Saturday, 17 October 2009

Burnt Nuts and Pink Pee

Warning: This post contains ramblings about burnt nuts and pink pee. You have been warned.

Leftovers are a fabulous excuse to make stuffed pasta. This time I had some blue cheese that needed to be used. I also had a bit of ricotta and cheddar left over. Tortellini time! A rummage around my refrigerator also turned up a bunch of beet root - a fabulous compliment to blue cheese.

I'd been in the mood to make pasta lately, so this was perfect. Pasta is one of those things that I find surprisingly relaxing to make even though I used to hate it. The culinary nemesis is now a fast friend. Dinner was a go - blue cheese tortellini with beet root and a walnut-brown butter sauce. Nothing could be simpler.

Famous last words, right?

My nuts - I burned them. Scorched, black, and inedible, they ended up in the bin. Walnuts are not meant to be black and awful. They are supposed to be smokey and delicious. Do not eat burnt nuts. With a broken heart, I tossed them and opted for the less nice walnut oil and brown butter sauce.


Please note that because these are leftovers, the measurements are approximate. The best thing to do is use your taste buds and get a mix that tastes delicious to you!

- portion of homemade pasta
- about 1/4 cup blue cheese finely chopped into bitty pieces
- 3 to 4 Tablespoons shredded cheddar (opt.)
- about 1/4 cup ricotta - enough to end up with a cheese paste instead of a cheese crumb
- 1 egg beaten

1. Prepare the pasta and leave to rest *recipe to follow

2. While the pasta is resting, mix together cheeses and season to taste. I used a chef's knife and a spoon, but you can probably use an electric chopper of some sort. The point of the ricotta is to bind the cheddar and blue cheeses into a paste that's much nicer to work with as well as lovely moist and gooey when cooked.

3. Roll out the pasta in a pasta machine. I rolled mine out to setting 2 - the second to last thinnest. I find that the pasta falls apart too easily on level 1 and anything thicker than setting three is harder to work with for filled pasta. I stuck to the middle.

4. Cut out circles about 2.5 inches in diameter. If you don't have a round cutter - I used a pastry cutter - you can cut your pasta into squares with a knife.

5. Put about 1/2 teaspoon of filling into the center of your pasta. Using a pastry brush, paint a thin layer of wash all around the filling. Don't just do the edges - do the whole bloody thing. It helps ensure you get rid of air bubbles. Fold the pasta in half making sure to gently squeeze any air bubbles out. If you're working with a circle, you should have a half circle. If you're working with a square, you should now have a triangle. Wrap the ends around your finger and squeeze to secure. You should now have a little tortellini. Hurray!

6. Set your tortellini on a FLOURED TOWEL. Do NOT leave your pasta on a tray even a well floured one as the moisture will prove itself a right pain in the bottom. You will get soggy pasta. I usually have a small plate in the fridge with a flour dusted dish towel on it. That way, every half dozen or so, I can shove them in the fridge where they hold up a lot better. What you want to avoid either way is leaving the pasta out in the open for very long. You will end up with a soggy, sticky messy pasta blob.

Note: Pasta will keep in the fridge like this for a day or two. Otherwise, pop your towel with a single later of pasta on it into the freezer. Once the pasta's frozen you can shove everything in a bag. Do NOT 'air dry' tortellini. 1. it doesn't work for the reasons listed 2. you've got raw egg in the pasta plus perishable ingredients that just don't do well out in the air.

To Roast Beets:

Top and tail your beets. Chuck them in foil and wrap them up tight. Throw them into an oven at 200 degrees C for at least an hour. Pull them out of the oven and let them rest until they're cool enough to handle. Most people will suggest you wear latex gloves when handling beets. That's all well in good. I don't like latex gloves, so I opted not to wear them. Contrary to popular belief, my hands are not pink. However, you may choose to take the risk of pink dyed hands or not.

Peel and dice the beets into little cubes about 1/2 inch square. I tossed them in a little lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. They were obviously cold by the time I'd made my pasta. Bear in mind that pasta doesn't stay warm for very long. So while I was cooking the pasta and sauce, I chucked my beets onto the plate and tossed the whole thing into the oven which was set on a very low temperature. This resulted in warm beets and a warm plate.


I would suggest a blend of butter, seasoning, and walnuts. I would not advise cream sauce with beets. It will be pink and gross looking for one thing. And I've never found that beets pair well with cream based anything. Anyway, toss your pasta with the butter sauce and pour it over your beets.

Fun Beet Fact - There are some people who can't digest betalain pigments that make beets red. It results in pink pee. This condition is called beeturia.

Friday, 25 September 2009

It all went well until...

I made homemade ravioli stuffed with chiogga beat and goats cheese. Yum yum!

I'd put a lot of time and effort and love into these little, irregular square shaped parcels, and they were delicious. I had about four and left the rest to dry, destined for the freezer. I nearly screamed when I offered a friend of mine some to take home only to discover - oh horror - they were stuck to the tray!

Yes, my beautiful ravioli were stuck. The bottoms had gone soggy and showed little sign of budging. I have since very carefully done my best to remove these to a towel, where I hope they will be more cooperative. I've got a bunch in the fridge keeping cool. I've got some in the freezer for storage. But my freezer is small, and if I threw them into a bag and chucked it in the freezer I'd have something that resembled a big wad of dough with bits in it instead of the ravioli I had slaved over. With any luck, I'll be able to salvage the little buggers. Because the filling isn't a particularly 'leaky' filling, I reckon that any holes that have magically appeared as the dough has degraded won't cause too much trouble.

We'll see. This will have to be remedied next time. I'll post the recipe in a day or two. In the mean time, I'll curse this little bit of ill luck after all of the hard work that went into what I thought had been a pretty darned good job up until the part where it got messy.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Sun-dried Tomatoes - in the oven!

The summer is over. Autumn is here, and the weather is starting to get cooler. The last of the berries are flying from the supermarket shelves. Summer salads are giving way to heartier, winter root vegetables from my nemesis the Parsnip to fabulous, versatile butternut squash. This summer I've stocked up. My little freezer is filled with delicious sweet corn and Exmoor blueberries and, admittedly, reduced priced blackberries from Somerfield.

That being said, reduced priced and 'value' items can be quite useful. Tomato season is ending which means the final remnants of the bumper crop are everywhere. There should be an abundance of both fully ripe and wonderful heirlooms and standard beefeater reds as well as green tomatoes of "Fried green tomatoes" notoriety. And by the way, I've had these lovely little morsels before thanks to a Los Angeles buddy of mine, and they're tasty if done right. Soft, tangy, and just the nicest bite thanks to bread crumbs.

However, I didn't make friend green tomatoes. As yummy as they are, I'm not a huge fan of fried food especially if I'm making it in my own home. Oil gets everywhere. And if it gets on you, it HURTS. Even if there's no one around to see, jumping from foot to foot squeaking in pain is still somewhat embarrassing. I'm sure my gerbils are laughing at me. Actually, they're probably cuddled up asleep ignoring their owner's culinary antics unless they're getting the periodic vegetable scrap.

One of my favorite tomato sun dried tomatoes. They're tomatoes but super injected with flavor that has been concentrated and tamed and made oh so delicious by the sun. However, they also tend to be prohibitively expensive. Being relatively unemployed at present, spluring on a teeny tiny packet of these lovely red gems hasn't been on my list of things to do.

There are ways around this. Value tomatoes can be as cheap as 99P depending on where you shop. Without thinking too much about it, I spent a whomping six quid on six packets of Value Cherry tomatoes. These ruby treasures were lovingly brought home - okay, practically danced home in my over enthusiasm - and chucked into a sink filled with cold water as I cracked my knuckled and prepared to harnass the power of the sun! Okay, not really. I was going to put my oven to good work and make it do what the sun would do if there was sun to be had to dry my tomatoes. Did you get all that? Neither did I.

Anyway, before I continue, I think I ought to add a warning.

1. These take a long time to prepare and you need to be comfortable leaving you oven on for a LOOOOONG time. So yes, DIY sun-dried tomatoes are cheaper, but you must be PATIENT. They will take AGES

2. These little babies are addictive. HIGHLY addictive even. So be sure you make them in bulk or you can kiss all of your hard work goodbye in a matter of minutes.

3. If you can get them, use a paste tomato like Roma. A lot of your store bought tomatoes have lots of juice inside with very thin fleshy parts. While these still make tasty tomato treats, they will not be nearly as effective as fleshier tomatoes with less juice inside. Need more information? Check out Better yet, grow your own tomatoes. These are infinitely better than ANYTHING you can buy short of those produced by small producers. I speak from experience. Remember that tomatoes are high in natural sugars. As soon as they are picked, these sugars start to degrade. It is for this reason that most people will tell you not to put your tomatoes in the refrigerator as the cold exacerbates and speeds up the process. That doesn't mean you'll get listless, tasteless tomatoes, but they won't be nearly as sweet as a fresh picked tomato.

4. Feel free to disregard number 3 which isn't really a warning at all. Just good advice. That being said, the point of drying these tomatoes was that they were cheap. Inexpensive. Budget friendly. And these are never going to be top quality tomatoes which makes them, ironically, as perfect for drying as any non-paste tomato can be. While the sugars may be degraded and therefore not as potent, the beauty of sun-dried tomatoes is that the drying process...wait for it...concentrates the sugars into one delightful tomatoey bite. So the sugars left in your value tomatoes will be condensed into a blissful dried out tomato raisin.

5. Do NOT omit the salt. Salt is a natural flavor enhancer for tomatoes. It makes them taste better. I know there might be health fanatics out there going AGH! Salt! Do it anyway. Add salt. Don't over do it. But certainly don't omit it. I tried drying a few without as an experiment, and it almost made the whole thing a wasted effort. Salt is necessary.

And...ever onwards.

You will need:

- A lot of tomatoes. Remember warning 2
- Olive oil (optional)
- Salt (essential)
- Herbs of your choice - basil, rosemary, oregano are all good. Just not together.

1. Slice the tomatoes in half. ALL of them. In half. Nice, neat halves. This takes FOREVER. So put in a movie, put the kids to work, put the laundry in. Whatever you choose to do, you have been warned.

2. If you want to make your life even more difficult and cut down on oven time you can opt to de-see the tomatoes. That's right, reach your little finger in there and gently and lovingly scoop out it's insides. Don't toss the tomatoe entrails in the rubbish bin! Make life easier and push the pulp into a bowl. You can use this later in all sorts of ways - anything that requires a tomato base. Or add a dash of tobasco, pinch of salt, and give it a whirl than drink. Yum. Tomato juice. Seed removal via strainer is optional...

3. With your tomato halves in a large bowl, sprinkle generously with salt and stir.

4. Add any herbs and stir.

5. Now this part is optional. I didn't feel that the addition of olive oil really altered anything. It may help things dry more evenly, but that's about it. Either way, add your oil sparingly. Do NOT over do the oil or you'll end up with a mess in your oven and potentially soggy tomatoes. You have been warned!

6. Arrange your tomatoes cut side up on a bake tray. Single layer please. No tomato pile ups here. At this point you can let your tomatoes dry out a bit by allowing some of the moisture that the salt will pull out to evaporate, or you can shove the little demons directly into an oven.

7. Set your oven to a low temperature. This tends to be about 150C/200F give or take. I'm sure that's an inanccurate conversion, but it's close enough for our purposes. Point is - LOW oven setting.

8. Chuck your tomatoes in the oven. Turn the tray every hour or so for better results than had you not rotated your tomato tray.

9. Let your tomatoes dry out until withered and a bit gummy - think tomato gummy bear but not quite. You do NOT want super dried out CRUNCHY tomatoes. Nor do you want super wet, SOGGY tomatoes. Gummy good. Cruncy or Soggy is BAD. This can take anywhere from 2 hours (or so I've been told although I remain skeptical) to a very, very long time (6-7 hours) depending on the size and type of your tomato. This is why I take a good portion of the juice/seeds out of mine. They dry faster, and I got far fewer soggy tomatoes. Just took an age and a day to de-seed them.

10. I believe that these will store about three months packed in a jar filled with olive oil. However, I prefer to put them in a bag in the fridge or freezer. In the freezer they will keep semi-indefinitely. Also means less oil to deal with and a nicer, dryer texture when chopping the little beauties up for other dishes.

11. DON'T EAT THEM ALL AT ONCE! I suspect this will make your tummy relatively unhappy for one thing. Of course, if you can't resist and don't mind upset tummy, go for it. I guess. But don't say I didn't warn you! For another, it means you've just spent ten minutes destroying HOURS and HOURS and HOURS and HOURS of hard work.

I made about four pounds of these cherry tomatoes. It's amazing how much volume they lose. I still have some in my freezer although I've eaten quite a few. Don't be disheartened when all of your hard work and an army of tomatoes that once filled the entirety of your counter space is reduced to a couple of handfuls of concentrated tomatoey deliciousness that CONVENIENTLY fits into a small container. Remember, think positive!


Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Bits and Pieces Soup

Every so often, I'll have more vegetables than I know what to do with. Maybe it was a busy week filled with deadlines and pop-it-in-the-oven or, heaven forbid, microwave ready meals instead of lovely, freshly prepared food. Whatever the reason, I occasionally find myself saddled with an excess of vegetables that seems impossible to use up before the next deliver comes in. It's a terrible dilemma isn't it? What ever is a girl to do?

Thankfully there is an abundance of ways to get rid of leftovers - sauces, stir fries, pizza toppings. Over the weekend I put the last of the somewhat grungy mushrooms to good use in my first successful pasta endeavor - mushroom and savoy ravioli. Bear in mind that homemade pasta has been one of my cooking nemesis, so it was an absolute delight to have this little triumph after years of cursing impossible to work with pasta dough that tasted even worse than it looked. Let's just say that you'd have done just as well to shove a spoonful of flour paste into your mouth as eat the 'pasta' I made. However, that's another post.

Browsing through my refrigerator, the contents that screamed "use me!" were the mostly complete head of savoy cabbage, four mildly grungy looking carrots, a teeny tiny bit of cilantro, half an onion, and about a handful of leftover canned broad beans (fava beans). What to make, what to make.

SOUP! But of course. Now, having limited experience in the kitchen, I had no idea how these tastes would marry together. Or even if they would. I could end up with a big pot of yuck. Hopefully I'd end up with a big pot of yummy and highly edible, warm-you-up soup. Seems fitting considering the weather has taken a turn for the worst. So I consulted a couple of my favorite cookbooks - Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page and Deborah Madison's The Greens Cookbook. The first, while not particularly big on recipes appropriate for everyday use, is a veritable treasure trove of ingredients and their ideal flavor pairings. Don't know how to cook beets? Look it up for a list of ingredients that pair well with beets as well as suggested cooking methods - roasting, braising, etc. This book has saved me on more than one occasion, a brilliant companion for those like me who love to cook and experiment, but tend to lack the necessary experience and training to go "ah-ha!" on every whim.

I bought Madison's book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, about three months ago. Unfortunately, I've never had a chance to use it as I purchased it while visiting my family, and they're largely carnivorous. Of course part of the reason for going home is mom's home-cooking. Or, as is often the case, dad's home-cooking which means 1. I'm not cooking and 2. there isn't a whole lot of vegetarianism going on in the House of Scribble. Not expecting to stay in the UK past mid-fall, I left the gigantic book, a regular vegetarian bible, in New Jersey deeming it too large to bother with during cross-Atlantic travel. Rather than buy a second copy now that I'm staying in the UK a bit longer than anticipated, I bought another book - Greens. But why bring cookbooks up in an entry about leftovers? Well aside from the obvious usefulness of figuring out if Carrots and Savoy had any common flavor pairings, I based the cooking method for the soup I made on a recipe for Kale and Potato Soup with Chilli from Madison's book. A recipe, incidentally, that I highly recommend even if the chilli did make my nose a bit drippy. But that is what tissues and a future blog entry are for.

So with fingers crossed and a smattering of random vegetables in front of me, I got to work concocting a soup that somehow managed to pull itself together as I went. Love it when that happens!

The Scribble's Savoy and Carrot Bits and Pieces Soup


Four carrots, chopped
Half of a savoy cabbage, core removed, quartered and shredded
Half a large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic roughly chopped
Small potato, finely diced (added as an after thought to help thicken the soup)
About 1.5 liters vegetable stock or water - less or more depending on desired consistancy
Handful of leftover broad beans (fava beans) - optional
dash of chilli powder (optional - probably not necessary)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (I used bottled)
A good bunch of chopped up cilantro
Olive oil or other cooking oil
About 2 tablespoons spread or butter (I used Anchor)

1. Heat some oil* in a pan large enough to hold your soup. It is important that the oil is hot. You want to caramelize the carrots and onions just a tiny bit, and low heat will not accomplish this. In fact, low-medium heat will only contribute to a general wet mess for the type of quick cooking required here. Once the oil's hot, add the onions and give them a good stir. After about three minutes, the onions should be translucent and fragrant. Add your carrots and stir. Give the whole mixture another three minutes stirring regularly. Add your garlic. Stir. Yes, garlic comes last because onions+garlic at the same time at high heat tends to result in nasty, burnt garlic. Burny garlic is BAD.

2. Add enough water or stock so that you're not quite covering the vegetables. Lower heat, pop a lid on your soup, and let this concoction cook gently for five minutes to soften up the carrots and get the flavors all mingly and friendly.

3. Chuck in your cabbage, give it a stir. Cover and cook until just starting to wilt. There should still be enough liquid in your pot to steam the cabbage.

4. Add the rest of the stock. Cover. Simmer for 30-40 minutes.

5. Add about 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil to enrich the soup. Although this is optional, I found that it did a hell of a lot to improve the overall flavor and yumminess of the soup. It also took the last little edge off of the cabbage which can be quite bitter otherwise.

6. Remove the pot from the heat and let sit with the lid off. This will allow the flavors to mingle further as well as cool the soup down for blending. I did try this soup without blending it together, but I didn't like it much. Every so often I'd get a lone piece of cabbage that hadn't quite broken down as much as it ought to have and it wasn't very pleasant. Zipping this soup in a blender to puree it works wonders! Once your soup has cooled down enough to puree, give it a whiz. You can either add your cilantro here or after the soup's been liquified. I added mine in before. Unfortunately, I only had a few useable leaves lefts. I'd have added some more otherwise. I'm not usually a cilantro fan, but I did like the extra zing it added. I suppose this is another ingredient that can be omitted if you're not into cilantro or simply don't have any lying around. I had so little in the soup that I'm certain it would taste fine without. It was nice to have the fresh green tang though.

7. Once you've got everything lovely and smooth, add in the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and give it a good stir. At this point you can either serve at whatever temperature things are at or pop it back on the stove over low heat to warm through and get nice and toasty.

The keys I found were the pureeing, lemon juice, and butter enrichment. The lemon's acidity brightened everything up and helped tone down the otherwise very earthy flavors of carrot and cabbage. The butter enrichment added what I felt was an absolutely necessary creamy smoothness to the soup. It also helped mellow the flavors just that little bit more and, more importantly, bring them together.

soup ready to simmer

And there you have it. Round one of the Bits and Pieces soup. I liked it. I'm glad to have leftover soup too. Of course, this might not be your cup of tea. I can't swear by my own recipes. But the earthy bitterness of cabbage seems to work well with the earthy sweetness of carrot which I suppose makes sense since quite a few of the suggested pairings for cabbage in Culinary Artistry are sweet flavors - apples, beets, caraway, chestnuts, coconut, Madeira, paprika. So hurray for success. Makes me happy anyway. Makes my tummy happy too!

Probably also a good idea that I've finally started writing down recipes when I'm making stuff up. Otherwise I tend to forget and there goes any opportunity of recreating the occasional culinary success.

* A note on oil - I used Carotino, a blend of red palm and canola oil rich in vitamins and Omega fatty acids. Sounds good, right? Now generally it is. I've been on Carotino's website to double check their environmental practices and am pleased that they're adhereing to sustainable and flora-and-fauna friendly methods. Although I'm not normally quite this finicky about environmental practices of pre-packaged items (who has time to research everything about the products they buy), I am rather picky about things with palm oil in them. In certain areas, palm oil producing plantations have run into issues with one of my favorite animals - the Orang-utan. Therefore, it's important to me that the companies producing the palm oil are doing so sustainably and in a way that adapts to the orang-utans in the area instead of the other way around as this usually involves orangutans being shot or maimed by plantation owners protecting their crops. So, if you're using palm oils, which is delicious, flavorsome and healthy, please check that your product is not only sustainable but ape friendly.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Confit Byaldi

Welcome to the Cooking Scribble, the vegetarian adventures of, well, a cooking Scribble. About three months ago I opted to take the 'flexitarian' approach to eating, cutting down my meat consumption to pretty much zilch. At this point, I reckon I eat just enough animal bits to avoid angering the tummy gods when meat is ingested either purposefully as my family is ridiculously carnivorous or accidentally because meat tends to sneak into all sorts of things from stocks to stews. Anyway, as an independent animator and illustrator, I thought I'd kick off with the dish a little Pixar rodent made famous - a variation of ratatouille by Chef Thomas Keller called Confit Byaldi.

The vegetables I used were primarily sourced locally via Somerset Local Food Direct's fabulous farm shop. I've been using their delivery service for the past month, and the quality has been consistently good. Not only are the produce included in my weekly veg-box varied and delicious, the people running the company are friendly and very helpful. Based in the Somerset area, Somerset Local Food Direct not only provides veg-boxes starting as low as £3.59, but a whole range of yumminess. Select a variety of fruits and vegetables or perhaps some scrummy, local cheese is more to your liking. Either way, I've found them delightful to order from - a fabulous product for a reasonable price with the added benefit of home delivery if you're car-less like me and unable to get to local farmers' markets easily. As an added bonus, first time buyers with a purchase £30 or more can choose from a number of charities to which SLFD will donate £10. How neat is that? Help the environment. Help local producers. Help a good cause. And get yummy, delicious, no-nonsense food delivered to your door.

As for the recipe - I made a few variations to fit the contents of my weekly vegetable allotment. Instead of the long, thin Japanese eggplant, I used a standard, fat eggplant cut in half than sliced. I also lacked yellow squash and substituted Kosher salt with sea salt from Trader Joe's (it came back to England in my suitcase). Little changes.

The end result - not the prettiest thing in the world, but still absolutely delicious. Taste bud heaven! And not just because I was hungry and the recipe happens to take a relatively long time to put together especially if you're cutting all of your vegetables by hand.