Spicy Soba Noodles

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There are so many different kinds of pasta that sometimes we miss trying types of Asian noodles that are so delicious.  I have a new favorite dish made with soba noodles. Soba is the Japanese word for buckwheat, synonymous with a type of thin noodle made from buckwheat flour. Using soba noodles instead of white-flour spaghetti is a good way to cut back on calories and carbs. In fact, you can cut your calories almost in half by making the swap. Due to their buckwheat content, soba noodles are a slow-releasing carbohydrate with a low glycemic index.

I have eaten soba in soups before, as well as served cold with dipping sauces, but I discovered a blog post on Molly Parr’s blog Cheap Beets which sounded so good that I tried it this week.  It can be found on many food websites since the publication of the cookbook Plenty, published by Yotam Ottolenghi, a London chef and food columnist.  I modified the recipe only slightly, shown by my notes in parentheses. It is good as a vegetarian entree, or topped with grilled shrimp or chicken. Either way, it is a flavorful combination of sweet and heat that you will enjoy.  When you read the recipe, don’t be discouraged by all the steps. While the water is heating you can prep the mango and eggplant, and cook the eggplant while the noodles cook. It all took me about 30 minutes, but it is important to let the mixture marinate for an hour or longer.  Adding the remainder of the chopped fresh herbs at serving time gives an extra surge of bright flavor.

Spicy Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango
 ½ cup rice vinegar
3 Tbs. sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ fresh red chile, finely chopped
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 cup sunflower oil (or your cooking oil preference)
2 eggplants, cut into ¾-inch dice (I only used 1 because that is what I had)
9 oz. soba noodles
1 large ripe mango, cut into half inch cubes
1 1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped (if you use Thai basil, use much less of it)
2 ½ cups cilantro leaves, chopped
½ red onion, very thinly sliced
 
In a small saucepan gently warm the vinegar, sugar and salt for up to 1 minute, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add garlic, chile and sesame oil. Allow to cool, then add lime zest and juice.
Heat oil in a large pan and fry the eggplant in several batches to avoid crowding. Once golden brown, remove to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave to drain.
Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally. They should take 5 to 8 minutes to become tender but still al dente. Drain and rinse well under running cold water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry on a dish towel. This step really helps dry the noodles off so they absorb marinade better.
In a mixing bowl toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, eggplant, half of the herbs and the onion. Set aside for 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve add the rest of the herbs and mix well before serving.  
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Cool Cucumbers

008Summertime in Texas means a jar of cucumbers (preferably homegrown) sitting in a jar  in the refrigerator – cold, crunchy, snappy goodness that are a perfect side for almost any meal. No cooking required, so cool food, cool kitchen!  My mother kept a jar of these cucumbers in her icebox, and I remember my grandmother making them, too.  I usually make mine by heating water and the small amount of sugar needed until the sugar completely dissolves, then mixing with vinegar before pouring over layered cucumbers and sliced onions seasoned with salt and pepper.

There are many variations created by adding  another vegetable or spices.  If I have dill growing in my herb bed, I add a few sprigs of it.  I have added celery seeds, cherry tomatoes or a sliced jalapeno.  We like this best alongside a serving of fresh purple hull peas and a wedge of cornbread.  When we lived in Indonesia, we learned to enjoy a version of this dish prepared in much the same way, but adding hot peppers and carrots, all chopped in small pieces.  This is called acar, and is served as a condiment, served with many foods there, but always with nasi goreng (fried rice).

Marinated Cucumbers

2-3  cucumbers, sliced (I peel them if they are storebought, but skip peeling when I bring them in from the garden)

1 onion, thinly sliced

½ cup either white or apple cider vinegar

½ cup water

¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper to taste

Layer cucumbers and onions in a jar or container with cover and sprinkle a little salt over them. Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and cook until just hot, not boiling. Pour over the cucumbers and onions. Cool, then cover and refrigerate.

Spinach with Bacon and Gorgonzola

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We have a number of delicious spinach salad recipes, but the Gorgonzola dressing for this one is addictive.  It is easy to prepare, and an attractive side dish for company meals, but I make it for just Joe and me and we wind up saying “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”  Try it with sliced red onion and olives or chopped apple and pecans added!

Spinach with Bacon and Gorgonzola

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tablespoons agave nectar

24 ounce carton of washed baby spinach

5 slices lean bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled

1 3/4 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

1/4 cup half and half or whole milk

Put first 3 ingredients in small jar with screw on lid and shake vigorously to blend.  Place spinach in large bowl. Cook bacon in heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towel and crumble. Pour off all but 1 or 2  tablespoons of drippings. Reduce heat, add cheese, then stir in mixed dressing.  Stir until melted and smooth  and pour warm dressing over salad. Scatter bacon pieces on top.  

French Macarons with Raspberry Buttercream

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My granddaughter Skye, who likes to bake when she is at our house, told me she wanted to make French Macaroons.  I agreed with not a little trepidation, because I know that even professional pastry chefs label this little cookie “tricky.”  The following account of our adventures and first attempt may have you wondering if this was wise, but I assure you we had fun and finished by saying “Next time, we will know…”  And there will be a next time soon!  There are so many recipes and methods for making these little meringue based confections.  Skye likes Rosanna Pansino, a YouTube chef who details her baking videos clearly and always decorates her finished results cleverly.  I like to have a printed ingredient list and directions in front of me.  So we combined efforts.  Skye wrote down directions from her video and we used her handwritten recipe.  Recipe for Raspberry Buttercream follows below. Both recipes are adapted from Rosanna Pansino’s Nerdy Nummies video titled Kirby Macarons!

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French Macarons

Macaron is the French word for macaroon, but not to be confused with the cookie we know as coconut macaroons.  Macarons are one of the most amazing pastries, with hundreds of flavors and fillings. Macarons are made from almond flour and meringue, with even the pros admitting to failure on a regular basis.  Knowing this, we followed instructions closely!

Ingredients:

3 egg whites

2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 cup almond flour

pinch of salt

After assembling the ingredients,
1. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set eggs out to come to room temperature.  Egg whites must be room temperature, so if you have not set the eggs out earlier, put them in a bowl of warm water for at least 10 minutes before separating.

2. Separate eggs, reserving yolks for later use. Beat egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until whites are foamy; beat in white sugar and continue beating until egg whites are glossy, fluffy, and hold soft peaks. Add salt. If colored macarons are desired, add food coloring.  They will bake into a lighter color, so remember this when adding.

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3. Sift confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a separate bowl, whisk together,  and quickly fold the almond mixture into the egg whites, about 50 strokes.

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4. When batter is mixed enough to flatten immediately into an even disk, spoon into pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip. If you do not have a pastry bag, use a ZipLoc bag with one corner cut.  Pipe the batter onto the baking sheet in 1 to 1/2 inch rounds, leaving space between the disks because they will spread. When baking tray is full, lift it and tap on counter to release bubbles.   Let the piped cookies stand out at room temperature until they form a skin on top, about 30 minutes.

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5. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (140 degrees C).
6. Bake cookies until set but not browned, 25 to 20 minutes; let cookies cool completely before filling.

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Cooks’ Note:  We thought we could grind sliced almonds in the food processor to avoid buying almond flour.  Wrong!  Two batches of almond slices turned into nut butter later, we made a trip to Whole Foods, where we bought almond flour in their bulk grains and flours section.  The second hitch came when we used the wrong kind of ZipLoc bag.  Ours was one of the standup bags, which had an altered corner that did not work well to cut for use as a pastry bag.  Skye did her best, but the mixture did not pipe out smoothly. Next time we will use a different plastic bag or a pastry bag, and we will pipe smaller flatter discs.

Raspberry Buttercream Frosting

1 cup fresh raspberries

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup powdered sugar

Beat butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy.  Mash raspberries through sieve so that you have juice (no seeds).  Add 2 or 3 Tablespoons and mix into butter and sugar mixture.  Place into pastry bag or Ziploc to pipe onto the flat side of one macaron and place another macaron on top.

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Caution:  We did clean up our cooking aftermath, but what a mess we made!

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Crab Imperial

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We often use seafood for special family celebrations. I love to fill  these lovely scallop shells with shrimp or crab.  Souflles made with flaked salmon or lobster make a delicious addition to a meal for guests.  Deviled Crab and Crab Imperial can be hard to choose between.   There are many recipes for Crab Imperial in my cookbook collection, but I adapted mine from  one of Helen Corbitt’s featured recipes found in  The Best From Helen Corbitt’s Kitchens, edited by Patty Vineyard Macdonald,  for this dish.

Crab Imperial

1/4 cup butter

1 Tablespoon finely chopped shallots

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup flour

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup sherry

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon Tobasco sauce

1 pound crab meat

2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

Butter scallop shells. The number of shells this recipe will fill depends on the sizes of your shells.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter, saute shallots for a minute or two, then add mushrooms and saute until they are tender.  Add flour and cook until bubbly.  Slowly add milk, and stir constantly until sauce thickens.  Add sherry and seasonings.  Cook until thickened before adding crab meat.  Remove from heat, cool, and stir in mayonnaise.  Spoon into scallop shells and place in oven for 20-25 minutes. If additional browning is desired, place under broiler briefly.  Serve with slices and pass melted butter with fresh lemon juice squeezed in at serving time.