Thursday, December 8, 2016

Pomegranate-Glazed Eggplant with Tempeh - IHCC

The challenge this week at IHCC is to post a Heidi Swanson's dish using an ingredient which we have not used before. "Expand the pantry" is our mission. That gave me pause. I literally went through Super Natural Everyday page by page, including the index section, before I came up with a few ingredients I've never heard of before, let alone cooked with them. They are tempeh and seitan. I am not familiar with these products because I'm not a vegetarian, although I eat mostly vegetables.

Tempeh, pronounced tem-pay, an ancient food from Indonesia that is made with soybeans. It is similar to tofu, which is made from soy milk. High in protein and a good source of iron. This is all new information to me.

Now the taste test. While tofu is soft and smooth, tempeh is rough and dense. Both are like a blank canvas waiting to be transformed. It would take on bold flavor from a sauce. The pomegranate sauce adds savory spicy and garlicky notes to the otherwise bland taste of tempeh. The sauce makes the dish as you'd expect.

Somehow my dish, as show above, turns out just like the picture in the book. There are no other ways this dish could turn out differently. A dish of everything brown -- and brown and brown -- in it. Other key ingredients are eggplant and sweet potatoes. Glazed with the pomegranate sauce and roasted in the oven after 40 minutes, everything turned decidedly brown. The dish would be lacking any visual interests if not for the additions of the green parsley and the goat cheese (my substitution).

This experiment is a success in trying out a new ingredient. A resulting healthful plate high in protein is a bonus. The only misgiving: all that brownness. I should have added some bright red pomegranate seeds. Too late!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pfefferneusee - #Doriescookies

Making cookies is a seasonal thing to me. The spirits of giving. The holiday buzz. Sugar and spices. They are all nice to bake with. Pfefferneusee, which means pepper nut, is Dorie's December cookie selection for her make-the-world-sweet campaign: #cookiesandkindness.

At the same time, the Cookies For Kids Cancer has a $250,000 challenge grant that must be met by December 31. Every time anyone bakes from Dorie’s cookies and tags a post #doriescookies and @cookies4kids a $5 contribution is automatically triggered. I support Dorie's effort with everything I can bring from my kitchen.

Dorie told us more about the recipe:
"It doesn’t make any difference whether or not you can pronounce the name of these cookies – you’ll love them!  They’re a cookie that’s been popular for Christmas in Europe for years (as in centuries) and there’s a reason they’ve stood the test of so much time: they’re easy to make, long-lasting and full of flavor.  The name means ‘pepper nut’ and, in fact, there is black pepper and chopped pecans in the cookie.  But there’s also cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves and a pinch of dry mustard, which acts as a picker-upper for all the other spices.  If you’ve never had pfefferneusse, you’re in for a treat."

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pea and Mint Croquettes - IHCC Potluck

There is something about the look of these croquettes that would stop me in midstream every time as I flip through the pages of Ottolenghi's Plenty More. Something visceral, something appealing, something peasy.... Something I can grab with my fingers and eat without a care. Let the crumbs fall as they may. No worry about cleaning up as I munch on one of these while meandering in the garden to see the changing of the season! The mint is gone, but the dill plant is still flowering and striving. You can feel the arrival of winter in the chilly frosty morning air. The first snow has come and gone. I'm pondering what to plant for the next season.

These croquettes may look complicated to make, but they are rather straightforward and intuitive to do. Ingredients include the obvious ones you see: pea, mint and shallots. The rest are the everyday pantry items. The pea croquettes can be made well in advance, up to the point where they are covered with panko bread crumbs, and kept frozen. You can defrost them partially and fry them as you need. It is a great recipe for a vegetable snack or as an appetizer. Green veggie with a crunch and so delicious, a fantastic combination!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Grated Carrot-Beet Salad -- Cook the Book Fridays

There is no cooking involved, except grating the carrots and making a salad dressing. No long work-out session in the kitchen. Felt more like cheating. Don't get me wrong, I like easy recipes as much as the challenging ones. Who can resist an easy-to-do and a raw salad universally loved by all Frenchmen and women? Sixty millions plus people; they can't be wrong about this!

Since this David Lebovitz's recipe takes no time to put together, I let my imagination run wild with the variations. I added the beets making it a carrot-beet salad. Also felt compelled to keep some carrots whole, especially those teeny baby carrots I found in the farmers market. Keeping things wholesome and truthful takes on a whole new meaning amid all the divisiveness around.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Classic Apple Pie - King Arthur Flour #Bakealong

Baking anything classic can be challenging given all the longstanding expectations of what it should taste like and look like. I'm jumping in with both feet. It's Thanksgiving and there is no better time to serve up an apple pie. There are amazing varieties of apple to choose from. King Arthur Flour (KAF) site offers all the helpful recipes and tips to get me over the hump. I went to work after reading every line of the bakealong step-by-step walkthrough and followed the recipe faithfully.

Honey crisp is our top choice for its sweet taste and crunchy bites

This is my first attempt at a lattice crust. I used honey crisp apples because they are my family's favorite. I used the boiling cider which I purchased at the KAF store some time ago when I took a bread baking class there.

The aroma wafting through the kitchen as the pie was being baked was amazing and very apple forward. The pie crust was sturdy and much easier to work with than I've anticipated. I did not get frustrated or impatient, as I often do, when the dough refuses to cooperate. A good thing.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Brown Butter with Homemade Pasta: A Thanksgiving Special

I am very thankful to all the teachers, chefs and food lovers who have shown me how to become a better cook and have helped expand my perspective on the culture and ecology of food. On a recent visit to Tuscany, I learned to make fresh pasta from Amanda Cohen, owner and chef of Dirt Candy, a vegetable restaurant in Manhattan. I was grateful for the experience to be part of her kitchen crew, affectionately called her "A team," who helped Amanda prepare dinner for 30. I can't get that out of my head. I bought a pasta machine (a popular one made in Italy) as soon as I got home and I made fresh pasta for Thanksgiving, as an appetizer.

We made fettuccine, following the instruction booklet of the new Marcato Atlas pasta machine. (See link below for detail.) Basic recipe for the pasta dough is approximately 100 grams of all-purpose flour to one egg, or 500 grams of flour to 5 eggs, which serves six people. Added some cuttlefish ink, suggested by my daughter, we made a squid ink fettuccine by rolling the dough to the thickness setting no. 5 on the machine. It was much easier than I'd expected. That would be true also for those of you who are familiar with making bread dough. If the dough is too dry, add some water. If it is too soft, add some flour. You aim for a smooth and elastic dough that rolls out effortlessly through the machine. It's a fun project for anyone who likes playing in the kitchen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Rye Porridge Bread (Pain Bouillie) with Pistachio - BBB

A hearty, wholesome and darker shade of rye bread has enormous appeal. When Kelly of A Messy Kitchen, the host of BBB's bake of the month suggested a rye porridge bread, I was all in. Rye is a flavorful grain, but rye bread can turnout to be a dense brick or a door stopper, due to its low gluten content. A look at Kelly's nicely textured finished loaf and the recipe, the fear of another failed baking attempt is quickly laid to rest.

There are many favorable factors working for this rye bread recipe, adapted from The Village Baker by Joe Ortiz. Here are the highlights:

  • Rye porridge - Rye flour and cracked rye grain (or flakes) are soaked in boiling water and rest overnight. It serves as a preferment or a dough conditioner.
  • 50% rye / 50% white bread flour are conducive and accessible to relatively open crumb structure of the finished loaf.
  • Quick version - One teaspoon of active dry yeast sped up the rise. Two hours of bulk fermentation and 30 minutes of proofing were all the time the dough needed. The bread can be baked within a few hours of mixing the dough.
  • Shaping is not essential. Don't be too overly concerned about the sticky dough. Since the dough is risen the second time in a loaf pan and the loaf pan goes directly into the oven, overall hydration level can go as high as 95%. It is manageable. The feel of wet concrete is not unusual for this type of bread. As long as you can get (or pour) the dough in a twice greased pan, it will turn out fine.
  • Flavor and texture - Traditionally, caraway seeds are used. I kept the honey and raisins but skipped the strongly flavored caraway seeds. In fact, I added nearly a cup or 100 grams of raisins, instead of one tablespoon called for in the recipe. A mild flavor and colorful green pistachio nuts are added -- a boat load of them, for its bright visual impact.
  • With all the extra nuts and raisins, this recipe makes one large and one mini loaf. Love the mini loaf and its cute appetizer size.
  • Bake thoroughly until the internal temperature has reached 210°F, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Chocolate Dulce de Leche Tart - Cook the Book Fridays

My most memorable cooking/baking experience is one that helps inspire and expand my skill set and knowledge in the kitchen. It does not hurt if the food happens to taste or look good. This recipe comes from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. (You can see a similar tartlet recipe here.) I found this chocolate dulce de leche tart to be very rich and sweet, from the first to the last bite. There is no relief in bites in between. Not a recipe that I'd pick up and start baking. I eat a piece with some raspberries. That works for me.

What worked even better was how I prepared the dulce de leche, a glossy caramel paste, in my own kitchen, instead of using a store-bought variety. All you need is a can of sweetened condensed milk that you may have around in the pantry.

I've considered several methods in making the dulce de leche. Cooking an unopened can in simmering water. Microwaving. Pressure cooking. Slow cooking. Double boiling. Or doing it sous vide style. I finally decided on the technique of cooking an unopened can of condensed milk in simmering water for over two hours until the milk turns brown and caramelized. An easy-to-follow and uncomplicated approach that I'd surely repeat. Do keep in mind that it won't make the best tasting dulce de leche. This method produces a better version of the condensed milk in the can and cannot go that much further than that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Muesli Pistachio Country Bread: A Breakfast Bread

A bag of Bob's Red Mill muesli, which is a whole grain cereal consisting of rolled oats, wheat, rye, barley, sunflower seeds, almonds and walnuts and raisins, inspired this bread. Unlike granola, no sugar is added in muesli. The same bag of Bob's Red Mill muesli also produced some incredible rolls that are hard to forget. I don't know why I haven't made more frequent use of the muesli.

Muesli was created by Swiss nutritionist Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner at the end of the 19th century. Traditionally, the Swiss soak the dry muesli in milk and leave it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, the grains will have absorbed the liquid, plumping them up and infusing them with flavor.

In preparing both the bread and the rolls, I soaked the muesli for a few hours and let it drain so that I have better control of the hydration level of the doughs.

I added pistachios and sesame seeds in the bread dough to increase the nutrient density and the nutty flavor. These add-ins made up of 38% of the total flour weight. Furthermore, whole grain flours, a combination of buckwheat, kamut and white whole wheat made up 32% of total flour weight. This bread is perfect for breakfast to start the day or on the go whenever high-energy food is needed.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mushroom Shichimi Rice Bowl - IHCC's Buddha Bowl

When you bring this mushroom shichimi rice bowl (from Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks) close to your nose, you'll be seduced by the sweet, fragrant, citrusy, and spicy aroma of something mysterious. Good, in every sense, but not in the realm of familiar flavors, at least not what I'm accustomed to.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Miso-Curry Delicata Squash

This recipe is a model of easy-to-cook and healthy plate of food filled with vegetables, nuts and protein. And it is not a salad. I don't remember seeing a dish that combines the key ingredients of squash, tofu, potatoes, kale and pepitas. Neither have I seen a sauce combining the bold flavors of miso, from Japan, and curry paste, from Thailand.

By the way, what is delicata squash? It is a yellow streaky winter squash with edible skin that requires very brief roasting time in the oven. This vegetable dish can be served as a full meal. It fills you up with the new potatoes, which do not need to be peeled as well. Sounds almost too good to be true to get a nicely composed dish that is quick to prep, flavorful and healthful, in equal measure, until I find this Heidi Swanson's recipe in her book Super Natural Every Day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Caramel Tart: Tuesdays with Dorie

What is your guilty pleasure? Usually I put nuts, fruits and vegetables in my desserts to make the likes of apricot cake, pecan pie, beet chocolate cake, cherry clafoutis or pear tart. Simply a desire to make desserts more healthful and fruitful. To circle around a caramel tart is a bit of a stretch, for my style of baking. It may be hard for me to say no to any desserts that are put in front of me. But it's easier to say no when it comes to making them. It took a while to convince myself that making caramel could be a worthwhile exercise. Eventually, I baked the tart, which is the baking project at Tuesdays with Dorie in November. What I did not expect is how addictive, creamy and velvety this tart is. The caramel tart has now become the object of my guilty pleasure.

The sweet tart dough (page 414 in Baking with Chez Moi) is the same shortbread ccokie dough we used in making the Philadelphia blueberry corn tart this summer. This is a lovely dough and easy to work with. Dorie gives detailed instructions on how to roll out or press in the crust, and how to partially or fully bake it. Honestly, I think I could benefit from practicing to roll the dough out more thinly and evenly.