Dainty Cucumber Sandwiches (for a proper tea time)

Posted: April 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Dairy-free, Sandwiches, Vegan, Vegetarian | Tags: | 2 Comments »

I have a group of friends that loves throwing fancy picnics, and consequently I have found it necessary to learn how to make cucumber sandwiches. Last weekend I brought a batch of them to a lovely ladies-only picnic in Dolores Park. We played croquet, drank beer out of tiny teacups and gorged on strawberries, Cowgirl Creamery cheese, and of course itsy bitsy sandwiches with the crusts cut off (including startlingly delicious combinations like spam and eggs). All in all a wonderful afternoon.

A ladies' picnic
Photo by Rachel Bunkers-Harmes

Croquet in the park
Our fearless leader, Jane Davis, takes a shot. Photo by Rachel Bunkers-Harmes

There are many different variations on cucumber sandwiches, but I opted for a very simple version. I find the simplicity of flavors delightful! I pulled together this recipe for cucumber sandwiches from several sources on the internet, though I have long since lost them (sorry!). The key to cucumber sandwiches is timing. You can’t make them more than a half-hour ahead of time or they’ll get soggy.

Dainty Cucumber Sandwiches

Dainty Cucumber Sandwiches (for a proper tea time)

INGREDIENTS

1 loaf white bread – I like Orowheat Country Potato for its slight buttery flavor (though it’s actually vegan)
1 large cucumber, peeled
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 stick of salted butter, room temperature – you can use Earth Balance if you’re vegan.

DIRECTIONS

  1. An hour and a half before you want to serve the sandwiches, pull the butter out of the fridge so it warms to room temperature. In a non-reactive (ceramic) bowl, mix the vinegar and the salt together. Slice the peeled cucumber very thinly and toss it with the vinegar/salt mix. Let it marinate for 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

    Marinating the cucumbers

  2. Drain and rinse the cucumber slices. In a single layer, place them on paper towels to soak up the excess moisture, patting the tops dry.
  3. Butter one side of the bread. Evenly distribute cucumber rounds in a single layer on top. Place a second slice of bread on top of that. Cut off crusts. Cut the remaining rectangle in half, then cut each of the halves diagonally. Each sandwich will produce four perfect triangles.
  4. Arrange artfully on a tray and serve to your most proper friends at tea time. Secretly devour the crusts when they’re not looking.

A Pantry Dinner – Orzo with Sausage, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Pine Nuts

Posted: April 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Dairy-free, Pasta | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

I know, I know, it’s been way too long since I’ve posted. I’ve been busy, broke, and a bit fooded-out to be honest. I promise I have a few more posts up my sleeve, coming soon! To whet your appetite, here’s a dinner I made a couple of weeks ago but never got around to posting.

Something I like to do when I only have pantry staples lying around is put together a grain or pasta with whatever jarred/canned/bulk things I have lying around. Usually it’s got a bit of a Mediterranean nature — Italy, Greece, the Middle East, whatever. Couscous or orzo or rice or spiral pasta. Sun-dried tomatoes (always sundried tomatoes). Whatever meat I’ve got lying around, usually sausage or bacon. Pine nuts. An aromatic or two, like shallots, onions, or garlic. Fresh veggies if I have them, particularly mushrooms or red bell peppers. Maybe some chickpeas. Everything but the grain goes in the skillet with some olive oil, salt & pepper, maybe some other spices, then it’s all mixed together with the cooked grain. Maybe toss in some feta or parmesan if that’s what floats your boat. Dinner!

Pantry Dinner - Orzo

Here’s one take on this theme. Ingredients are all approximate.

Orzo with Sausage, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Pine Nuts

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cup dry orzo pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil – you can decrease this significantly if you wish
2 medium shallots, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced or smashed
2 sausages (I used Niman Ranch Italian Sweet sausages), cut into rounds, and then each round in half
1/3 cup pine nuts
2/3 of a 9 oz jar of sundried tomatoes, oil drained (or add a bit of it — it’s very tasty!)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
generous splash of vodka
pinch oregano
salt & pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Start boiling some water for your pasta.
  2. Dry roast pine nuts over medium heat until golden brown. Keep an eye on them — they burn fast!. Set aside.
  3. Heat olive oil. Sautee shallots till translucent.
  4. Add garlic, sautee 30 seconds
  5. Add sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, salt, pepper, oregano, stir till mixed. Cook a bit till the sausage is heated through (I get the fully cooked kind, so I don’t have to worry about whether it’s going to kill me or not).
  6. Add tomato paste, stir till everthing is covered. Here’s a trick: You know how recipes only ever call for one or two tablespoons of tomato paste and you end up wasting the rest of that little can? Next time, line an ice cube tray with plastic wrap, then dole out 1 tablespoon portions of tomato paste into each hole. Freeze, and transfer to a freezer-safe bag. 1 tablespoon portions of tomato paste, ready to go!
  7. Add vodka, stir till absorbed and/or evaporated. A bit of alcohol “unlocks” some of the flavor compounds in tomatoes that aren’t otherwise accessible (source). That’s why your grandpa always throws some wine into his pasta sauce.
  8. At this point, your pasta water should be boiling. Add orzo and cook according to the directions on the package — usually about 8 minutes. Drain.
  9. Mix everything together. Toss some feta in if you have it. Serve! Yum.

Dutch Baby

Posted: March 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Breakfast, Dairy-free, Vegetarian | Tags: | 7 Comments »

Look! I made a crazy thing!

Dutch Baby

Look at the lift on this thing!

It’s called a Dutch Baby. It’s not actually Dutch, but German. The theory is that “Dutch” is an Americanized version of the word “Deutsch” (German). The baby part? I have no idea. I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally put babies in the oven.

Last weekend my friend Rick made dutch babies as part of a manly start to a manly day. I was so taken with his photographs that I knew I had to try one of my own. He sent me this recipe, which has a great picture tutorial. I followed it (mostly) and my baby came out great, just like it was supposed to. I was kind of amazed that it actually puffed. Some sort of crazy kitchen alchemy I tell you.

The recipe is basically the same as the Swedish Pancakes recipe I grew up with, except that it has three times as many eggs — hence the puffiness. The dutch baby batter is also completely unsweetened and unsalted, and as a result I felt its taste was slightly lacking. Next time I think I’ll add a pinch of salt and a couple tablespoons of brown sugar, per the swedish pancake recipe. Hopefully that won’t mess with the chemistry that leads to the puffiness. I also feel it could’ve done with a lot less butter. Edit: Tried it with the salt, brown sugar, and less butter. Marked improvement! Also, putting the butter in the oven for a few minutes to brown is makes it even awesomer.

Of course you can top a dutch baby with anything you think of. I went with simple maple syrup, but lemon juice/powdered sugar is also recommended, as is fruit, or jam. Yum!

Dutch Babies (aka German Pancakes)

From German Pancakes – Dutch Babies by WhatsCookingAmerica.net

Feeds 2-4 people

INGREDIENTS:

3 eggs, room temperature (it is important that they’re room temp, not cold)
1/2 cup milk, room temperature (I used soymilk)
1/2 cup sifted bread flour or all purpose flour*
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1-2 tablespoons butter (or margarine)
generous pinch salt
3 tablespoons brown sugar

* Bread flour gives the dutch baby more lift, but I used all purpose flour and it worked beautifully.

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Pull your eggs and milk out of the fridge and let sit till room temperature. Start the oven preheating to 450F. Place 10-12″ cast iron skillet (or other oven-safe frying pan) in the oven while it’s preheating. Use a pan that has sides that are at most 3″ tall.
  2. While the oven’s preheating, mix the batter. In a large bowl, whisk eggs till light and frothy. Add milk, flour, vanilla, cinnamon (and salt and sugar); whisk 5 more minutes till lumps are gone or mostly gone.
  3. Using a pot holder, pull the skillet out of the oven. Put butter into skillet and swirl it around until it’s melted, being sure to get it up on the sides of the pan. Stick it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so, to get the butter a little browned.
  4. Pour batter in pan all at once and immediately return to the oven. Bake 20-25 minutes till puffed and golden brown. I know it’s tempting, but don’t open the oven midway through to check!
  5. Serve immediately with maple syrup, fruit, jam, or lemon juice and powdered sugar. The sky’s the limit when it comes to toppings!

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