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When Life Gives You Lemons

Have you ever looked through a cookbook and you find a recipe think you’d love, but it has an ingredient you’ve never heard of and you just don’t want to deal with it so you  turn the page and decide to make something else? Preserved lemons always used to capture that feeling for me. They are almost impossible to find in stores, and few cookbooks give clear directions on how to make them at home. The truth is that they are incredibly easy to make and essential to many Moroccan, Middle Eastern and even Mediterranean dishes. They have become an essential ingredient in our house and we regularly teach students how to make them in our Spice Market classes.

 lemons selected to be preserved

 

This ingredient is seemingly exotic but oh-so-simple and will give so much zest to your meals that I just had to share it. Preserved lemons are tangy and have an interesting texture, a perfect addition to grilled meats in the summer, stews in the winter, or cous cous year round. Here’s how you make them:

 fresh lemons

 

First, try and find  small and ripe organic lemons. You will need between 8 and 12 of them, along with ¼ cup kosher salt and a one quart sterilized canning jar. Wash lemons thoroughly. Remember, you will be eating the peel, not the pulp. Cut a thin slice from the top and bottom of the lemons.

 

both top and bottom sliced

 

Make four deep vertical cuts three-quarters of the way down the fruit, but make sure the lemon is still attached at the base.

 

lemons sliced in 4 quadrants

 

Place a generous tablespoon of salt on the bottom of the sterile jar.

 

place salt on bottom of jar

 

Carefully open a lemon and generously sprinkle salt evenly throughout the quarters (about one generous teaspoon per lemon).

 

lemons sprinkled with salt

 

Place the lemon in the jar.

 

stuffing lemons in the jar

 

Repeat the process of salting and stuffing the lemons in the jar, making sure to press the lemons down hard with a clean spoon to release the juices and make room for the remaining lemons.

 

filing up the jar!

 

When the jar is full, place the remaining salt in the jar (it should be at least a tablespoon) and fill in the gaps with fresh lemon juice. Store the lemons in a cool place for at least a month, and shake the jar daily to evenly distribute the salt and juice

 

pouring the lemon juice to the top

 
When the lemons are ready for use, rinse the lemons as needed, or else they will be too salty. Cut away the pulp inside and then slice or chop the rind according to the recipe you are using. Preserved lemons will keep for at least 6 months before opening the jar, but do refrigerate them once they are opened. Enjoy!


finished preserved lemons

 

lemons ready to be preserved

As Seen at the Market: Pasta with Kale and Butternut Squash

 

Several weeks ago I was speaking to Keren Kurti-Alexander, the Manager at the Cityseed (link) Farmers market about our demos for the summer. I had all kinds of yummy surprises involving fun fruits and vegetables like blueberries, strawberries, and corn. But it was late May and the crops have been slow for his year, and she asked me the question I’ve been dreading ever since I started: “Could you do something with kale?”

 Picture of kale

Panicking, I punted and promised that I definitely would sometime during the season. I could push it off until late fall since it is such a hearty vegetable that always seems to be available and just hope that inspiration struck at some point in the interim. And of course Keren being a nice person said okay, I could do the fun stir fry and make great strawberry breakfast smoothies I was planning instead. But I could tell that in her heart of hearts she was hoping for some kale. I realized that it really was time to get over my kale fear. I’ve been cooking for longer than I can remember… surely I could find a way of making a dish that wasn’t bitter and didn’t look like putrid green slime.

 

Squash:  They're so cute, aren't they?

 

It happened that we had just made some vibrant roasted butternut squash with a bit of butter and sea salt, which made Gabrielle remember that her friend Mia had raved about a pasta she’d had with kale and butternut squash at a restaurant in New York. From there, everything else fell together – I could tell that the colors, textures and flavors of these ingredients would compliment each other perfectly, and I could already see that with a little inspiration and improvisation, we could create something really memorable. The recipe that follows is probably one of the healthiest, tastiest and certainly one of the most colorful pastas ever. Here are the steps:

 

First peel the squash, admittedly one of my least favorite jobs. The skin is tough on this curvaceous vegetable and it is difficult to peel. If you’re wise you’ll get somebody else to do it.

 

Peeling Squash: Seriously, avoid this if you can ;)

Be sure to get all the stringy stuff out of the middle (we use a tomato de-seeder to scrape out the seeds and pulp, but a ice cream scoop, a spoon or your fingers will work just fine)

 

Scooping out the squash

 

Some very silly textbooks would tell you to trim the squash so you have perfect squares and discard the rest.

 

I suppose it's wrong that we've stooped to eating squash that isn't perfectly square.... the horror ;)

 

But seriously, look at the waste. Just cut it up to be as square and uniform as you can and distribute the squash over two parchment lined cookie sheets. It may not be culinarily correct, but we’ll deal I think.

 

And can you even believe that these aren't perfect cubes?

 

Melt some butter, sprinkle some sea salt and pepper and roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes.

 

 salt and pepper squash!

 

Here is the finished product. (The recipe, by the way, calls for three squashes, about twice the amount you will actually need, but trust me you will want left over squash, the smell is so heavenly and it makes such a wonderful side dish to any meal.)

 

Seriously, squash is so yummy i feel like you could eat this instead of squash

 

In the meantime prepare the kale. Make sure you buy kale that is deep green and fresh. Don’t wait until it gets like this.

 

isn't it hauntingly beautiful?

 

Tear the leaves from the tough spine.

 

I feel like you could put this in a horror movie

 

Chop into bit size pieces, and set aside.

 

whatever you say about it, it is super cute and curly though

 

You will need two cups of chopped onions and/or scallions of any sort. We had plenty of spring onions left over from a cooking demo at Wooster Square from Sun One Farms in Bethlehem, so that’s what we used.

 

artsy!

 

Sautee the onion mixture until soft and glassy, about five minutes and add some garlic.

 

 

Add the kale and cook only until it is soft but still bright green. Add two cups of cherry tomatoes and continue cooking for about a minute, or until the tomatoes just begin to soften and are slightly warm but not mushy.

 

this stuff is not good yet, but we're going to fix it

 

In the meantime, boil a pound of dried fusilli or another favorite medium sized pasta, and cook according to instructions. Drain and add an 8 ounce container of mascarpone cheese. Stir well.

 

calories make everything taste good

 

Add the kale mixture to the pasta, and then the squash with the parmesan cheese.

 

omnomnomnomnom

 

Mix well and Serve. This dish is so hearty, it doesn’t really need any bread.

 

we did it! and so can you!

 

Click here to see the recipe on Food52.com. Enjoy!

Find Your Inner Gourmet: Butter

 

 

As you have just seen on the video, compound butter is, quite simply made up of a stick of butter combined with some finely minced herbs or vegetables. The combinations are endless. Possible ingredients include herbs and spices, such as basil, thyme, oregeno, saffron, chives, or aromatic vegetables such as shallots, garlic and ginger. You can use compound butters in a million ways. They are great to serve with fresh bread, the obvious choice, but equally great served on top of a sizzling steak, grilled chicken, fish or really any place you use butter in a savory dish. We recently made a whole nourishing meal in five minutes by adding basil butter to a pound of pasta and dumping a pint of cherry tomatoes in the bowl. It was amazing. Just remember one of the key rules to cooking: simple and fresh ingredients, always result in great food.

 

It's like the leaning tower of calories...

 

 

Start with butter. Not this much. About a stick’s worth will do. You’re going to have to cut through it, so you don’t want it to be too frozen, but not too warm because then it will get mushy. Basically just don’t wait too long after taking it out of the fridge to use it.

 

 

It goes without saying that when we say half cup we mean heaping half cup

 

 

Then find yourself a heaping half cup of basil, and finely chop it. Remember that the amount of herbs or vegetables you use will vary greatly depending on the ingredient you choose to use. Here we are using a ½ cup of basil, but you certainly wouldn’t use a ½ cup of ginger or garlic since it would be overwhelming. In the case of garlic or ginger, a couple of tablespoons would do, depending on your taste. You’ll have to play around with it.

 

 

 

 

Using a chefs knife, cut the butter and herbs together until they come together and are well combined.

 

 

 

 

Once the butter and basil are well combined place the butter on a sheet of wax or parchment paper (use wax paper if you have it since it is a lot cheaper and serves the same purpose). Shape the butter into a log.

 

 

 

 

Cover the roll with the sheet of wax or parchment paper. Once covered, gently roll the covered butter back and forth until the log is round and looks like a log.

 

 

It's like candy! Or Christmas crackers!

 

 

Twist the ends of the log to look like a candy wrapper and place in the refrigerator for one hour or longer (you may also put it in the freezer for ½ hour if pressed for time, but don’t forget it!) Unwrap the butter and place it on a pretty plate, cutting thin slices while it is still firm.  Cover any leftovers with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator. The butter will keep for a week or longer.

 

 

So here’s the challenge for you. Make your own compound butter (even combine more than one herb or vegetable), and let us know how you used them. We can’t wait to see your comments!

As Seen on TV: Thai Scented Asparagus Soup

Cooking for a living has begun to take over all of my thoughts. Isabella’s newly sewn pink dress isn’t an article of clothing, but a piece of watermelon. Everywhere I go I think about new dishes and ingredients, and there is no off button to press. Just dials on the stove to let me make more food. I feel like a composer sometimes, only instead of notes, I hear shallots, pancetta and fried chicken. It’s driving me crazy, really it is. I love love love teaching people to cook… but seriously. Enough is enough.

 

Though as problems go, this is probably a good one to have...

 

 

This recipe was born out of one of these fits of inspiration. We often teach a cream of asparagus soup in our spring classes, but I was making a Thai dish one day and the idea to infuse it with coconut, lemongrass and ginger just jumped into my head.  It has quickly become a family favorite and it worked out so well that I used it for my latest appearance on Connecticut Style. Although a video exists on WTNH, it was very fast, and we thought you’d appreciate seeing how to make this lively Asian inspired soup step-by-step, so here it is:

 

 Good things lie in store

 

We start with the freshest ingredients, which includes, lemon juice, lemongrass, ginger, asparagus and coconut milk,  but there are others as well, including yellow onions and chicken or vegetable broth.

 

Visions of coconuts dance in my head

 

First, we need to peel the lemongrass, an ingredient commonly found in Asian food stores and in some supermarkets, especially Whole Foods.

 

This is the reason, by the way, that thai food is so amazing. This is the secret. Right here.

 

Then you have to cut most of the stalk away. We only want the part of the lemongrass that has purple rings.

 

You want it to look like this, otherwise there will be tons of aweful tough bits

 

Then – and really pay attention to this or the lemongrass with be tough and stringy – you have to smash it hard several times with a knife. Until it looks like this

 

Smashingly beautiful :D I would recommend going even farther than this, because it will assure you have very very small pieces.

 

 

Then put the lemongrass in a mini food processor with a teaspoon or two of oil until finely minced and looks like this:

 

 

Finely Chopped Lemongrass

 

 

Then you need to peel the ginger. You can peel it in many different ways by using a melon baller, sturdy spoon or vegetable peeler. Afterwards, finely  mince the ginger in a mini chopper as well. You can, obviously, do that by hand, it will just take much longer.

 

 

 

 

After sautéeing the onions until they are glassy, add the lemongrass and ginger and continue sautéeing until the ginger and lemongrass start to soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the asparagus, salt and pepper and cook for another five minutes.

 

Make sure everything is coating everything so the flavors all blend nicely together

 

 

Add the broth (chicken or vegetable – we like to use vegetable when we’re cooking for a crowd, since then we can make this vegan and everyone can eat it!) and give the mixture a good stir in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven. Cook for 15 minutes and then puree the soup either in a blender (after letting the mixture cool) or an immersion blender right inside the pot, our preferred choice.

 

 

 

Add a bit of lemon, give it a good stir, and serve. The great thing about this soup, next to the amazing flavor, is that it tastes great for several days and can certainly be made the day before company. And there you have it! Serve with a garnish of mint, or chives.

 

 

Click here to get the complete recipe written up on Food52!

Find your Inner Gourmet: Vinegar & Salad Dressing

 

As you can see in the video above, making salad dressing is so easy you can practically do it in your sleep! In the video you can see a demo of what making dressing looks like, and tips on what vinegars to buy – and where to get them for cheap! But here are some quick refresher notes!

 

So many possibilities! Almost all bought at Marshalls ;)

 

The combinations are endless depending on the flavor of vinegar and herbs you choose.  Salad dressing is a simple ratio of 3:1, oil to vinegar. So let’s say you want to use 1/3 cup vinegar, you would need 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil (or another oil if you like, depending on the flavor you want). If you wanted to use ¼ cup of vinegar, you would use ¾ cup of oil.

 

1/3 cup vinegar, 1 cup oil

 

 

But we can’t just combine them and call it a day! That would be an unspeakably, tragically boring… and also they would separate. First we need to add salt and pepper to the vinegar. And you can throw in a teaspoon or two of anyherb you like – see what is in your fridge or garden, especially in the warmer months. It is actually a good way to use herbs that are wilting, or slightly past their peak because they are going to be finely chopped. If the fresh herb cupboard is bare, you can add a ½ a teaspoon or more of most any dried herb

 

 Pepper and Thyme

 

 

If you want a dressing that stays suspended/emulsified, add a teaspoon or two of dijon or whole grain mustard and mix well. It’s the same process we use to make mayonnaise. We are essentially forcing the oil and vinegar to mix against their will… cruel, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

 

Dijon and Whole Grain – either one works. We do not recommend using french's however ;)

 

This is how you add it... it's terribly difficult

 

Now you are ready to whisk in the oil, but do it very gradually or it will not combine properly.

 Gradually pour and whisk

 

You did it! As you can see, the dressing looks a little cloudy. That’s how you know the oil and vinegar are suspended and will remain mixed, at least for a little while. It won’t last forever, so if you aren’t pouring the oil on right away, be sure to give it another good whisk before you pour it on to salad greens.

 

 Pour it in a salad, or store it in a jar.

 

The great thing about dressing is that it lasts for days. Ball canning jars are great for storing and (little known fact) you can get them at Wal-Mart for just $6 for 12! If you store it, just be sure to take it out of the refrigerator about an hour before you use it so the oil has a chance to come to room temperature. Then give it a good whisk/shake, pour it over your salad and enjoy!

Batter Up

Pancakes!

 

You may have been wondering whatever happened to the mommy part of Fig Test Kitchen? Did teaching a full load of cooking classes, several appearances/fundraisers a month, raising six, fifteen and nineteen year olds (oh yes, Gabrielle still needs me!) (note from GOS – Oh puh-lease… Also I’m 20 now ;) Happy Birthday to Me!), and singlehandedly taking care of a house finally, you ask, just put me over the edge? Well obviously, but that’s nothing new. But I talked to all of my super-organized friends who are, in fact, the opposite of me… methodical tall, athletic and sometimes blond. I’ve taken a lot of their advice, and gotten my life at least somewhat in order. As you may know from the first two videos posted recently we’re starting with the basics – salt, equipment, spices, and moving toward easy recipes before we’ll finally move on to stuff like seared duck breasts or Persian jeweled rice. What all this means is, I’m back on the blog.

 

Don't you want to make these?

 

But you want recipes.  And I made pancakes! We’ve had an unusually early and beautiful spring here in New Haven, and I’ve been thinking about flowers. I was making creme fraiche pancakes during a cooking demo at the Elm City Market in New Haven and lavender just hit me. And a recipe was born. Creme fraiche is rich and creamy like sour cream (it actually has a higher fat content), but a bit more tart. Perfect for pancakes. Combine it with chocolate and lavender, you get pancakes that are fragrant, sweet and irresistible. Here’s what you need to do:

First, you will need to gather the ingredients and make sure your ingredients are in place, measured and ready to go. Believe me it pays to do, especially when baking. It seems like an extra step, but it saves so much time in the long run, and keeps you organized. You don’t want to add the baking powder twice. Not that we’ve ever done that…

 

GOS says: And yes, you absolutely must arrange your ingredients like this or the recipe will not come out.

 

Chop the dark chocolate to any size you like. I wasn’t done chopping when I took this photo, I’m just posting it because I like it. They were eventually the size of the chocolate in vanilla chocolate chip ice cream. Obviously you can use store-bought chocolate chips if you want.

 

Chop chop!

 

Once you have all your ingredients measured and ready, add all the dry ingredients in a medium size bowl and whisk well.

 

Whisk these...

 

Then add all of the wet ingredients in a separate bowl

 

 

And blend with a hand mixer or immersion blender or whisk. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix once again. Do not overmix or your pancakes will be tough. Then add the chocolate chunks and stir gently with a  spatula until just combined.

 

So close you can (and should) taste it

 

After melting unsalted butter in a large skillet, pour about a ¼ cup of batter per pancake, and cook on the first side for about two minutes, until light brown. Turn over to cook the second side for about another minute until light brown.

 

GOS says: Ahhhhhhh!! (I haven't even had these yet. I'm dying right now)

 

Find some plates, and serve with or without syrup.

 

They're done!

 

Here is the full recipe. Enjoy your breakfast, enjoy the birds chirping, and welcome spring in style.

 

Click for Printable!

Find Your Inner Gourmet, Episode 2: AP Salt

Learn more about nature’s most important seasoning as we go well beyond the basics in the second video in our new online cooking course! These online classes will help you go from wherever you are on your culinary journey to being the best cook you know. We may be starting with the fundamentals, but trust us, everyone has something to learn from these classes. Check out the video here!

 

Find your Inner Gourmet, Episode 1: Salt

Welcome to our new video series, Find your Inner Gourmet! We are bringing our New Haven-famous cooking classes to the world, starting with the basics and getting more and more advanced so that you too can become a gourmet cook. Follow our free, comprehensive cooking course right here on the Fig Test Kitchen, starting with today’s first video on salt. Every week we will update with several more videos, which will help experienced cooks and beginners alike to Find their Inner Gourmet. Enjoy!

 

_

Wordless Wednesday: Pickin’ and Grinnin’

Wordless Wednesday – Chester Sunday Market

A Hen of the Woods Mushroom from CT's best forager. Don't try this at home ;)

The most delicious flag I ever did eat.

From Holy Cows (I'm so sorry)(I couldn't resist)

We took home a book on barbeque and a book on bread baking... as if we needed more cookbooks ;)

Your guess is as good as mine... don't you kind of want to be this guys friend though?

Baguettes with Sea Salt. The sea salt is now all over our kitchen floor but the bread is in our tummies so it's totally worth it. We just say the salt gives the floor a kind of... rustic crunch ;)

Flowers to brighten up the rainy day

A local musician serenades the crowd and sees us on our way

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