Sunday, April 9, 2017

Roasted Red Onions with Port and Bay - IHCC new featured chef April to October

I believe in cooking from scratch and making delicious food prepared from fresh ingredients, ideally seasonal and locally sourced. That's also the approach embraced by Huge Fearnley-Whittingstall. Even without looking past the table of contents in his book River Cottage Every Day, I am sold. I am excited seeing these chapters: daily bread, fish forever, vegetables galore and the whole fruit. His approach and recipes speak to me at all levels. This is a cool beginning cooking with Huge, the current featured chef at IHCC for the next six months.

This is a lovely and simple (five ingredients only) side dish that goes with everything. Or as a relish for cheese. It is a perfect accompaniment to the lentil and eggplant dishes that we had for an early dinner the night before. Not considering the longer time it takes for roasting, this dish is easier to do than caramelizing onions on the stovetop. And the red onions have a bigger presence. The wine plumps up the onions. I used sweet vermouth instead of port, since that's what I have around. Sherry, madeira, marsala and sweet red wine are all wonderful substitutions.

I made the dish twice. The key is to roast the red onions just right so that they are juicy and vibrant. I did not quite get that the first time. They were on the dry side. Recipes are just guidance, there are so many variables that change from kitchen to kitchen, equipment to equipment. There are huge margins for execution errors.

In the second round, I used a smaller cast iron pan and added (30%) humidity as they roasted in a convection steam oven. Another suggestion would be to roast the red onions longer under wrap before removing the foil cover to ensure the red onions are thoroughly moistened and softened. (The recipe calls for roasting at 325°F covered for 45 minutes and uncovered for an additional 30 minutes.) The resulting taste and texture of the red onions were much better. Second time's the charm.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Salted Olive Crisps - Cook-the-Book-Fridays

David Lebovitz started this recipe with his account on bread knives in Paris, I started with a check list. Good bread knife. Checked. But I can't say that my olives were equally as good. I used some rather generic Greek olive medley in the batter.

Good knives are essential in the kitchen, as David says. I received a wonderful set of chef knives as a housewarming gift decades ago. Did not quite understand why I'd need them then, until I started cooking. I passed on the set to my daughter when she went to college. To my surprise, she brought home the knives during the semester break — to be sharpened. She too appreciates the importance and efficiency of keeping the working knives sharp. We have since developed an unspoken routine. Instead of her traveling with the chef knives, I travel with my knife sharpener when I visit her. With my Chef's Choice professional sharpener on hand, I'd go to work and sharpen every knife I can find in her kitchen. Mom's on duty or a cook's obsession?

The easy part of this salted olive crisps recipe in David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen is the straightforward batter. The dry ingredients: all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, herbes de Provence, baking soda, salt and pepper, are mixed in with the buttermilk. I substituted kefir milk, which I had on hand, for buttermilk. Key flavor and texture add-ins of olives and almonds went in last.

I used two mini loaf pans instead of one full-size 9-inch loaf pan. They went into a 350°F oven, until the toothpick came out clean when inserted in the center, about 30 minutes. They looked like quick breads. I tried to resist the temptation to jump start the next step (cutting the loaves into thin slices of no thicker than 1/4 inch), until the loaves were completely cool. Even with a sharp bread knife, it was hard to keep the edges of the loaf from crumbling as you cut. That's the tricky part of the exercise.

The thin slices were laid flat on the baking sheet and baked at 325°F for about 30 to 35 minutes. I managed to get about 36 mini crisps. I probably did not slice them thin enough. They are fantastic snacks. The saltiness of the olives deliver an appealing sophisticated flair.

Please visit Cook-the-Book-Fridays to see the comments and discussions on these olive crisps from the online group, a community of engaging home cooks, who are working through each and every recipe in David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. You are welcome to join the group and cook along with us.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Healthful Lemon Cookies - TWD #Cookiesandkindness

If you want to do away with gluten (or wheat), animal fat and sugar in baked goods, these might be the cookies for you. It's hard to believe that these gluten-free cookies are actually delicious with a pleasant texture to them. There is very little compromise in the taste department. Sweet! I know enough friends and family members who are gluten intolerant, have troubles with blood sugar or in some cases, a desire to follow a more restrictive health and fitness style. This may be the approach to bake healthful cookies and to enjoy them too.

I know I was taking a bold step here. I had all the ingredients laid out to bake Dorie's lemon sugar cookies at Tuesdays with Dorie. What if I take away the all-purpose flour, sugar and butter and substitute them with gluten-free flour, agave and coconut oil?

I can't let go of the compulsion to take the healthier option. I forged ahead, adapting Dorie's reccipe, but without any all-purpose flour, sugar or butter. Since I had no clue what I was doing, I did a simple one-to-one substitution.

There was no sugar and butter to cream. So I proceeded by putting together the wet ingredients: agave, lemon juice and coconut oil. Whisk together the dry ingredients: gluten-free flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Next, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Since this was an experimental project, I halved the recipe. Took half an egg, whipped, and mixed in with all the ingredients until a cohesive dough formed. The dough was soft, but manageable. I separated the dough into two pieces. Shaped and rolled them up in a plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Green Beans with Snail Butter - Cook-the-Book-Fridays

These are haricots verts at their best, one of my favorite vegetables, served with garlic herbed butter. No snails though, as the name may suggest. David Lebovitz explains: "The name refers to butter mixed with a copious amount of garlic that is used for baking snails, those wriggly little creatures that need to be highly seasoned..."

We've never left a plate of snails alone (when we ordered it in France) without sopping up the last drop of the luxurious garlic herbed butter sauce with pieces of bread. Who'd have thought the sauce tastes just as good with green beans and without the snails? This dish is a big hit in my family.

Ever since I took a fine-dining course at the French Culinary Institute in New York city, the tips of my green beans are always trimmed. That's the only way beans are prepared. I believe I got some remarkable training in French cooking at the Institute. However, you have to be willing to endure the rigorous regiment of following a set of aesthetics and culinary rules, including saying "yes, chef," repeatedly, no questions asked. That's what expected from the apprentices. I probably asked too many questions to be considered a good one there.

So tips of green beans are always cut in my kitchen. (First, line up a bunch of beans horizontally with the tips against the blade of the chef's knife you are holding. Cut off the tips in one down motion all at once. Turn the beans around. Tuck and line up the green beans again, tips against the knife, and cut. Repeat until all the tips of the green beans are trimmed.) I have to say that I enjoy my beans without the tips.

According to David's recipe in My Paris Kitchen, three tablespoons of minced garlic, half a cup of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and half a stick of butter (two ounces) went into making the butter sauce for one pound of green beans. What can be better?

Next time, I may make this garlic-parsley butter sauce in a cast iron pan. (Shallots and fresh tarragon leaves are good alternatives to parsley.) Then add in the green beans in the sizzling hot pan, in the manner that escargots à la Bourguignonne are served.

Please visit Cook-the-book-fridays to see the comments and discussions on this green beans dish from the online group, a community of engaging home cooks, who are working through each and every recipe in David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. You are welcome to join the group and cook along with us.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Vibrant Broccoli Buddha Bowl - IHCC Bon Voyage Heidi

A few drops of sriracha chili sauce adorn the buddha bowl

This is the last week of the six months cooking along with Heidi Swanson at IHCC. The buddha bowl stands out in my mind to be the dish I most remember about Heidi's super natural cooking. Don't know why she calls it a buddha bowl. To me, the minimalist approach with very few ingredients, purity and sustaining quality of the dish speaks to me. I don't get tired of making a buddha bowl in its many incarnations.

This bowl consists of three components: vegetable, grains and a pesto. There are only seven ingredients involved in making this wholesome bowl. The vegetable here is broccoli and the grain is quinoa. The pesto is blended with sliced almonds, garlic, broccoli, green curry paste, a squeeze of lemon juice and coconut milk. The pesto has a subtle and quiet taste; none of the components dominates, just what you would expect in a buddha bowl. I added a few extras: slices of ripe avocado, fresh parsley and drops of sriracha chili sauce.

There is a long list of other vegetables and grains that would be suitable to go into a buddha bowl. Cauliflower, root vegetables or green beans. Brown rice, farro, wheat berries, millet or whatever you have on hand can be used other than quinoa. The variations are endless.

The last six months cooking along with Heidi has been a blast. I picked up a few wonderful ideas from her beautiful blog Cookbooks 101. The most unexpected are the cookies, pasta, noodles and pancakes made with lesser-used flours, such as rye, buckwheat and chickpea. If you have a sweet tooth, you'd appreciate a healthful double chocolate cookies recipe using no sugar, no butter and no eggs. These are "no harm done" and gluten-free chocolate cookies. You can have your sweets and eat them too! The quinoa skillet bread is another fantastic baking recipe using a super grain. This is an appealing bread that can be served from breakfast to a light dinner.

I was able to serve up a number of really tasty easy everyday dishes of a different kind. A colorful cauliflower rice bowl. A miso soup. Heidi's blog is filled with unusual and healthful recipes. Thanks, Heidi for all the inspiration and deliciousness.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sprouted Sourdough Struan Bread - BBB

Struan bread is a traditional bread, and project of the month at BBB, hosted by Elle at Feeding my Enthusiasms. It's origins are in the Michaelmas harvest celebration of Western Scotland, where it was made only one time a year on September 28, using whatever harvested ingredients. A bread ritual, a harvest fair, dedicated to the archangel of harvest. There is a deeper meaning. Peter Reinhart includes a new recipe in each of his bread books he published.

He wrote: "The name struan comes from the Gaelic sruthan, which means "a convergence of streams." At Brother Juniper's Bakery this was the signature loaf and our top-selling bread by far. I've come to think of it as a metaphor as much as a bread: the metaphor of me (and all of us, really) - yes, a convergence of steams."

His latest book, Bread Revolution, is entirely dedicated to sprouted, whole and ancient grains flours. It is groundbreaking and innovative in his efforts in forging new techniques to extract the full flavor, as well as nutritional benefits, of whole grains. I have this book since its debut in 2014. The limiting factor for a home baker is the supply of sprouted flours. In addition to sprouted whole wheat flour, this recipe calls for sprouted corn flour, sprouted rolled oats and sprouted brown rice flour, not the kind of flours you normally find in supermarkets. Sprouting small amount of these three non-wheat flours is not practical. So I substituted with their non-sprouted counterparts. Nonetheless, I managed to get some sprouted whole wheat flour (87% of total flour weight).

Raisin and cinnamon added big flavor

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Corked" Breton Galettes - Tuesdays with Dorie

The name of the cookie may not tell you much, especially if you are not proficient in French. These are French butter cookies, shaped like a puck or a disk with an indentation created by pressing a wine cork in the center.

These are classics from Brittany where salted butter is widely used for savory cooking as well as for desserts.

In this Dorie Greenspan's recipe, she uses one and a quarter teaspoon of fleur de sel. You may substitute with regular sea salt to replicate that unique rich salty flavor from Brittany. The buttery flavor is unmistakable. After all, two sticks of butter went into the batter to make one batch of cookies.

To leaven these chunky chubby cookies while maintaining the crunchy texture, baking powder is added. What you get is an interesting cross between a chewy and a crispy cookie.

I baked these cookies in mini muffin tins, attempting to control portion size -- and failed. These cookies are so rich and addictive, I doubt that anyone can stop at just eating one. I couldn't. As the cookies come out of the oven, you create indentations right away when the cookies are still warm and malleable. I used the end of a wooden spoon to do that, since the size of a cork would have been too large relative to the cross section of a small cookie.

I used some apricot jam that I have around to fill in the centers. Be creative with the filling. Use any jam, marmalade or some unexpected flavor to make these cookies more indulgent, if that's possible.

To see how other bakers present the "corked" Breton galettes, please visit the blogroll on Tuesdays with Dorie.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Socca or Chickpea Pancake - Accompaniment @IHCC's

The bag of chickpea flour has been waiting for action for a while. I've marked socca on my list of recipes to make for quite some time. I'm finally getting around to make them. Chickpea flour is known to be a "power" flour with its protein-packed and gluten-free quality. It makes me wonder why the use of chickpea flour is not as popular in the US as it is in the rest of the world. Socca, or chickpea pancake, is a specialty of Nice in France. In Italy, it's known as farinata.

Chickpea flour is a dense flour. But it binds incredibly well with other ingredients and gives baked goods a sturdy structure that other gluten-free flours lack. It also delivers a savory note; you don't need to use as much salt. There are many uses of chickpea. You can use the liquid from soaking the beans and whip it up into cream or meringue. Ground them into flour, you can make pancakes and noodles with it. You can't overstate the versatility of chickpea.

Heidi Swanson's silver-dollar socca is adapted from a traditional version, which is made with primarily chickpea flour and water. I like the silver-dollar size. It is easier to flip in a pan. Make sure you use a non-stick pan to make these pancakes. Her recipe calls for buttermilk. Buttermilk is a great ingredient. I'm more than happy to add "probiotic" microbes which allow us to plant our inner gardens with a diverse bacterial flora. The silver-dollar socca can be eaten as a snack throughout the day. You may serve it with a dip or bruschetta. Served it in a larger size, as large as a pizza, socca can be made into a hearty appetizer.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Caramel Pork Ribs - Cook-the-Book-Fridays

We haven't had pork ribs for a long time; we haven't had pork ribs this good for even longer. Succulent, tender to the bone with a rich decadent sweetness to them. More than that, I like this simple recipe from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. You start with making the caramel sauce in a Dutch oven. Put in the pork ribs. (I did not get 4 pounds of ribs as called for in the recipe. I bought about 3 1/2 pounds, just enough to cover the bottom of a large Dutch oven in a single layer.) The pot then goes in the preheated oven for about two hours. It doesn't get more simple than that.

You can't tell that so little effort is needed to deliver something so spectacular. The change in the aroma in the kitchen certainly had heightened my expectation. From the stringent vinegar aroma in the beginning, to the unmistaken smell of meat roasting in the oven, to the smoky barbecue smell at the finish line, you knew some delicious food will appear on the table. What you might not have expected was how amazingly tender, juicy, and finger-licking good these ribs were.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Pithivier - Tuesdays with Dorie

I have not tasted or made a pithivier before. I didn't even know how to pronounce this what Dorie Greenspan in her book Baking Chez Moi calls "the great forgotten pastries of France." It is pee-tee-vee-yay. It is a double-crusted puff pastry, sandwiched with a mound of rum-scented almond cream and a layer of fruit jam. Now I have made it for the first time, with limited success, I have a greater appreciation of pithivier. How could it not be the great one, when you marry two classic beautiful french pastry components: puff pastry and frangipane.

I made the prune jam with a few pitted dry prunes. Soften them in lightly sugared water until the liquid has evaporated. Then vigorously stir in an egg yolk. I like Dorie's suggestion of adding a few extra pitted prunes in strong black tea or Armagnac. I did not do that this time.

I'm sure other stone fruits besides prunes, like cherries or apricots, will work just as well with this pastry. With some ready made cherry or apricot jam, you may even skip the step of making the jam.

The next step is to make the almond cream. Dorie's recipe calls for mixing together butter, sugar and grated lemon or orange zest until smooth. The key ingredient, almond flour, is then added to the mixture. Blend in small amount of all-purpose flour, cornstarch, and egg white until it turns creamy. The critical step is to refrigerate or freeze the almond cream, shaped into a small disk on a piece of plastic film. That's an important set of instructions not to mess up. The disk of almond cream has to be in one piece, or close to it, so that it'll slip easily on top of the bottom layer of the puff pastry.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Rosemary, Olive Oil & Orange Cake

This rosemary, olive oil and orange bundt cake debuted in the New York Times food section on Wednesday, March 8. I've already baked this cake twice. The first cake went to feed the homeless. The second one will be served as a birthday cake for a friend. The fact that Yotam Ottolenghi is the author of this recipe, has everything to do with the compulsion to bake this cake -- now. I can't wait to try my hands on the new recipe. I have found his cake recipes, in Plenty and Plenty More, to be among the most creative and distinctive uses of vegetables (cauliflower) and fruits (apricot).

Yes, I'm obsessed with finding recipes that push the envelop and stretch the limit -- on healthful ingredients, unusual techniques and unique flavors. More than just the sound techniques of a good recipe, the story behind the recipe, by and large, has to deliver that intangible and important ingredient in connecting us with the food we eat. It is that other dimension that creates the indelible memory and the magic that lingers.

Ottolenghi wrote about his childhood memory in the limonaia, or lemon house (where lemon trees in their terra-cotta pots are kept out of the elements during the winter months), in his grandparents house in Italy. The smell of citrus hanged in the air in the limonaia. The memory of childhood and family lives on beyond the distant summers. So much so that a squeeze of lemon would invoke fond memory and makes him happy in the kitchen. This is a remarkable piece of writing by a chef. I won't want to spoil it with all the details. Read it: "A Childhood Scented with Citrus" in the New York Times. The same can be said about the recipe. It can be found there.