Scallion Pancakes

葱油饼 (cong you bing), or scallion pancake, is served alongside dipping sauce as an appetizer at some Chinese restaurants. It is delicious. It's made by rolling a disc of dough into a cigar, and then twisting it into a coil which is again rolled out, forming lots of flaky layers. It's then pan-fried in oil, so that the outside is really crisp while the inside is flaky, soft, and filled with salty scallion goodness. So yeah, you usually order it as an appetizer, but I could definitely eat a whole stack for dinner. Or any time of the day. They're very good wrapped around barbecued anything, as well.

It's pretty simple to do, too. It's not a quick recipe, but rolling out the dough takes up a majority of the time. You could just buy a frozen package of these from your local Asian grocery, but those store-bought pancakes won't come close to the deliciousness of home-made ones. You can even stack these between wax paper or plastic wrap and stick them in the freezer for up to a month, and just throw them into a pan when you want them.

Scallion Pancakes

2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of warm water, plus some extra
3 scallions, thinly sliced
kosher salt
vegetable oil or vegetable shortening (shortening will give you a slightly flakier pancake. mm.)

Start off by making your dough. I like to do it in a food processor because I'm lazy, but you could just as easily do it by hand. Start off by adding 1/2 cup of warm water to the flour and incorporating well. Gradually add water in teaspoon increments until the dough is pliable and easily comes off the sides of the bowl. You want the dough to be just barely sticky, but not rock-hard. Cover with a damp tea towel and let sit for 30 minutes so the dough can relax.

Next, roll the dough out with your hands into a semblance of a log, and divide into six pieces. Take one piece out and cover what you're not using. Roll it out into a round about 10" across, then brush with oil or shortening, sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and plenty of scallions (the more, the better!). Pick up one end of the round and begin rolling it into a tight little cigar.

Pinch the ends of the cigar to seal them, and then twist the dough around itself until it forms a spiral. Press this down.

Roll this out again into 8 - 10" round. Don't go too thin, otherwise all the layers will smoosh together. 1/8" thickness should do. Heat up a non-stick or cast iron pan on medium heat, and add enough oil to generously cover the bottom of the pan. Oil = crispiness, which is what we want. Don't skimp!

When the oil is hot enough so that a small piece of dough starts sizzling immediately after being added, throw in one of your pancakes. Cook for about 3 - 4 minutes a side, turning over when it's golden brown.

Drain the cooked pancake on a paper towel, and slice into wedges when you're ready to serve. These are great by themselves, but you can also mix up a little sauce of soy sauce, rice vinegar and ginger if you'd like. Enjoy!

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Strawberry Jam Two Ways

Have you ever heard of Weck? They originated in Germany, and make the proshest canning jars. The sealing mechanism is a little different from the Ball jars that you usually see; The lid and jar are made of glass, and there is a non-reusable rubber ring that fits between the two. You fill the jar up as usual, and use a pair of clamps to hold the lid onto the jar while the cans are processed. The jars must cool completely, and then you can remove the clamps. If a vacuum formed, you should be able to pick up the jar by the lid alone. The tongue of the rubber gasket should point down a little, too. To remove the lid, you just pull on the tongue. You should hear a little psssst sound as the vacuum is broken. More detailed instructions are available on their website, along with order information.

We took advantage of the break in the heat wave last weekend and went strawberry picking. It was a perfect day for picking - overcast and the temperature was just right!

This year, we held back and only picked 10 lbs! It made about 12 8oz jars of jam. I decided to tweak last year's recipe; this time, I made two batches. I substituted a combination of 1 tbsp lemon juice/2 tbsp balsalmic vinegar for the straight lemon juice of the original.

I added 6 mint leaves and 10 grinds of black pepper to the second batch near the end of the cooking time, removing the mint leaves before I ladled the jam into the jars (inspired by Chocolate & Zucchini's recipe).

The balsalmic strawberry jam added a deeper flavor to the jam. The mint and pepper can only just be tasted, and lend a fresh and midly spicy taste to the jam. It's really very good - don't let the mint scare you away!

Strawberry Jam

3 lb. ripe strawberries (4 1/2 pints), rinsed and hulled
3 cups sugar (you can use a little less if the fruit is very ripe)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Special equipment: eight or nine 8-oz canning jars with lids, funnel, clamp or tongs

To wash the berries, gently scoop them into a sink filled with water. Swish them around a little, and let them sit for a while. The dirt should fall to the bottom of the sink.

Hull and quarter the berries. Put them in a deep pot made of non-reactive material (stainless steel works well). Make sure that there is enough room in your pot! If there is less than 5" between your berries and the top of your pot, you might have a rather anxious time of it. When the jam boils, lots of air bubbles are trapped in the dense liquid, which will begin to rise very quickly.Pour on the sugar and lemon juice, and mix well with a wooden spoon. Cover the pot and let the berries macerate for about two hours. If you like your jam smoother, you can mash them with a potato masher instead.

While the berries macerate, wash your jars and set them in the oven. They should be in there for at least half an hour. Wash the lids and rings, and set the rings aside. Put the lids in a pot of boiling water to sterilize them, and to make the rubber around the edges a little more pliable.

Bring the pot of strawberries to a full boil (you need to boil off the liquid to achieve a jammy consistency). Make sure to stir often (with your wooden spoon) and skim off any foam from the surface. The foam will make your jam cloudy if it's left in the pot, although you can eat it separately.

After half an hour of boiling, your jam should be just about ready. Don't boil the jam for more than 40 minutes, however, otherwise the pectin in the fruit will break down and the jam will turn dark.You can test the consistency of the jam by chilling a plate in your freezer. Spoon a little bit of jam onto the plate, and check the thickness of the jam once it has cooled.

Take a jar out of the oven and ladle the jam in until within 1/4" of the rim. Wipe any jam off the rim with a damp towel, and use tongs to take a lid out of your pot of boiling water and put it on the jar. Quickly screw a ring over the lid (it has to be tight enough to hold the lid onto the jar). Repeat this process until you fill up all of your jars.

Put the jars into a deep pot filled with boiling water; make sure the water reaches above the rim of the jar lids. Cover, and let the jars boil for ten minutes. Remove the jars with tongs and let them cool on the counter. The lids should begin to pop within minutes. If you have any lids that didn't seal, throw them out or eat immediately.

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Avocado and Watercress Salad

I've been on a bit of a health kick recently. Been going to the gym every day, taking spinning classes twice a week and I've been trying to eat healthier, too. This salad just oozes healthfulness, and makes for a pretty amazing light lunch when eaten with a couple slices of toasted six grain bread.

It's all in the dressing; the onion and apple give it the hint of sweetness, and also add a little texture. The soy sauce and rice vinegar base really contrast well with the spiciness of the watercress and the creaminess of the avocado -- it almost tastes like the wasabi/soy combo you get with sushi. The crisp/creamy contrast of the watercress and avocado isn't bad either.

Instead of going to the bother of grating the apple and onion, I just tossed everything into a tall glass and used my immersion blender.

Avocado and Watercress Salad
Gourmet, May 2008

1/4 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned, although seasoned won't kill this recipe)
1 tbsp grated sweet onion (use large holes of a grater)
1/4 cup finely grated peeled Gala apple (use small holes of a grater)
4 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
6 cups watercress (thin stems and leaves only)
1 firm-ripe avocado

Stir together vinegar, onion, apple, soy sauce and sugar until the sugar has dissolved, then stir in oil.

Just before serving, toss watercress with enough dressing to coat. Quarter, pit, and peel avocado, then cut crosswise into 1/4" slices. Gently toss with watercress.

Makes 6 servings.

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Quinoa with Moroccan Winter Squash Stew

February is almost over, but winter is still hanging on in Cleveland. There's a thick blanket of snow on the ground, and a distinct lack of good produce to be found; I've just about eaten my share of potatoes and I don't think I can bear to look at another apple. Unfortunately, the farmers market doesn't start until April -- and we won't see any local tomatoes until late May, at the earliest! What's a girl to do?

Fall back on an old favorite, butternut squash. But rather than simply roasting it, why not go for something with punch? This moroccan stew calls for almost a pantryful of spices, but they meld together in a way that makes this dish incredibly satisfying. And the colors -- the colors! They'll add a little sunshine to any overcast day.

Quinoa with Moroccan Winter Squash Stew:

(slightly modified from Bon Appetit)

For the stew:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch of saffron
1 cup water
1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 cups 1" cubes of butternut squash (from a 1.5lb squash)
2 cups 3/4" cubes of carrots

For the quinoa:
1 cup quinoa
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped carrot
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 cups water
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

For the stew:
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; saute until soft, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Mix in paprika and next 8 ingredients. Add 1 cup water, tomatoes, and lemon juice. Bring to boil. Add squash and carrots. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

For the quinoa:
Rinse quinoa; drain. Melt butter with oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and carrot. Cover; cook until vegetables begin to brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, salt, and turmeric; saute 1 minute. Add quinoa; stir 1 minute. Add 2 cups water. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low. Cover; simmer until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes.

Rewarm stew. Stir in half of the parsley. Spoon quinoa onto platter, forming well in the center. Spoon stew into well. Sprinkle over remaining parsley.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.
(although, it was so tasty that we ended up polishing off most of it for lunch)

Bon Appétit, January 2006

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