Infusing Oils

Today we’re going to talk about something that sounds very fancy. You’ll impress your friends so much that you may be inclined to write your own minimalist menus to put on their plates with things like:

Organic hanger steak
+
Frizzled leeks
+
Garlic sage oil

(More on frizzled leeks in future weeks.)

This week we’re going to learn several ways to infuse your own oils for dressings, flavoring, cooking, etc.

Infusing Oils

There are two methods to infusing oils: heat and time.

First you must determine what type of oil you want to use and what flavor you want to infuse it with.

Let’s start with oils. For an infused oil, I find that cheap is fine since the infusion is going to impart most of the flavor anyhow. Vegetable oil is excellent if you want a blank palette. Olive oil is going to have some fruity notes that will compliment spicier or more herbal infusions. Ultimately, though, choose what you like best, have around, can afford, etc.

Making leek oil using the heat method.

Next you need to determine what you want to infuse your oil with. Think about your favorite flavors to cook with. Do you like herbal notes? Brighter lemony notes? Extreme spice? We can make any of those things happen.

For your first infusion, let’s start with the simplest and most common item to infuse with–garlic.

Heat Method

When working with the heat method, place a saute pan on the oven and warm to medium heat. Then add 1 cup of oil. After the oil heats slightly, add 4-8 cloves of garlic (depending on size of clove and garlic love) and stir the garlic until it starts to brown (but not burn). This should take approximately 8 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the pan (though feel free to use this cooked garlic in future cooking projects, say a hummus?) and strain the oil into a container.

Leftovers from making wild garlic oil.

Suggestions for other items to heat infuse: leek tops, green onion, wild onion/garlic, sage, rosemary, etc. The possibilities are endless. (If you’re unsure about a flavor and want to test it, use less of the item and less oil to try out a small tasting batch.)

Time Method

There are two variations on this method which require a bit time (~20-30 minutes) and others that require a lot of time (4-6 weeks). Let’s start with the quick one.

So it’s salad night, and you need to whip up a quick dressing. No problem! Chop (or, even better, use your garlic press) one or two garlic cloves (as well as a pinch of any chopped herbs or dry spice you’d like to infuse) into a small bowl (ramekin ideally) and cover with olive oil. Let sit for at least 20 minutes; note that the longer something sits, the more flavor will infuse. Now whisk in your vinegar (or lemon/orange/lime juice of choice) until it emulsifies. Add salt and cracked black pepper. Now you’ve got a dressing!

If you’re looking for more complex flavors, maybe it’s time to start your own long-infuse. This is one of my personal favorite things to do when hot peppers are in season at the market. Here you want to think about the flavors you want to bring to your oil.

You can start with something simple. Have a lot of herbs? Add a few cloves of garlic and a spring of basil. Cover with oil. Strain the oil after 4 weeks. Boom! You’ve got garlic-basil oil.

Ready to get complex? Great! So think about flavors that you want to see together. Love cilantro? What does it usually pair with? Yep! Lime! And garlic! And jalapeƱos! So why not make an oil with all of those things? (Note, when using citrus in oils, cut the fruit into rounds rather than squeezing the juices into the oil.)

Cilantro, serrano, lime oil.

Don’t have fresh herbs? No worries! Dried herbs work just as well. Try bay leaf and peppercorn for a excellent couscous topping.

Again, this will need to sit for at least 4 weeks. You can strain the oil at this point or you can leave it to continue to infuse. Do note, though, that you’ll likely want to remove any leafy herbs from the mix since they can get funky after a month, which can cause your oil to grow mold.

What to Do with Your Infused Oils

Now that you have all these fancy oils, what do you do with them?

  • Salad dressings
  • Roasting vegetables
  • Finishing oils
  • Popcorn flavoring
  • Bean dip flavoring

You can also use it in place of a standard cooking oil to impart more flavor to meats or sauces. Just make sure to strain your oil before using.

Let us know what your favorite flavor combo is for your own infused oils in the comments!

Pizza with Pesto and Homemade Ricotta

This week, Erin showed you the many beautiful incarnations of pesto. Today we’re going to combine that recipe with two more easy ones to make something delightful — homemade pizza!

Yeah, deliveries are still up in many places, but I guarantee you once you make your own pizza you will never want to go back to Dominos. Today I’m going to provide two simple recipes to add to your repertoire — pizza dough and homemade ricotta.

Making cheese may sound like a daunting task, but it’s really just a few simple steps. Let’s get started there.

MAKING THE RICOTTA

To set up, you’re going to want a large bowl and a thin-mesh sieve. A lot of recipes will tell you to use a cheesecloth, but if you, like me, don’t have one, paper towels or just the sieve will work fine.

Next take 4 cups of whole milk, 1/2 a cup of cream, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring them to a boil in a large pot, then cut the heat by half. Stir in 2 Tablespoons of acid (lemon juice or vinegar work equally well). Stir constantly until the milk begins to curdle. It won’t look like much, in fact, you may still think you’re just stirring milk. But after a few minutes, pour it into your sieve and, like absolute magic, you’ll have this:

Let drain completely. It’ll sink a bit in the middle when more water comes out. Then, discard the liquid and cool your brand new, homemade ricotta! (I am so proud of you, making cheese like a goshdarn PRO!)

MAKING THE PIZZA DOUGH

This isn’t too dissimilar from making focaccia dough! You’ll need 1 cup of water (around the same temp as your skin), a teaspoon of sugar, and 1 packet (.25 oz) of dried yeast. Mix them in a bowl the same way you did for foccacia, and let them sit for 10 – 15 minutes until the yeast bubbles and becomes active.

Next, add 3 cups of all purpose flour (you may need to adjust this, like with any dough, for the humidity of the day, season, or your kitchen. Don’t be afraid to add splashes of warm water if you need to! You’ll want the dough to be smooth and elastic), one teaspoon of salt, and 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Mix it all together by hand, knead until somewhat smooth, cover, and let rise in a warm place (it’s chilly in my apartment, so I use my oven, not turned on, for a proofing box) for around 45 minutes to an hour, until it’s light and risen and about doubled in size.

If you have a sourdough starter the recipe is even more simple! Combine a 1:1:1 ratio of starter, flour, and 90 degree water (ie, 1/4 pound of starter, 1/4 pound of flour, 1/4 pound of water.)

ASSEMBLING THE PIZZA

If you’re making a round pizza, you’ll want to roll the dough into a tight ball. You do this by cupping your hand around it and moving it in a circular motion on a clean, dry surface. You’ll want your thumb and pinkie tucking dough underneath as it circles. If the ball is too big, and you want to keep it big, use both hands for this same motion, tucking with your pinkies as you go.

Let the dough rise again, but less this time. Then, spray down the pan you’re baking on, and grease it again with olive oil. Stretch your dough out and over it and par-bake for about 10 minutes. Add toppings — in this case, tomato sauce, pesto, and ricotta. You can also just cover the whole thing in pesto, and add fresh tomato and dabs of ricotta.

Bake at 350 until it’s brown and crispy around the edges, and the sauce and cheese are hot.

Infinity Pestos

Like most home cooks, I started with recipes from chefs or foodie friends I admired. I bought the exact ingredients called for. I measured them with tablespoons and measuring cups. I followed every step called for, making sure to read all of the instructions before I started.

Which means when I first made pesto, it had to be made with the following items: sweet basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and olive oil. That’s it. Nothing else. Ideally you crush it all in a mortar like an Italian grandmother as well.

But I was also a poor grad student/non-tenure-line faculty member for a long time. (I’m still the latter.) So who had the money for basil and pine nuts and good parm? So I started changing out one thing at a time. Sub in walnuts for pine nuts? Actually really excellent! What if I don’t have Parmesan? How about this on-sale Aldi goat cheese? Even more excellent!

Ingredients

Eventually I realized that all pesto is basically the following things:

  • Greens
  • Seeds/nuts
  • Cheese (optional)
  • Garlic and/or onion
  • Oil

This means your greens can be pretty much anything–spinach, beet greens, garlic scapes, carrot tops, cilantro, parsley, radish tops, etc. The only thing I would probably avoid are more traditional lettuces like iceberg or Romaine simply because of the water content, but toss that spring mix in the blender! It’s good to go!

For seeds and nuts, I’ve used pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. I’m sure there are more. Just think about the saltiness and the flavor profile because this taste will come out more than you may think since pine nuts are less flavorful in traditional pesto.

For cheeses, I personally lean towards soft cheese like goat cheese or ricotta. However, hard cheeses that mimic the umami of Parmesan also work. Think manchego or an aged gouda. There are truly endless possibilities ,and it’s up to you to figure them out! Or, if you’re vegan, leave it out altogether!

Traditional pesto use garlic, but I also like to add some scallion or a little bit of something from the onion family to mine. You could include a bit of shallot or chives to add some oomph as well. (Or if you’ve got spring onions or field garlic growing in your front yard, toss those in instead. I love yard food!)

Finally, while the quality of oil does help, you’re going to need quite a bit of it, so I usually recommend whatever olive oil you traditionally cook with. (For me it’s the Aldi brand that’s $3.99 a bottle.) I also like to include a squeeze of lemon or a tiny bit of good vinegar just to help it keep it’s color longer if you’re planning on storing it in the fridge.

The Process

To make the pesto, just add all of the ingredient, minus the olive oil and lemon, to your food processor or blender.

Blend until all ingredients are equal size.

Squeeze your lemon (or add a splash of good vinegar) and turn to blend.

Slowly add your olive oil to the mixture until you’ve hit a desired consistency.

Eat immediately or store in your refrigerator for up to two weeks. Alternatively you can freeze your pesto in ice cube trays.

The Outcomes

Below are two different pestos I made this week.

Carrot top pesto makings.

Above are the ingredients for a carrot top pesto. This one (final version pictured at the top of this post) I was making as a dip, so I used my leftover homemade ricotta, pumpkin seeds, green onion, lemon, and olive oil. Note that by adding a 1/2 cup of cheese instead of the tablespoon or so I usually do, this takes on a more creamy and dip-like consistency. It’s still great on pasta or pizzas though!

Turnip green pesto makings.

Here I wanted to make a more “traditional” pesto to put on baked potatoes and rice this week for lunch. (Yes, pesto + rice is amaing! Put an egg on it, and it’s breakfast!)

This one includes turnip greens, sunflower seeds, cotija cheese, garlic, lemon, and olive oil.

The final version of turnip green pesto

Now you’re ready to get creative! Let us know your favorite combinations in the comments!

A Brief Introduction To Congee

Congee is a savory rice porridge that is eaten all over Asia. Also called kayu, juk, among other things, congee is a simple and comforting dish that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner depending on your mood and/or preparation.

What’s wonderful about congee is just how versatile it is. Add bacon and a runny egg, and you’ve got a breakfast iteration. Roast chicken and green onions with sesame oil, and it’s an entirely different dish.

The basics of congee are very simple. You need rice, water or broth, and your choice aromatics. You can also add meat directly into the cooking process for a bulkier version.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Add 1 cup white rice (any type) abd 8 cups of liquid to your stock pot. (Reduce water by 1 cup if using an Instant Pot.) Remember that broth we made last week? Now’s a great time to use it! I usually use a mixture of 2/3 broth to 1/3 water. However, you can play with it to your liking. And any broth/stock/bone broth/bouillon will do!
  • Now add your aromatics. I usually use 1 tbsp ginger, 1 tbsp garlic, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp white pepper. (Five spice powder is also an excellent addition here if you want a more traditional Chinese route.) If you’re adding meat (we recommend chicken or turkey on the bone), now is the time to do it.
  • Stir and bring everything to a boil, then turn it down and let it simmer, covered, until rice has come apart completely, approximately one hour. Make sure to stir it every so often so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Alternatively, set your Instant Pot to High for 35 minutes. Let the steam release naturally.

The final version should look something like this:

Congee fresh out of the Instant Pot.

Taste the congee to see if you need to add more salt. (This will depend on the salt content of your broth and your proportion of broth to water.)

Now comes the fun part–toppings!

Congee is truly a palette on which to work. Think about the flavor of your aromatics and then go from there. Some things I personally love on congee are:

  • Egg (either fried with a runny yolk or just the raw yolk from a farm-fresh egg)
  • Chopped green onions
  • Meat (cooked bacon, stewed chicken, grilled ginger pork, lemongrass meatballs, etc.)
  • Vegetables and/or tofu (sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, crispy tofu, etc.)
  • Diced kimchi or other fermented vegetables
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame seeds
  • Foraged greens or flowers
  • Chile crisp

The options are endless! Plus one cup of rice is now 4-5 meals, so this is about as economical as food gets. If you’re cooking for one, congee will last for a week in the refrigerator and can be endlessly rearranged to make different meals and use up what’s in your pantry or vegetable drawer.

Congee with raw duck yolk, preserved daikon, green onions, buttered leaks, and white sesame seeds.

Let us know some of your favorite toppings and share your pictures of your congee in the comments or on social media with the hashtag #apocalycious.

Savory Bread Pudding with Focaccia, Caramelized Onions, and Mushrooms

Do you have left over focaccia from earlier this week? If not, you can always make more and make sure to save about a half of the pan for this delicious savory bread pudding recipe. It’s a take on the classic sweet dessert bread pudding, which is usually served with ice cream or whiskey caramel sauce. But since we made focaccia a few days ago, let’s build off that for this beautiful side or whole meal in and of itself.

What you’ll need is:

  • 1/2 a pan of slightly stale focaccia
  • 1 large yellow or white onion
  • 1/2 a stick of butter (4 TB)
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 4 oz. of mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream or whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese (I used cheddar and cream cheese, because it’s what I had, but goat or gruyere or parm or anything else works, too!)
  • 3 eggs
  • salt and pepper to taste

First, you’ll want to take your cream or milk, your shredded cheese, and your eggs and whisk them together in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper. After you do this, set it aside, and dice your remaining focaccia up into 1/2 inch squares. Soak the bread in the milk, egg, and cheese mixture and refrigerate while you move onto the next step.

Have you ever caramelized onions before? If not, now is the perfect time to do it, because it requires time and patience. It takes forever! But I promise it is worth it!

Take your half stick of butter and 1/4 cup of olive oil (yes, you want this much fat in this part) and put them in a pan at very low heat. The lowest you can get. Slice your onion and add it to the pan. Cook it low and slow for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring it occasionally. You want the onions to sweat in the butter first, to release moisture, then gently sautee.

sweated onions
caramelized onion

Eventually, they’ll become slightly browned and translucent and delicious. It takes a long time, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll want caramelized onions on everything.

Sautee the mushrooms in a little olive oil. When everything is caramelized and sauteed, mix it in with the bread pieces and milk mixture in the bowl. I portioned the recipe out into a muffin tin sprayed with olive oil, and topped with a pat of cream cheese, because who doesn’t want a tiny personal bread puddings? You can also use a larger pan or casserole dish, though. Do remember to grease the pan first! Bake at 350 degrees for 30 – 45 minutes in individual portions, and about an hour for one big portion. The top should be crispy and the bottom solid.

I want to note that the only vital part of this recipe is the bread and the milk/egg/cheese mixture, not the mushrooms and onion, and that you should feel free to put anything else savory into it. Try chili peppers, or herbs, or tomato, or kale, or whatever you like. The most fun part of baking, I think, is in the places you get to flex your creativity. So use those creative cooking muscles and change this recipe how ever you want!

Easy Bread: How to Make Focaccia

You’ve probably heard of everyone you know trying to make and feed a new sourdough starter during the quarantine. While that’s a very noble task, and there are certainly worse things to do than the feeding and care of something living right now, it’s also…a lot for some of us. Especially people who have never made bread. So if you’re looking for a beginner’s bread recipe that’s quick and easy and delicious, look no further! We’ve got you. And soon you’ll have fresh, warm focaccia!

You’re going to want to start with 1 1/3 cups of water that’s just about at 100 – 110 degrees fahrenheit. But I don’t have a thermometer! you may say. No worries, friend! The best way to tell if a water is at this temp is that if feels the same as a warm bath, something slightly above the temperature of your own skin. This is because if it’s too hot, it will kill the yeast. You want that yeast happy, which is why you’re going to add 2 tablespoons of sugar or honey to the water when you have it at temp, before you add 1 packet of dry yeast (1/4 oz). This will give the yeast something to eat. You’ll let the water, yeast, and honey sit for 5 to 10 minutes. When the yeast is activated, it will be bubbly and happy like in the picture below.

Once the yeast is activated, add 3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1/3 of a cup of extra virgin olive oil, and 2 Tablespoons of salt. (Be sure to add the salt last as it, like hot water, can kill your yeast!) Mix it together with your hands, kneading lightly into a ball. It should look like this:

Cover the bowl with saran wrap, and let sit for 30 minutes to one hour, until it is doubled in size. After it is doubled, take it out and put it in a sheet tray. Let rise again for about 15 – 20 minutes. Now for the most satisfying part! Poke holes deep in the risen dough with your fingers, like so!

Next, cover the dough with more olive oil. Add whatever toppings, in whatever pattern you see fit. You can have a lot of fun with this, and add great flavor. I went fairly simple for mine, and used garlic, parmesan cheese, and halved cherry tomatoes. But this part is up to you! Be creative!

Lastly, bake at 350 degrees in a pre-heated oven for 20 – 30 minutes, until it is golden brown.

You can use this bread for anything savory! I like to dip mine in hummus, or cut it down the middle and make hummus, cucumber, tomato and sprout sandwiches with it. And, if you have left-over bread, stay tuned for our savory focaccia bread pudding recipe!

Making Your Own Broth

Why pay top dollar for bone broth when you can make your own AND scare your friends with your terrifying freezer full of bones and carcasses! Truly a two-for-one special!

Bone broth, broth, stock, etc is easy and basically free if you’re saving the bones and trimmings from your vegetables. All you’ll need are freezer bags, a stock pot/Instantpot/slow cooker, a mesh strainer, and a gallon-sized pitcher.

First, start saving your bones, skin, scraps from cooking in freezer bags. There are several routes to go here:

1.) If you want bone broth or just regular broth, keep all of the bones and meat scraps in their own bag. If you want, you can label your bags by the types of bones/shells (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, crawfish, etc.) or you can do what a friend calls their “Noah’s Ark” stock and just throw everything willy-nilly into one bag. (I do recommend separating land food from seafood however.)

2.) If you want to make stock, you can start keeping your meat trimmings and bones with your vegetable trimmings. Alternatively, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can keep the veggie trimmings to make a veggie stock. These trimmings can be from any vegetable you’d put in a soup, so onion and garlic skins and roots, celery leaf, carrot ends/peelings/tops, cuttings from leafy greens, tomato skins/cuttings, the woody ends of asparagus, mushroom stems, etc. The only things I wouldn’t put in would be potato scraps (those go out for composting), avocado (any parts of it), okra (it gets slimy), or tomato leaves (they’re slightly poisonous). Basically, if you could eat it raw, throw it in the bag.

3.) Mix and match. This is what I usually do. I buy a lot of leeks, which make broth particularly fragrant. So I may include lamb bones, leek tops, and mushroom stems to a bone broth to add more richness to flavor. You can also be a purist and stick with bones only.

When your bag is full (or half full if you’re using an Instantpot), you’re ready to make some broth!

Here are some good ratios to note:

1.) Instant Pot: Half of a gallon freezer bag

2.) Stove top: Full gallon freezer bag

3.) Crockpot: Half to full depending on the size of your crockpot

Cover with water. At this point you can also add aromatics if you desire–garlic, black peppercorns, bay leaf, etc.

For bone broth:

1.) Instant Pot: 2 hours on soup setting

2.) Stove top: 8 hours on low simmer, covered

3.) Crockpot: 24 hours on low

For broth/stock:

1.) Instant Pot: 30 minutes on soup setting

2.) Stove top: 4 hours on low simmer; be sure to skim any partulates that come to the surface when your broth hits a boil

3.) Crockpot: 8 hours on low

NOTE: If you’re making veggie stock or seafood stock, you can cut the cooking time above in half.

When it’s done, it will a rich yellow to brown color (depending on the bones), and your house will smell amazing.

Carefully strain your stock through a wire mesh strainer into a gallon-size plastic pitcher. Add salt 1 tsp at a time and stir to dissolve. Keep tasting until the broth starts to taste like the components of the broth. It will probably be at least two tablespoons of salt before that happens, so keep adding, stirring, and tasting until you’re happy with the content.

Your stock will keep in the fridge for up to three weeks and in the freezer for up to three months.

These recipes are meant to be played around with, so have fun with it! Find the flavor profile you like the most. Add dried ingredients to change it up–peppers and mushrooms are both excellent additions!

Once you know how to do this, making your own pho broth or tom yum base will be extra easy and you’ll never half to pay $9 for a quart of bone broth ever again.

Fun Facts: The difference between broth and stock is that broth uses bones with meat on them while stock uses just the bones. This gets confused by the term bone broth, however, which simply uses bones; the longer cooking times bring out the marrow and other healthy parts of the bone itself.

Stretch a Dime: If you want to make a traditional chicken broth, buy chicken on the bone (we recommend chicken quarters or half of a whole chicken) and add your aromatics. Remove the chicken meat when cooked through (approximately one hour on the stovetop or 25 minutes in the Instant Pot). Save these bones to use again for bone broth. This will give you double the use out of the same set of bones.