Monday, March 23, 2009

Experiments in Hummus

I usually make my own hummus as: a) I don't like the taste/texture/calories of tahini and b) hummus without cumin seed is not hummus in my book. Restaurant hummus usually fails on both counts. Besides, hummus is one of those ideal foods that doesn't require one to cook (if you can push the button on a food processor you can make hummus) and it takes all of 2 minutes to go from thought to finished product.

I like to experiment with different types of beans and liquids to get the desired consistency. There's no law that says hummus has to be made with chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Today's batch went like this:

  • One can of cannellini beans--yes, it's better to think ahead and soak your own beans, but sometimes laziness wins. Be sure to rinse well to reduce the sodium content of canned beans.

  • A small clove of garlic--too much garlic tastes good the first day but becomes overpowering if the hummus lasts longer than that.

  • Good spoonful of cumin seeds.

  • Dash of paprika to add a bit of colour and heat. Hot sauce works well too if you have it.

  • A good squirt of lime juice as I felt like lime today. Was probably 2-3 tablespoons worth.

And today's experimental ingredient: 2 big dollops (about 1/2 cup) of low-fat ricotta cheese in place of additional liquid. I figured a good source of calcium and protein couldn't hurt. Everything went into the processor and I pushed the button until it looked smooth and hummus-y.

Note: when you make your own hummus, start with a few tablespoons of some liquid so the beans can process. Don't add too much and let it process for a minute or so. If it really is too dry, the beans won't whirl and you can add about a tablespoon of some liquid to get things moving. If you add too much at first, you'll just end up with watery hummus.

And I was delighted with the results. The ricotta produced a lovely velvet texture and added a creamy taste that went well with the lime. Surprisingly, nothing curdled, which was good. Will definitely be using ricotta again.

Bon appetit!

Needlepoint Panel

In my spare time (cough, cough) I have a few projects on the go. One involves needlepoint as I find slowly filling in a zillion little squares with colour to be strangely relaxing. My latest project is using mini squares (5"x5") as this size does not require a frame to keep the work from stretching/skewing before it is finished.

I started with 1 square, then moved up to 4 thinking I would frame the 4 as a set in either a large square or a long rectangle. I couldn't find a pre-matted frame that I liked (and I hate cutting mats) so I thought some more until I decided on stitching the squares together into a panel. I found 9 kits that I liked that fit a floral/bug theme:

I'm using Patons silk bamboo in black to create the connecting borders as a skein of yarn was infinitely cheaper than the equivalent amount of floss. Each picture ends in a row of 729 DMC (gold), followed by 7 rows of Patons, 2 rows of DMC 321 (red), and 7 more rows of Patons to connect to the 729 DMC row of the next square.

If I'm pleased with the finished size, I'll probably back the piece in red cotton. Or I may just decide that the panel needs to be bigger and add more squares.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Creamy Garlic Soup

While in Vienna earlier this month, I had an excellent Knoblauchcremesuppe (creamy garlic soup) at Pizzeria Salieri and have been meaning to try to recreate a similar soup at home. Doing research, I wasn't surprised to see that the recipes for the Austrian version call for eggs--the Austrians really like their eggs and even put them on pizza. The pizza, by the way, was very good, even with the egg on top staring back at you. It did make that portion of the thin crust soggy, though.

Having an idea of a general gist from the recipes, I headed to the kitchen to make my own low-fat, low-sodium, high-garlic version. Many recipes call for the soup to be pureed which I (and the restaurant) did not do as I like the texture of the garlic bits that sink to the bottom of the bowl.

A note on how much garlic to use: recipes range anywhere from a few cloves to as much as 6-10 heads of garlic. You'll note that the recipes that call for the most garlic have you use the cloves whole (not chopped up) and to puree the finished result. This is because whole garlic has a mellower flavour. When you chop garlic, you release the oils and chemicals that give garlic its pungent taste. If you like garlic, chop away, cook immediately (before the taste gets bitter) and use far less. Also, make sure your garlic is firm and fresh. You'll be disappointed if you cheat and use pre-chopped garlic as the taste won't be there.

Being the non-measurer, taste as you go sorta cook, this is roughly how my version went:

Since I was cooking for one, I used a medium sized saucepan with a dollop of olive oil in the bottom. I started chopping away at a head of garlic and stopped about 2/3 of the way through when the amount looked good in the pan. It was probably about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of fresh chopped garlic. I sauteed on low heat to soften the garlic but not brown it.

I had some leftover stock from a St. Patrick's day boiled dinner and threw in 2 ladlefuls, tasted, figured it was stocky/salty enough and added a cup of water. It was still a bit stocky, so I added another cup which tasted better. If you like a bit thicker soup and don't mind the carbs, throw in a potato. I had one leftover from the boiled dinner so in that went. Simmer for 15 or so minutes until the garlic and potato are softened and mash the potato down.

I like the taste of canned milk, so I poured some in til the soup looked the right colour, it was probably about 1/4 cup. I tasted to see if it needed anything else (I had visions of throwing in some parmesan or perhaps some ricotta I had in the fridge), but it tasted really good as-is. Most recipes call for croutons or toasted baguette on top. I went for toasted rye with hummus on the side instead of in the soup bowl.

Bon appetit!