Saffron

If you’re using saffron primarily for its golden color rather than flavor, you can cut costs by using turmeric or even plain yellow food coloring. If you want the proper taste, though, stick with the real thing and avoid the grocery store. Not only can a specialty shop or website (Buck’s and Penzey’s both have good reputations) save you a lot of money, their saffron will be much fresher.

Although some sources recommend lightly roasting saffron for more flavor, the traditional method is to soak it in some of whatever liquid you’re using in the dish you’re making, ideally warm or hot, for a few minutes before adding both saffron and liquid to the dish.

Saffron grows as a beautiful fall crocus that will actually do quite well in our climate, given a sunny spot and very well-drained soil — and reasonable safety from wildlife (a generous sprinkle of chili powder will keep the squirrels from eating all the bulbs). The harvest is a bit labor-intensive but not particularly difficult once you figure out which little bit of flower you’re looking for.

The WSU Extension has a very nice .pdf about growing saffron, written pretty much with Eastern Washington in mind but still useful for those of us on “The Wet Side.” To download it, find the “Miscellaneous” section at the bottom of their listing for Benton and Franklin Counties and click “Grow your own saffron.”

Hey, vendors! I’d love to see locally-grown saffron at the market, even just briefly and in limited amounts. I wonder if it could be sold as whole flowers to make things easier, kind of like shelling peas…

Paella recipe (but I’d leave out the chorizo, especially since they don’t say which kind, and peel the tomatoes)

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Measurements

Measurements vary from country to country Many places not only use metric but weigh the ingredients rather than measuring by volume. The good news is that many recipes are forgiving enough that the difference won’t matter, or can be corrected by adding a little flour or liquid until it feels right (a phrase I normally despise, but there we are).

You can find conversion sites online, and there are also apps for tablets and, probably, phones. The trick is figuring out whether that “cup” the recipe calls for is US or metric, that tablespoon US or imperial. If the recipe calls for you to weigh things you’re used to measuring, like flour or sugar, it’s probably European of some kind (get a good-quality kitchen scale that does grams as well as ounces if you’re going to try many of these). The publisher’s location is also a good guide, if you can determine that, but watch out for books that are written in the UK (or Australia) and published in the US without editing.

By the way, what Americans call “corn starch” the English call “corn flour.” I’ll be posting a sort of mini-glossary later this winter, but thought you might want to know about that detail now, if you’re playing with international recipes.

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Tomato trivia

Leftover canned tomatoes will keep in the fridge for up to a week, but for best results store them in a glass jar. You can add sliced or chopped garlic, shredded fresh basil, and some good olive oil to drained whole canned tomatoes* so they’ll keep better.

Green tomatoes will ripen best in a cool, dark location. That traditional sunny windowsill just shortens the time they have before rotting. One source* suggests ripening the end-of-summer last picking by arranging the tomatoes on a baking sheet, covering them with newspaper, and tucking them under the bed.

How to dry tomatoes, including how to get all those skins off.

Previous Market blog posts about tomatoes.

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*How to peel a peach : and 1,001 other things every good cook needs to know / Perla Meyers. Wiley, c2004. ISBN: 0471221236

Peppercorns

Black peppercorns are the nearly-ripe berries of Piper nigram. Tellicherry is generally considered to be the best variety of black pepper and comes from the Malabar Coast of India. Lampong and Sarawak are also popular varieties.

Green peppercorns are the same berries picked while completely unripe. They’re best known in green peppercorn sauce, served with steak.

White peppercorns are the seeds of the fully ripe berry. They show up in light-colored sauces, purely for aesthetic reasons, and in Scandinavian cooking.

Pink peppercorns are the dried berries of the Baies rose and technically not pepper at all. They’re less widely used but can be found in vinaigrettes and light sauces for fish.

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Thanksgiving, solo

Here are some ideas and options for those who’ll be on their own for Thanksgiving.
Note: for an à deux variation, double quantities and add candles. And possibly cutlery, depending on your solo dining customs.

The first thing to know is how to cut down a recipe, which is pretty easy but does take some basic math. First, look at the number of servings the recipe makes (or figure out how much you want to cut it by estimating its yield). I usually want at least two of their “servings” for one of my meals, but sometimes I end up with a little left. Figure out what you need to divide the number of servings (or the amount of the main ingredient) by: if the recipe makes four servings and you only want two, you’ll be halving the recipe (dividing everything by two); if it calls for three pounds of beans and you think one pound is plenty, you’ll be dividing everything by three. Once you have this number, divide all the ingredient amounts by that number. Here’s a conversion chart and cheat-sheet for halving and thirding (is that a word?) a recipe, to get you started.

The bird:
You can go with the traditional thing, get a turkey breast roast and still eat it for a week, but what if you prefer dark meat? I’ve never seen a turkey leg roast. Someone really should talk to Butterball…

Meanwhile, here are some other ideas for your main course:
— a game hen (actually a small breed of chicken)
— a chicken, which will leave some leftovers for those all-important Black Friday turkey-and-cranberry sandwiches (for that “extra-small turkey” effect, try a pastured one)
— break with tradition completely and go for a nice piece of salmon or a bunch of shrimp (my favorite Fish and bananas is excellent “fancied up” by making it with halibut).

Stuffing:
I confess, I’m not picky about stuffing and make do with a box of the “soak in hot water until it turns into fluffy goo” kind.

Traditional from-scratch dressing

Cornbread dressing

The vegetable:
Green beans seem to be traditional. Easy enough to cook fewer and top with chopped bacon or sliced almonds browned in butter.

For a European flare, have some Brussels sprouts instead. Only, go to the farmers’ market and get the nice fresh post-frost ones. They’re sweeter after a frost, and fresher is always better. The secret to good sprouts, by the way, is to peel off all the dark leaves so you’re left with little cabbage-green marbles.

Or if you don’t care about keeping it seasonal, treat yourself to a bundle of the $6/lb. imported “fresh” asparagus, if you can find any worth eating, or some frozen if you can’t. DO NOT EAT CANNED asparagus, it’s not actually food.

The potato:
When someone else isn’t making them, I don’t usually bother with mashed potatoes. True, they’re not hard to make, but when it comes right down to it, I’d just as soon have another helping of bird or some more sprouts. But if your Thanksgiving would be spoiled without the potatoes, let me just point out a couple of alternatives to mashing that are easier for a small serving: baked and ” target=”_blank”>fried (or how about just a bag of chips? Certainly simple…).

Another alternative root-vegetable option is celeriac baked in cream made with one celery root, but finding a small enough baking dish may be a challenge; maybe a small ramekin?

The sweet potato:
AKA yam; very good mashed or fried, or in fact any way but candied (although my father would disagree).

The cranberries:/
There is absolutely no reason to buy a big can of cranberry sauce when it’s just for you (as far as I can tell, the only reason to buy canned is the presence of children who demand the jellied stuff). It’s so easy to make, and we have such nice cranberry farms in our area. Granted, it’s difficult to make a couple of spoonsful at a time, but it cans and freezes well (I like to can it in those little 4-oz jars) and will taste awesome on a chicken sandwich next summer.

Cranberry sauce on the fly
Wash and pick over the cranberries; discard any that are soft or ugly, but a few pale spots are OK. Start with at least of cup of berries, more if you don’t have a little 1-qt saucepan (once you know what you’re doing, you can try making less if you really want to). Add enough orange juice or water to keep them from burning, at least 1/4 inch and up to maybe 1/3 the depth of the berries in the pan. Cover if you can and cook on about medium-low (start low and nudge it up if they don’t reach a simmer in a reasonable time), stirring occasionally, until the berries pop. Be patient, but after 10 minutes or so of simmering you’re allowed to press the remaining berries gently with the spoon to “encourage” them to pop sometime this year. Sweeten to taste with whatever sweetener you prefer.

Dessert
I vote for cookies or brownies for dessert, but I’ve never been a fan of pies. OK, so most recipes make more than 1-2 servings and you’ll have leftovers. If this is a problem, you’re welcome to send them to me. Or for a truly low-effort dessert, there’s always the “box of graham crackers and can of ready-to-eat frosting” option.

Gratitude
Possibly the most important dish. There are all sorts of things for the Thanksgiving soloist to be thankful for; here are a few ideas:
— No huge turkey taking up fridge space… or the couch.
— No over-perfumed (or under-washed) relatives, whom you’ll be expected to hug anyway.
— No one at your table will throw:
–food
–tantrums
–up (or if “someone” does, you’ll be too preoccupied to care)
— You can mount all your olives on your fingertips before eating then without anyone suggesting that you’re too old to play with your food (this method goes particularly well with the graham-cracker-and-frosting dessert option, by the way).
— No futile arguments over whether the TV should be on or off, or on which station, during dinner (since everyone knows The Game has to be on or you’ll end up on an NSA watch list…).
— No moral pressure to take and eat that half-spoonful of candied yam to be polite; or conversely, you can indulge that fantasy of eating the whole panful yourself.
— If you decide to forego the traditional turkey-and-trimmings in favor of an enormous bowl of mashed potatoes or a dozen doughnuts with whipped-cream dip, it’s no one’s business but your own. Ditto if you end up spending the day binge-watching the 20 best Halloween movies or playing Pong.
— That “discussion” of whether it’s more virtuous to kill vegetables than animals doesn’t have to happen.
— Neither do the “discussions” about bringing toys to the table, poking one’s brother/sister/cousin with one’s fork/knife/finger/turkey bone, gas emissions of either sort, or staying seated during the entire meal even if you’re finished.
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Some extra recipe links:

Chicken with cognac sauce/a>
Braised salmon with leeks
more Brussels sprouts recipes, some kinda odd.
Pumpkin pie smoothie
Rosemary mashed potatoes and yams

Hot peppers, chili powder, and a note on squirrels

Small pointy hot peppers tend to be hotter than large round ones. The little ones are hotter because they have more ribs and seeds, which have more capsaicin.

Chili powder is made of ground mild and hot chiles, oregano, and cumin. Some kinds also contain garlic and salt.

If your chili powder is getting old and needs to be replaced, it doesn’t have to go to waste. Sprinkle it generously over bulbs when you plant them to keep the squirrels out of them, or on top of the soil to protect established bulbs.

By the way, if you like to feed your neighborhood squirrels, you can reduce the amount of digging they do by cracking the nuts you put out for them (and not putting out very many at a time). They bury nuts to soften the shell; if they can get into the nut right away (and aren’t full) they’ll go ahead and eat it.

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Egg trivia

Officially, there is no difference between white and brown eggs, or between organic and conventional ones. However, many people claim to prefer the taste of brown eggs and I know several people who get a stomachache from eating too many conventional ones.

That said, freshness and feed do make significant differences and are difficult to track. These may be the factors that are really in play when people find differences between types of eggs. Free-range and pastured hens definitely have better diets and produce better eggs.

One way to test an egg for freshness by floating it in cold water. Fresh eggs will float on their sides while older eggs will “stand on end” in the water. Even better, crack open the egg and check the white. An old egg, while still safe to eat and legally “fresh,” will have a watery yolk that runs all over the pan; it takes a truly fresh egg to make the classic round, thick-edged fried egg.

To freeze eggs, break them into a container. Pierce the yolks with a fork and gently mix the whites and yolks, creating as little foam as possible — foam will dry out the eggs. Whites frozen by themselves do just fine, but separated yolks will do best if you add a bit of salt to those intended for cooking and a bit of sugar to those that will go into baked goods.

Note: a “no antibiotics” label on a package of chicken meat is of dubious value. Years ago, they experimented with antibiotics as a way to increase the weight of chickens, but found that it was not cost-effective — the drugs cost more than the additional weight could earn. Now, chickens seldom get antibiotics unless they need them.

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