In the zone in the kitchen
It's not just dinner; it's an odyssey
You don’t NEED a pink salt block for cooking, but it is really fun and delicious.
And it does a few things exceptionally well.
Like fish–very hard to overcook fish on a salt block. Ditto thin pork chops.
We made bananas foster/flambé bananas last night. Slightly salty, buttery and caramelized. Oh yes.
Cooking on the block this spring has been a fun project. It’s a little tricky, the salt block. It requires about 40 minutes of heating before use. It can’t be heated in an oven or on a sealed-top range. Clean-up is a bear.
This block came from The Meadow, the cooking store operated by cookbook author (and former engineer) Mark Bitterman. The site has lots of very detailed info on the salt blocks themselves and on cooking with them. Salt Block Cooking, his book on the subject and the only salt block cookbook I’m aware of, has a May 2013 publication date.
Next up we plan to use the block to cure salmon. Love gravlax.
Bananas, steak, chops, fish, gravlax. Maybe a salt block is for you, and maybe it’s not. Come find out at a salt block cooking class at the Donelson Farmers Market on August 23. More details eventually.
I tested microwave recipes for an April 2013 story for Nashville City Paper. What resulted was a big stack of great recipes that turn out just as well as they would with conventional methods.
Plenty were left after three of them were published in The Eating Life, my monthly feature for Nashville CityPaper.
In a few cases, like Microwave English muffin bread, you trade a little bit of quality (usually the texture) for 80 percent less cooking time and a cooler kitchen. I weeded out any that turned out a noticeably inferior product.
Hollandaise sauce in a couple of minutes? Yes please. Pralines without heating up the kitchen–yes to that, too. See the previous post for microwave whole wheat bread and microwave orange-nut bread.
This recipe was developed for a 1100-watt microwave. If your microwave is a different wattage, use a percent calculator.
3 egg yolks
Pinch of lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
Beat the egg yolks, zest, juice and salt in a small bowl. Melt the butter in a microwaveable bowl at 50 percent (about 650 to 700 watts) for 30 to 45 seconds until melted, whisking halfway through.
Add the egg mixture to the hot butter and whisk to blend. Microwave at 30 percent (300 to 400 watts) until thickened, about 45 seconds to 1 1/2 minutes, whisking every 30 seconds. The mixture will look lumpy and broken, but keep whisking and heating until it’s thick.
And you know something? It’s butter and lemon–it tastes great over asparagus or eggs Benedict even if it doesn’t cook into a thick, velvety sauce.
Microwave Buttermilk Pralines
The only tricky part is shaping the pralines. If the mixture hardens, microwave it for a few seconds. Repeat as needed, and expect the few pralines at the bottom of the bowl to be hard and lumpy.
Prepared in a 1000-watt microwave. If yours differs, use a percentage calculator to get the correct wattage.
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt (or more for a salty-sweet flavor)
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups pecan halves
2 tablespoons butter
1 heaping teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons fine-quality vanilla extract
In a large microwaveable bowl or deep round casserole dish, combine the sugars, salt and butter. Add the pecans and butter and mix well. Microwave on high for about 12 minutes, stirring every 4 minutes. The mixture should be boiling. Add the baking soda–the mixture will foam up. Microwave for 1 minute longer. Beat or whip until the mixture begins to feel thick and tacky. Add the vanilla and mix well.
Working quickly, drop teaspoonfuls of the candy onto a Silpat mat, marble slab or heavily buttered foil. Let stand without touching until firm. If the praline mixture hardens while you’re still shaping the pralines, microwave it for a few seconds to soften.
And now, for something completely different.
Maneet’ Chauhan’s cookbook was a big departure from the community cookbooks I usually edit. In Flavors of My World, A Culinary Tour Through 25 Countries, Chopped judge and chef Maneet Chauhan takes a national dish from each country and flavors it with Indian spices and techniques. That yields foods like Irish soda bread with scented with ground dried pomegranate seeds and a spanish potato omelet with cumin, onion ginger and turmeric.
A whole book full of dishes that never existed before–it’s pretty staggering. There’s so much I want to cook here–pots de creme flavored with cardamom seeds, spanokopita of sarson saag paneer ( like spinach palak paneer but made with mustard greens).
In the risotto recipe, mustard seeds are popped, and flavor the butter with a popcorn, while curry leaves add a incense fragrance. And you can make it in a pressure cooker.
The coconut churros are a brilliant take on a traditional Mexican breakfast sweet. Perfect with coffee.
Tadka Walla Risotto
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 sprig curry leaves, removed from stem
3 to 4 whole green Thai chiles
1/4 teaspoon asafedtida (hing)
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
3 small onions, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon minced cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
5 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated paneer
Chopped roasted peanuts
Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Cook until they sizzle. Add the asafetida and peanuts. Fry until brown. Add the chiles, curry leaves, onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is tender and garlic is lightly browned. Add cilantro, salt and pepper and mix well. Add the rice and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add the milk and cream. Heat to a simmer. Add the vegetable stock, 1 cup at a time, and cook, stirring constantly, until it is absorbed before adding more. When the rice is cooked through, add the butter, Parmesan and paneer. Serve hot, garnished with peanuts and cilantro. Makes 8 servings.
Coconut Kesari Mexican Churros
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup coconut milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of saffron threads mixed with 1 tablespoon milk
Canola oil for frying
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried shredded coconut, toasted
Heat the water, coconut milk, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbles form around the edge. Add the flour all at once and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until no lumps of flour remain. Remove from the heat. Add the saffron mixture. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time with a wooden spoon. The dough should look soft and glossy.
Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.
Heat canola oil for deep-frying until the tip of a wooden spoon handle dipped into the oil gives off a slow, steady stream of tiny bubbles, about 350 degrees . Carefully pipe dough in 6-inch lengths into the hot oil. Fry, turning once, until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Combine the sugar, cinnamon and coconut in a paper bag. Close and shake to mix. Put a few churros at a time into the bag. Shake until coated. Serve immediately. Makes 10 8-inch churros.
It was the challah, souffle and rib roast on the cover of the Sharp Carousel Microwave Cookbook that made me pick it up at Goodwill. Challah, souffle and rib roast in the microwave–come on, Sharp, really?
The answer was, “No, not really”–all those foods were made with a convection function and microwaveable metal racks and pans that my oven doesn’t have.
But there were some really ambitious recipes in the book. I mean, it’s not as if I ignored the microwave–I’ve always used it for meatloaf: 7 minutes, add a glaze, and finish under the broiler. And vegetables–I still have a Tupperware steamer from the mid-1990s (color–dusty rose!) to steam broccoli, snow peas, cauliflower and zucchini like a champ.
Microwave pralines turn out just beautifully. Tapioca pudding is just perfect in the microwave. Other than that, I never really explored what was possible in a microwave.
The Sharp cookbook offered the possibility of pork chops, coquilles St. Jacques and chicken.
As it turns out none of those did very well. Part of the problem is wattage. The original Sharp was 700 watts. My 2005 Sharp is 1100 watts, more than 50 percent more powerful than the ’80s ovens. It toughened the chicken meat and incinerated coquilles St. Jacques. The chops turned out okay, but I wouldn’t try them again.
Any microwave recipe that doesn’t include wattage isn’t complete. Despite that, a lot of recipes don’t. So if it’s a new recipe, assume it was developed in a 1000-watt oven. If it’s older than 20 years, assume the oven is 700 watts. (Use a percent calculator to adjust recipes if your wattage differs.)
The morning mugs I developed for a cookbook last summer. The bread recipes originated with the Sharp cookbook, but I changed them substantially.
I discuss microwave cooking (and have 3 more recipes) more fully in a Nashville City Paper story, and there was only space for 3 recipes. I’m publishing the best of them here at The Project Kitchen.
Yeah, so just march into the kitchen and tell your microwave to get off its ass and get to work.
Morning in a Mug
Fast and portable. Easy to eat in the car on the way to work…I’ve heard. Water, not milk, makes fluffy eggs, since milk binds with the proteins in the egg to make it tougher.
Nonstick cooking spray
2 eggs or ½ cup egg substitute
2 teaspoons water
2 to 4 tablespoons chopped ingredients (see below)
2 tablespoons shredded cheese (see below)
Spray a large mug or ramekin with non-stick cooking spray. Combine the eggs and water and whisk until fluffy. Add your choice of other ingredients. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir the mixture, then microwave 30 to 45 seconds until set. Serve immediately.
- Greek Mug–spinach, artichoke hearts and feta
- Mexican Mug--black beans, corn, peppers, tomatoes, Mexican blend cheese, topped with salsa or guacamole
- Meaty Mug--sausage, bread crumbs or croutons and cheese
- Italian Mug-- basil, tomato and mozzarella
Orange Nut Bread
Quick breads microwave well, it turns out. I substituted almond flour and chickpea flour for some of the white flour to add protein and it worked perfectly. Substituting Splenda for part of the sugar works, too.
2 cups all-purpose flour (I substituted about 1/4 cup almond meal & 1/4 cup of chickpea flour for 1/2 cup of the white flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the brown sugar, zest, marmalade, egg and milk and mix well. Add the orange juice and margarine and mix just until blended. Stir in the nuts.
Pour into a greased 8×4 Pyrex loaf pan. Microwave for about 10 minutes at 60 percent on an 1100-watt microwave. (Use a percent calculator if your wattage differs.) Check with a wooden skewer or pick–if it doesn’t come out clean, let stand a few minutes and check again. Makes 1 loaf, about 16 thin slices.
Whole Wheat Bread
Microwave bread bakes in about 10 minutes, is the good news. Bad news: is doesn’t brown. Whole wheat flour gives a more appetizing color and more nutrients. Coating the outside of the dough with wheat germ or oatmeal helps too.
If you don’t have a Pyrex loaf pan, use a Pyrex casserole dish. Set a microwaveable glass or custard cup in the middle–the bread cooks much more evenly in a ring shape.
This recipe was made in a 1100-watt microwave oven.
1 package yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
1 cup milk
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar or honey
2 tablespoons margarine, butter or shortening
1 teaspoon salt
11/2 cups whole wheat flour
11/2 cups all-purpose or unbleached white bread flou
Extra butter or margarine for the top
Grease the pan. Sprinkle with wheat germ, shaking to coat the whole interior. Combine the yeast and water in a small dish.
Combine the milk, sugar, butter and salt in a large bowl. Microwave at 50 percent for 2 to 3 minutes until the butter is melted. Stir to help the sugar dissolve. Let cool until the mixture is warm enough to hold your finger in comfortably for a count of 10 (about 105 to 110 degrees).
Add the flours to the yeast mixture. Knead (or use a food processor or dough hooks) for a few minutes until springy and satiny. Shape into a ball. Spray the top with nonstick cooking spray. Put in a bowl or wrap in a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place until double in size.
Punch down the dough. Shape it into a loaf and put it into the pan. Let rise until puffy and about double in size. Microwave at 30 percent for 12 minutes. If your oven doesn’t have a rotating carousel, rotate the dish every 2 minutes. Use a thermometer to test the bread–if it’s over 190 degres, it’s done. If not, microwave for 1 minute at a time until the temperature reaches 190 degrees. Brush the top with butter. Cool in the pan for 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely.
Roasted poblanos stuffed with quinoa were already going to be good. But maybe not filling enough for the man-beast at the table.
The poblano was pretty complicated, what with the roasting and making the seasoned quinoa, then stuffing. Anything stuffed can be a pain. That’s why I’m not posting–you can figure it out.
It was the sauce that made it exceptional. That’s why I’m posting it here. Silky with crema, the Central American cream-in-a-can, and dense with walnuts, plus dashes of umami from Maggi and Worcestershire, it melts over hot foods like steamed vegetables, meatless loaf but is lighter in texture than butter. I substituted Braggs Liquid Amino for the Worcestershire and Maggi.
Sometimes too much of a good thing is the right amount, but not with Walnut Crema, so use it sparingly at first, because too much moves it from filling to cloying.
1 cup very finely chopped walnuts
2 cups crema (Nestle’s table cream/crema)
1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Maggi seasoning
2 garlic cloves, minced and mashed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl with a wooden spoon until well blended. Make up to 24 hours in advance.
A good recipe is usually the best thing to come out of a diet, and now I have two of them.
Vegan eating isn’t so difficult, and I occasionally commit to a spell of it. Sticking to the limited diet is the challenging party, and it takes effort and imagination to vary the repertoire of chickenless salad, fried tofu, tempeh pitas, baked potatoes, millet loaf with nooch gravy and steamed vegetables over rice in cashew sauce.
Morning meals seem like the biggest challenge–something light but filling.
My solution is to dive deeply into my big cookbook collection for answers–honestly, there’s always something new to discover. Raghanvan Iyer’s 660 Curries supplied a great solution, flavorful, simple to make, filling and vegan.
Scrambled Chick Pea flour isn’t eggs, and you won’t slap your head and holler, “Dang this is JUST LIKE scrambled eggs.” That’s the fallacy of vegan food–if you expect it to taste like its meaty cousin, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re prepared to let it be its own delicious self, it’s very satisfying.
Scrambled Chick Pea Flour is soft but firm, full of spices, bright with coridander and cilantro flavors. It’s very filling–remember that this recipe makes 4 servings, because it’s easy to get carried away and eat half of it.
I don’t really understand the chemistry of chick pea flour–it’s like a legume and a starch at the same time. That gives it some unique properties, like the ability to be made into breads or sweets or hummus. I cook with it a lot. Here’s a pizza recipe and a skillet “bread” made with it.
Scrambled Chickpea Flour with Ginger
This recipe is Raghavan Iyer’s 660 Curries. I shortened the method, so it’s not word-for-word. Chickpea flour is sometimes labeled gram flour and sometimes labeled besan flour.
1 cup chickpea flour, sifted
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, ground
11/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (make your own from this recipe, for best flavor, picture below)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground asafetida (I don’t use this)
1 tablespoon chile-ginger paste
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Combine the flour, coriander, salt, garam masala, cayenne and turmeric in a medium bowl. Whisk in 3/4 cup water to make a runner batter.
Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover the skillet and cook until the seeds pop like popcorn, about 30 seconds. Add the asafetida. Add the chile ginger past and stirfry for 2 minutes until browned.
Lower the heat to medium and pour in the batter. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 to 8 minutes. The batter will start to clump up and pull away from the pan, then come together to form a ball. Scrap the spoon against the skillet to remove stuck-on dough. Push the doughball against the bottom of the skillet to ensure even cooking.
Remove from the heat and let cool for 3 to 5 minutes. The mixture should feel silky and dry.
Transfer the dough ball to a cutting board and sprinkle with cilantro. Slice the dough from all sides, chopping the cilantro into it. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.