Vegetables

Hollandaise Sauce

Here is the post implied by the ending of the recent herb steamed asparagus post, in which I finally tried making hollandaise sauce almost but not exactly as indicated in this recipe. I had bought two bunches of asparagus, and planned to do this with the second one, just because.

Weird, right? It doesn’t smack of frugality, and I have no reason to want hollandaise, having never, as far as I can recall, eaten it before in my life.

The thing is, the perceived difficulty of cooking eggs and keeping them liquid intrigued me. The idea of mother sauces intrigues me, especially since I rock at sauces and gravies generally. The presumed similarity to making homemade mayonaise intrigues me.

Finally, it’s part of the quest to make variants of plain old asparagus.

So. The recipe. I used 4 yolks, as it said. Most recipes I perused called for 3 yolks. My eggs were extra large, for what it’s worth, not large. I’ve had a goofy little egg separator for 30+ years and, as far as I can recall, have never used it. Until now! For one egg. Which told me doing it with my hands, as I have seen TV chefs do, was vastly better. The gadget was too small, and failed to separate the white as fully or quickly as my fingers. I saved the whites for another experiment, in a cake, since it was my birthday and I am the cook here.

I got about 3 tablespoons of juice from a lemon I had remembered to buy for the purpose, and used one for the hollandaise. See the aforementioned cake for the fate of the rest.

Now, every other recipe I looked at called either for (mostly) a tablespoon of water or (less often) a tablespoon of cream. Or maybe it was milk. This recipe had neither, but I used water anyway, and good thing. I could see it being even better with cream or milk.

I used salted butter. I do not as a rule have unsalted in the house. I buy it if I plan something I know calls for it, and care enough to comply. Some recipes specify unsalted. Some do not. I melted it carefully in the microwave, managing to come out with a complete melt that was no more than room temperature. In just one place I saw mention that sometimes clarified butter is used in hollandaise. I thought that sounded right, so as best I could, I mostly skimmed off the foamy milk solids. (If, like me until relatively recently, you have no idea what is meant by “clarified butter,” that’s all it is: melted butter with the light colored scum you see floating on top skimmed off. It sounds fancier and more intimidating than it is.)

The pinches of salt and cayenne were as directed, though I went very light on the salt, considering the salted butter.

The recipe describes the lemon juice and yolk mixture doubling in volume. I’m not sure mine doubled, though my dubiousness was mooted by seeing that it did increase in volume.

The method described for using a stainless steel pan with a saucepan is great as a makeshift double boiler. Granted, doing this made me pine for a double boiler, and I even found that there are pans sold that come with both steamer and double boiler insets. I checked, since logic suggested the possibility to me.

I would emphasize that pretty much continuous light whisking/stirring is imperative to keep the egg from cooking into solids. It has to cook as a liquid. When it was obviously done, I set the metal bowl into another bowl with shallow, cool water in it. That arrested the cooking process. Shortly after, I changed the water for warm so the sauce wouldn’t get too cold.

I steamed the asparagus with herbs, but less strongly than I had the first time. I thought the flavor would go well, even though the sauce would add flavor and a change of texture profile. That sounds all fancy.

The result?

It was tasty, but too lemony for me. I can’t imagine it is meant to taste that lemony. It was a bit thicker than perhaps is ideal. And that’s with the water the recipe didn’t include! I could have put in a tiny bit more to thin it, but didn’t bother. If I make it again, I would start by reducing the lemon. I would probably use milk or cream instead of water. I might experiment with seasoning the sauce. Heck, I’d be interested in using the basic technique for an eggy sauce to diverge into doing my own thing entirely.

Was it hard to make? No. I didn’t find it tricky at all. I can see how it could go terribly wrong, sure. But I had perceived the making of a sauce in which eggs are cooked liquid to be extremely difficult. Anyone paying adequate attention could do it. Now I know.

Herb Steamed Asparagus

I love asparagus. It’s expensive, except briefly each year, when it’s more affordably expensive. I usually buy some then, having it once or twice a year. One of the kids eats some, but basically it’s exclusive to me. All the less incentive to buy it much.

It was on sale at Hannaford for $1.99/lb in time for Easter, so I got two of the standard bunches, super fresh.

Normally I steam it. When I was young, there was no steaming. You put veggies in water and boiled them into submission. I might still be doing that if my uncle hadn’t gifted me a small steamer pan some sixteen years ago. Asparagus can also be roasted/grilled, or can be sauteed/stir fried. I tried the frying pan with lots of butter and some seasoning method last year. It was good, though could have stood some improvement.

I started out planning simply to steam it, going medium-old school. Then I had an idea!

I put half the asparagus from one bunch into the steamer basket. I sprinkled that semi-liberally with tarragon, dill and celery seeds. I added the other half of the asparagus. I topped that with smaller amounts more of dill and tarragon, plus some black pepper and a little salt. Steamed until done as normal.

The asparagus smelled great cooking as a result of the herbs. Might not have hurt that it was exceptional asparagus, not at all bitter. Better still, it was fantastic! Normally I would slather asparagus with butter, maybe some salt and pepper, but it stood by itself, infused with seasoning in the cooking.

The choice of herbs was purely what sounded right to me, not a recipe or something I’d read. Your mileage and herb choices may vary. I mean, not everyone has tarragon or dill on hand! I’m blessed with a crazy big collection of seasonings. The tarragon was part of a gift pack of Penzey’s herbs, or I might never have bought any even now. I’ve found limited uses for it. I can be good on eggs, obviously with certain veggies, and the best thing I’ve done with it before the asparagus, in making potato soup. The dill I use more regularly. I am not a fan of dill or sour pickles. Sweet for me! However, it’s good in certain gravy applications. I make something I call faux Stroganoff, or a scrambled hamburger flavored the same, and dill is an important component. The sub for it, which I actually used before I had any dill, was a tiny amount of caraway seeds. I found those imparted a robustness to the gravy flavor. But I digress.

Highly recommended. I used the same method for the second batch of asparagus I made, but less heavily seasoned, and that’s a different experiment and post…

Baked Beans

In the past several weeks, I have twice experiemented with making baked beans. These are something we had homemade when I was a kid, but that I have never made. I started by looking at recipes.

I can’t take seriously any recipe that starts with canned pork & beans or even canned baked beans, notwithstanding that in younger, single days I made a darn good chili based on Campbell’s pork & beans. These days I focus on what I can make from inexpensive dry beans.

The first recipe I used came from a friend I first met in seventh grade, who turns out to be distantly related, as we are both Howland descendents. The identical recipe can be found online, as the classic Revolutionary War era savory Boston baked bean recipe. For my friend it is her mother’s Howland family recipe. I will distill it below, after I comment about it a little more.

The objective for me with baked beans is for them to be cheap. Tasty, too, of course, but the ingredients should not result in spending much for the amount of food obtained. Salt pork (bacon, in some recipes) was a huge surprise, and not frugal.

For my first attempt, I did want to follow a recipe exactly, so I went looking for salt pork. I assumed this would be tough, having never noticed it in store. Nope. Walmart had it. Hannaford had it. Market Basket had it. Once I looked, there it was, large amounts. It came in small packs for something like $3.49 for 12 ounces. I pointedly bought navy beans, as they seem to be a favorite, though you can use whatever. My friend’s grandfather liked them with lima beans, which seems odd to me, to say the least. I like lima beans (she hates them), but have never had them dried and can’t picture them in baked beans.

I made a recipe-free attempt of my own a couple weeks ago, using pinto beans, no meat product at all, and substantially different everything else. I know this is going to run long, but bear with me and I’ll tell you what I learned from that adventure before the end.

Classic Howland Baked Beans

Soak 1 lb of dry beans over night in enough water to cover them generously. Par boil until fairly soft. Drain and rinse.

Put 1 large chopped onion and 1/4 pound salt pork in the bottom of a slow cooker or bean pot. Cover with the beans. Sprinkle beans with 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 tablespoon salt, and 3 tablespoons of brown sugar. Add 6 tablespoons of molasses, and boiling water to cover.

If you don’t want to soak beans overnight, it’s OK to use the quick soak method, but it is important to par boil the beans until tender and rinse them well. If they are not tender enough to start, the molasses will make them like marbles no matter how long you cook them.

Pea beans or navy beans may be used, or another variety if you prefer.

The traditional way of baking this recipe is in the oven all day, or over night at a low temperature. Use a covered bean pot. Remove the lid toward the end of the baking time to allow the top to brown and to evaporate some of the liquid.

I went a little heavy on the salt pork when I made this, using half, or 6 ounces, rather than 4 ounces. Just as well, since I did not find another use for the remaining salt pork before it needed to be tossed out, making for expensive beans. I used only part of a very large, sweet onion. I may have cooked the beans less soft before baking than I could have, but they were soft enough not be a problem. Then I promptly forgot that precaution, which does not seem to be included in other baked bean recipes, or in the responses on forums where people ask how to avoid their beans being too hard. Old beans? No.

We liked but didn’t love the result of the above recipe, but it had obvious potential. By “we” I do not mean the kids. I did like the salt pork in it, and would love to try that or bacon in the future, but in an otherwise modified recipe.

The next time I made baked beans, I experimented. I winged it, and used the pinto beans I already had on hand. Chili made with those is a staple here. We have it perhaps every two weeks. The exception was the time I tried making white chili, based on nothing more than a description of what my wife had had when visiting family in Oregon. For that I used dry cannellini beans, which had a great flavor and smooth texture. But I digress.

I can’t remember clearly what I used in the pinto batch of baked beans, but my objective was a sweeter flavor, albeit still centered around molasses. Which, incidentally, I also had to buy in order to make the first batch. For some reason, I had thought molasses was far more expensive than it turned out to be. It has the benefit of long shelf life. Not to mention one container of it covering a number of batches of beans or whatnot. Haven’t yet explored the whatnot angle.

The most important lesson od the pinto baked beans involved remembering to cook them soft before baking. They did indeed come out “like marbles.” It was edible, but not the texture I want from my beans. It made up for it somewhat that the beans were so utterly imbued with flavor and transformed, but no more chewy beans for me.

I’m afraid I don’t remember the details. However, I used some onion, as with the other recipe, chopped smalled and layered bottom and middle. I used plenty of molasses, layers of brown sugar, plenty of dry mustard, salt, and a spritz of maple syrup. Not that spritz is the right word for something of that consistency, but just a little, a couple drizzles. I may have used a touch of vinegar, too, and I might not have remembered that except for the hard bean issue. When I saw what had happened and was near the end of the cooking, I tried adding a wee bit of baking soda in case that would help. It naturally foamed up from the acidity. I had the anecdotal impression that it helped ever so slightly, but that could be illusory. At any rate, if it did, it wasn’t enough. I had forgotten the need for uncovering the beans at the end, but wound up doing so because there was too much liquid. That was an additional reason I kept cooking them longer than I had expected. Despite what the original recipe says, I found it didn’t need all day. Just a few hours.

Next I will try making them less sweet than the second experiment, but with beans cooked into submission ahead of time. They were delicious, and went fantastically with a burger or bread and butter, but less brown sugar would have improved them. If I can have some on hand anyway, perhaps from a sale, with the rest to be used for a different meal, I’d love to add some bacon.

I’ll try to remember to post about what I do and how it turns out.

Poor Kids

Using the other half of a large pack of kielbasa, yesterday I made “kielbasa and cabbage.” This was inspired by my grandmother having served that now and then. It was kind of an alternative to boiled dinner.

I included a cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and seasoning. I loved it. Two of the kids wouldn’t touch it, even though all three kids love kielbasa in the form of sweet & sour, and one of them loves potatoes and carrots. The one who tried it liked it OK, except I gave her just a bite of cabbage and it apparently had a piece of red pepper flake or something else strong in it. Two of the kids have eaten salad at school that included cabbage along with lettuce, so they weren’t as weirded out by cabbage as they might have been. Just by it being cooked.

The wife has yet to try it. She snacked too close to supper, too much to be hungry. She enjoyed the smell, though.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

[Edited]

I mentioned in my intro post that I might repost past stuff from the other blogs. I’d stumbled across a Moroccan Carrot Salad post from June 25, 2006, and wanted to remind myself I’d intended to experiment with the recipe. It’s summer, or at least the weather deities believe it should be in these parts, so now’s the time.

Last night I made Moroccan Carrot Salad, as seen on the rec.food.recipes newsgroup. It sounded intriguing and I figured it would supplement our contribution of mass quantities of beverages to my grandmother’s birthday party today.

I upped it to two pounds,¦ highly approximate on the carrot front, as it was the end of a 3 lb bag and part of a new 3 lb bag. We’ve been going through carrots lately, cooked and in salads. Sadie loves carrot sticks, though it’s freaky when she chipmunks them and spits them out an hour later in favor of eating something else.

I bought a real lemon on my trip to the Farmer’s Outlet, with no clue how much juice a lemon produces. It turned out to be exactly the needed 4 tablespoons. Cool.

Having no idea what orange blossom water even was, but being intrigued by the idea of a slight orange tinge, I added some juice squeezed from an orange section. That, maybe a tablespoon, was too much. The half cup of extra virgin olive oil seemed to be too much, too.

I was unimpressed right after it was done and well stirred together. It was sour/oily/orange enough then that I added two extra tablespoons of honey.

After sitting overnight, it’s good. Not fantastically amazing, and still needs to be tried with variations to make it more to my taste (might be as simple as adding more ginger and/or cinnamon, of which I added almost none), but sort of tangy, sweet and nutty at once. Sadie seems to like it a lot. Deb likes it but thinks the lemon and honey taste like they’re doing battle. Indeed. I suspect it’s going to be a matter of taste, who likes it a lot or not so much.

For convenience, here’s the actual recipe as I originally saw it on Usenet and used it in slightly modified form, all credit the the source link:

Moroccan Carrot Salad

1 lb sweet carrots peeled and fine grated/fine shredded
1/2 cup light or dark raisins
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp orange flower water or to taste
cinnamon and powdered ginger to taste
salt and pepper to taste

The orange flower water adds a delicate and exotic orange flavor to this different but pleasant tasting salad. I serve the salad in a dark blue serving bowl for a striking appearance. Mix all together and adjust flavoring ( honey, lemon spices etc. ) to taste. Chill very well. Garnish with fresh mint. Yield 4 to 6 servings. Multiply recipe as needed.

(And yes, I did use a blue bowl, which coincidentally happened to be my best option for one-bowl prep and serving. It is a nice visual.)

I’m thinking that allspice might be another flavoring option, besides ginger and cinnamon. Indeed, allspice is one of those things I use surprisingly often, now that I have some. Not in the traditional ways – for instance, you can taste allspice if you eat a blueberry cake donut from Dunkin’ Donuts – but as dashes or pinches in things that could use a flavor adjustment.

When I get around to trying this again, I’ll make a small recipe, just for us. It was kind of risky, making an unknown item for a crowd.