crunch and salt.

If you're interested in the proportions, that was ~.75 lbs oxtail to begin, and  3 cups brown rice (for 2 servings, one dinner and one work lunch!). As you can see, it made for a dish that was suffused with good beef flavor and stock without being dominated by the protein itself. Just what I was aiming for at this point in my eating life.
Now if only I can do that for some of the other aims in my working life...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Arctic Char in Sustainable Lemon Cream Sauce

Lemony, flaky goodness...
The cherry blossoms were beautiful, and finishing the 10 Mile Race was a sweet topping-off of all the work that went into training to become a runner. I think I'll hang up my spurs for a while though, so that I can give my full attention to other pursuits...

One of these other pursuits, as you may have deduced, is cooking sustainable and delicious food, for myself and others. Right on the heels of running that race, I was already brimming with ideas about supper clubs and cooking classes- I'm sorry, is that my multipotentiality showing? Good!

One of the things I tried out on myself was a recipe from Elise at Simply Recipes: Arctic Char with Lemon Cream Sauce. Elise adapted it for salmon, but the original recipe from the Country Cooking of Ireland used Arctic Char, a sustainable alternative to most of the over-fished or inefficiently-caught salmon out there (not that there isn't good salmon-- it's out there, too!).

The recipe is fairly simple: lemon juice, chicken stock, and heavy cream combining and reducing to form a warm and piquant accompaniment to the crispy-skinned, flaky-fleshed arctic char. YUM. I loved how the defrosted fillets had such glistening colors on the skin side- don't be afraid to say it: fish scales can be beautiful!

As Elise notes, it's best to 1) fry the skin-side-down first, to crisp it up and 2) turn on the fan above your stove, since frying fish tends to leave a lingering, odiferous signature.
Skin-side down first
There are an awful lot of details involved in judging whether a fish species is being overfished or caught in a way that doesn't harm other species, so I leave it to Seafood Watch, a widely-trusted program of the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, which I visited on a field trip as a kid in California. They study, research, and verify claims of sustainability to protect the health of the ocean's seafood species.

Now, I have come across some conflicting reports from supposedly trustworthy sources- Whole Foods for example, listing their fish as a yellow (not great) when SFW lists them as red (avoid). Any ideas about how to determine who's right? This might be a question for Twitter... (yes, I've joined Twitter. It's kind of exciting!)

Ready for its close-up
Where are you on sustainable seafood? Is it not an issue where you are? Are you confused about who is a good authority? Or are you waiting on a few, good fishmongers to show up in your neighborhood? (Me, too!) Let us know in the comments if you've found some good sources of info which you can share!

Oh, and by the way, the cream for this was organic, and the lemons were sustainably farmed, if you can call the trees in my parents' backyard a 'farm.' SO glad I'm still the occasional recipient of their care packages!