One of my favorite blogs is Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks. She blogged about this basic and brilliant idea of making your own bouillon paste in a matter of minutes. I’ve taught it in countless cooking classes and sent folks home with a jar to keep in the freezer for that last-minute risotto, soup, braise, etc. If you have a food processor, all you do is clean the appropriate veggies (carrots, onions, leeks, parsley . . . .) and process them until they are very finely chopped, add lots of salt, process again and spoon into a jar. Done! Nothing is cooked or sautéed. I do love veggie stock but this method of processing things raw gives a wonderful fresh, bright flavor and is quick to make and easy to store and use. When you need the broth, just spoon out about 2 teaspoons of bouillon per cup of water (or more or less to your taste) and use in your respective dish. I used it soups, instead of water or stock, in risotti, to cook grains, etc.
This recipe requires a food processor. If you don’t have all the below ingredients you can just use onions, celery, carrots and parsley and you can vary the ratios of the vegetables too. Just be sure to use about 1/3 cup salt for each 2 cups of finely blended veggies/herbs.
5 ounces leeks, sliced and well-washed (about 1 medium)
7 ounces carrot, well scrubbed and chopped (about 3-4 medium)
3.5 ounces celery (about 2 big stalks)
3.5 ounces celery root (celeriac), peeled and chopped (about a 3” x 3″ chunk)
1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes (about 6 dried tomatoes)
1 large shallot or a 1/4 of smallish onion, peeled
1 medium garlic clove
6 ounces sea salt or kosher salt (scant 1 cup)
1.5 ounces flat-leaf parsley, loosely chopped (about 1/3 of a good-sized bunch)
2 ounces cilantro (coriander), loosely chopped (about ½ bunch)
Place the first four ingredients in your food processor and pulse about twenty times. Add the next three ingredients, and pulse again. Add the salt, pulse some more. Then add the parsley and cilantro. You’ll want to stir up the mixture occasionally in order to integrate it all and create a smooth paste.
You should end up with a moist, loose paste of sorts. Put the past in a quart container or jar and freeze for use over the next few months. Because of all the salt it remains scoop-able directly from the freezer.
Start by using 1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons of bouillon base per 1 cup, and adjust from there based on your personal preference.
Class was fun this last weekend. It’s almost like the reward for all the work leading up to it. The house is clean and full of flowers; all stations are prepped, and new people walk in the door and we get to work. And then we eat! It’s really energizing and reminds me why I do this work. It helps when everyone likes the dishes and is inspired to cook them at home, vary dishes to suit their tastes, pick up new varieties of veggies, etc.
I also had a realization of sorts last week as I prepared for class. I was musing (to myself) about why I started this business and in what ways I am qualified to teach people about cooking. I concluded the following:
1) Being organized (planning, sourcing, cleaning, prepping, budgeting) is more than half the battle!
2) Having cooked most of my life and having had good culinary mentors helps.
3) But most importantly, since my whole point is to demonstrate how simple and satisfying cooking with/for your family/friends can be, there really isn’t much pressure to be new, fancy, and trendy and that is such a blessing!
So back to the food. . . .One of my favorite dishes from Sunday’s class is a bruschetta that serves as a complete meal for our family this time of year.
Bruschetta with Stewed Leeks and Goat Cheese
This is a wonderfully hearty, one-dish dinner with the simplest of ingredients. Leeks are one of those farmers’ market mainstays that are with us from fall through spring. If you don’t have goat cheese on hand, feta would work too or cream cheese. Or you could take the hard-boiled egg yolks and mash them with a little olive oil and salt and spread it on the bread and just use the chopped whites on top. Quantities are approximate and feel free to make less or more depending on what you have on hand and/or want to use up.
2-3 leeks (cut off only the top couple of inches that are scruffy. Most of the green part is great to eat)
5 slices of rustic bread
4-5 oz soft (fresh) goat cheese
3 hard-boiled eggs (chopped)
1 tsp fresh or dry thyme (finely chopped or crumbled)
salt and pepper
1 Tbs butter
Clean leeks well and cut in half lengthwise then cut into ½ inch half-rounds. Heat butter and a good splash of olive oil in a large sauté pan over med/high heat. Add the leeks when the butter is melted and oil is hot. Stir well to coat, salt generously with a couple of large pinches of kosher salt. Add thyme and stir well. Cook for a few minutes uncovered, then turn the heat down a bit and cover. Check occasionally to make sure the leeks aren’t browning or burning. Add a splash of water if they start to stick and turn the heat down a bit more. Cook for about 15 minutes until leeks are meltingly tender, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, toast the bread and hard-boil the eggs and peel and chop those. Spread the goat cheese on the bread, arrange stewed leeks on cheese, sprinkle with egg, sprinkle with salt and a couple of grinds of pepper and drizzle a little good olive oil over the whole thing.
I used to buy Salad Rolls for lunch when I worked downtown from one of my favorite food carts. They were fresh and inexpensive and the peanut sauce was addictive. And I didn’t have to wait in line since they were ready-made and I always had exact change. Sounds pretty rushed for the devoted “Slow Foodie” that I am. . . . but sometimes work called!
Now many years later, I’ve finally learned to make them. I held a private cooking class this weekend and was asked to teach an Asian-inspired menu. Salad rolls were the first thing that came to mind so that was our starter.
This dish brought with it a conversation (mostly with myself) about using local produce. My classes/menus (and my everyday cooking) are driven by the produce I buy at the farmers’ markets. All of a sudden I found myself wanting/needing basil, mint, and cilantro–none of which are at local farmers’ markets right now. I bit the bullet and bought these things at the grocery store. I actually buy cilantro at the grocery store occasionally without giving it much thought but not the basil and mint. I grow both, but the mint is barely peeking out of the ground at the moment and of course the basil is months away. Now I do buy oranges and bananas in the winter and plenty of other non-local staples but because of the plethora of wonderful veggies that do grow here year-round, I’ve never really bought much produce out of season. I’m bemused and interested by my mental games and parameters I’ve somewhat unwittingly developed. More on this in a later post and I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the subject. . . .
My conclusion, post salad roll making and eating, is that a) I’ll plant more basil this year, and add cilantro to the mix (hoping it doesn’t bolt too fast) and b) I’ll occasionally indulge in salad rolls out-of-season too. They were just so good and so light and fresh after months of heavier winter fare.
So, now to the recipe. I adapted recipes from Gourmet for both the rolls and the peanut sauce. I made enough changes that I’m posting my versions here, but here’s also the original in case you’re curious.
Herb Salad Spring Rolls – adapted from Gourmet
1 ounce bean-thread (cellophane) noodles
1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar
eight 8-inch rounds rice paper plus additional in case some tear
1 green onion (scallion), cut into 2-inch julienne strips
1/4 cup finely shredded carrot
3 oz firm tofu, well-drained and cut into thin strips
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, washed well and spun dry
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, washed well and spun dry
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, washed well and spun dry
In a bowl soak noodles in very hot water to cover 15 minutes and drain well in a colander. With scissors cut remaining noodles into 3 to 4-inch lengths and in a small bowl toss with vinegar and salt to taste.
In a shallow baking pan or cake pan soak 2 rounds rice paper in hot water to cover until very pliable, 45 seconds to 1 minute.
Lay a dry dish towel on a large, flat dinner plate. Carefully spread 1 soaked round on it and blot top with other half of dish towel. Peel paper off and place on plate (it will stick to the towel if you leave it on the towel). Leave remaining round in water, and blot with dish towel. Arrange several basil leaves on bottom half of sheet, leaving a 1-inch border along edge. Top basil with about one-fourth of noodles, arranging them in a line across lettuce. Top noodles with one-fourth each of scallion, carrot, tofu, and cilantro and mint. Roll up filling tightly in rice paper, folding insides after first roll to completely enclose filling, and continue rolling.
Blot remaining soaked rice paper round on dish towel and blot other side then move to the plate. Wrap rice paper around spring roll in same manner. (Double wrapping covers any tears and makes roll more stable and easier to eat.) Wrap spring roll in rinsed and squeezed dish or paper towel and put in a resealable plastic bag. Make 3 more rolls with remaining ingredients in same manner. Rolls may be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Before serving, bring rolls to room temperature.
Halve rolls diagonally and serve with spicy peanut sauce.
Spicy Peanut Sauce – adapted from Gourmet
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or 1 small Serrano chili, minced, or to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste
3/4 cup water
Juice of 1 lime, more to taste
In a small saucepan cook garlic and red pepper flakes or Serrano and ginger in oil over moderate heat, stirring, until garlic is golden. Whisk in remaining ingredients (except lime) and bring to a boil, whisking. Simmer sauce, whisking, until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in lime or lemon juice. Sauce may be made 3 days ahead and chilled, covered.
We u-picked a lot of berries last summer–strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and marionberries. For the first time, my son was old enough to toddle among the rows, eat berries and amuse himself (for the most part – I did have to cut one trip short because he was “harassing” another little boy). And I took full advantage! We picked 25 lbs of gorgeous and perfectly ripe strawberries one day. I hadn’t really thought through how I was going to process them all and didn’t have time for much. I rinsed them, hulled them and packed them in 1 quart yogurt containers and tossed them in the freezer. I thought I’d make jam or ice cream or sauce when I had more time. Well I did the same with the blueberries and the raspberries. I never made any of those other things except for a few batches of jam. So my generous stash of frozen berries has lasted me this long. I opened my last quart of blueberries and strawberries this morning for one of our favorite breakfasts.
Throughout the late fall and winter I’ve cooked a pot of steel-cut oats (I soak the oats over night which makes cooking them in the morning a quick affair) and topped them with frozen berries and maple syrup. It is perfect in so many ways. The berries thaw and soften in the steaming cereal and cool the oats down to a perfect temperature. The berries literally taste like they were just picked. As corny as it sounds, every bite is a vivid flashback to summer–the smells, the warmth, the dirt and berry juice under your fingernails.. .. it is lovely, warm, and nourishing. And a wonderful way to start the day.
This is also an incredibly inexpensive breakfast. You can’t beat the price and quality of fresh (frozen) u-picked fruit and steel-cut oats in bulk cost next to nothing. And then you can splurge on good maple syrup. All of this to say, if you have the chance to u-pick berries this summer and have a freezer, pick lots and lots and don’t feel badly about not processing them. You will enjoy the fruits of your labor (pun intended!) all winter long. I will remind you of this come June and we’re in the swing of berry season.
Steel Cut Oats with Berries
2 cups steel-cut oats
1/2 tsp of salt
Fresh or frozen berries
maple syrup (or brown sugar or honey)
The night before you’re planning on making this, put the oats in a saucepan and cover with a couple inches of water. By morning the oats will have absorbed most if not all of it. Add the salt and another 2 cups of water, cover, bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes. If you forget to soak them you’ll just have to cook them for about 30 -40 minutes with much more water in the morning.
Top with the fruit and maple syrup, stir well and eat!