Monday, August 22, 2016

Peaches with Melted Bûcheron

The project at hand is to make a 30-minute express meal. (See IHCC for details.) The clock is ticking. Time is a blur. I wonder how our shortened attention span has shortchanged our way of life.

Prep time for a simple salad can take up precious minutes. Thirty minutes cooking in the microwave seems like eternity. That's for leftovers. Thirty minutes in a slow cooker is a different game; you are hardly getting to first base. What does a thirty-minute express dish entail? I went with the broiler for an instant treat. (A blow torch would work equally well.) I am making grilled peach with Bûcheron. It's quick.

The peach season is here. The peak-season peaches last only a few weeks in our area. Each year, I look forward to and enjoy the white peaches, especially. Peach is believed to be a blessed fruit in China and Japan, symbolizing longevity and immortality. It is the antithesis of quick.

I also know someone who loves these white peaches as much as I do -- Ms. L, my former high-school teacher. She has moved into an assisted living facility a few years ago. I have to admit these facilities are not among my favorite places to visit. And the food, what can I say about the food -- they are marginal, at best. More often than not, institutional and uninspiring. Come peach season, the sight of plume, blemish-free and good-looking white ones would remind me it's time to get Ms. L. a box of her favorite fruits. She'd eat one peach each day or share them with friends. Some go missing at times. Just dropped off a box for her. The smile on her face says it all: A peach, for what it symbolizes, is much to be cherished.

I'd like to find more ways to eat and highlight the white peaches, as dessert or side. Curtis Stone has just the right one: a grilled peach recipe with Bûcheron, a soft goat cheese from France's Loire Valley. Bûcheron is unique in its log shape and wide diameter, the right size to cover the peach halves. The rind is edible and gets softened by broiling. Bûcheron has a lot of character, depth of flavor, but more granular.

I also tried the recipe with a slice of Brie. Brie works just fine, much milder in flavor than Bûcheron. Brie melts faster and it's creamier and less pricey. Less fancy. In the end, it's all about taste and texture. Any good melting cheese that you like would suffice. Cheese lends a savory taste to the sweetness of ripe peaches.

Consider chilling the peach before putting it under the broiler and eat it right away. The combination of the hot melted cheese with the cold fruit makes the dish even more memorable. This recipe takes minutes from start to finish. No worry about the clock.

Peach half with melted Brie

Friday, August 19, 2016

Cherry Tomato Crostini with Herbed Cheese

Tomatoes are here, in all their glory. Big and small. Red and green. Round and sphere. Perfect time to be making something and everything I can think of to relish the visceral sunny experience of biting into a juicy, warm and ripe tomato. This David Lebovitz recipe of cherry tomato crostini and homemade goat cheese echoes the rhythm and sight of what has been happening lately in my kitchen this summer. Loaves of sourdough bread on the cooling racks. Herbs freshly cut to be sprinkled on or incorporated in pesto and sauces. Tomatoes from the farmers' market on the kitchen counter. Once these seemingly disparate food are assembled in a full complement of one coherent dish, there are no words. Only smiles and ahs!

This is not the first time I roast cherry tomatoes in the oven, except I usually spread out the tomatoes on a sheet pan. This time I roasted them in a baking dish that held the cherry tomatoes in a snug single layer, following closely David's directions. Combining the cherry tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, thyme and rosemary, I baked them for close to an hour, 10-15 minutes longer than the 45 minutes, in a 350°F oven, called for in the recipe, until the juices started to concentrate and brown in the bottom of the dish. The end result was some delectable juice (you don't get that from a shallow baking sheet) that was used to spoon over the toasts. The obvious star of the dish, the cherry tomatoes, were juicy with concentrated, sweet and unctuous flavor.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Labneh with Olives, Pistachios and Oregano

For quite a while, I have been intrigued about turning yogurt into a luxurious Middle Eastern cheese like labneh. In mediterranean restaurants, labneh is served as an appetizer and dessert. They are wonderful in both savory and sweet applications. Put the labneh out on the table with some crackers or bread, and watch it disappear. I decided it's time to make my own labneh.

There is no cooking involved, just chilling and waiting. That doesn't mean it's a quick dish. It does requires some planning and start straining the yogurt the day before. But the actual hands-on time is rather brief. It's a straightforward and mouth-watering recipe I've found on the Ottolenghi website. I have more labneh straining in the refrigerator as I'm writing this post.

Instead of black olives, I used a medley of green and red olives. The herbaceous goodness comes from fresh oregano, parsley, lemon zest and garlic. As the name of the dish implies, two of my favorite nuts, toasted pistachio and pine nuts, are piled high on top to give the labneh some crunchy texture. A few red pepper flakes round out well the creaminess of the cheese and the salty and nutty ingredients. Ottolenghi recommends serving this with chunks of fresh tomatoes mixed in with slices of red onion. There you have it: a complete no-cook dish without any use of heat and fire. Just a sensible and cool way to tackle the intense and unrelenting heat wave this week.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Beans & Kale with Anchovy & Rosemary Sauce

Diana Henry is the monthly featured chef at IHCC. I got some tender and deep green kale from the farmers market the other day. This Diana Henry's recipe, found on her website, seems to fit the bill: a hearty meaty dish, with or without the meat.

This recipe uses fresh borlotti beans, which are impossible to find around here. I did see some dry ones at Eataly in New York City, but with a steep price. So I substituted the prized borlotti beans with their close relative, cranberry beans. They are beautiful looking beans with distinctive crimson streaks on them. The streaks fade as the beans are cooked. But they become mildly sweet, liken to the taste of chestnuts.

What stands out the most in the dish is the anchovy and rosemary sauce. It may not look as appealing as it tastes. You can always count on anchovy delivering that funky umami flavor. Together with fresh rosemary and a squeeze of lemon juice, this sauce is hitting all the different taste notes.

I used one can of anchovies in olive oil. Strained out the oil. Added one teaspoon of fresh rosemary, juice of half a lemon and about two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Crushed them to a paste with a mortar. Seasoned with some salt and pepper. Don't judge a sauce by its color: it's a nondescript gray. This sauce really makes the dish sing, scream or exult, whichever echos your sensibility. It is a keeper, for sure.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Philadelphia Blueberry-Corn Tart

Who could have thought of using blueberries and corn with the iconic Philadelphia cream cheese to make a cool summer tart like this? I have never put fresh corn in tarts, or any desserts, for that matter. This recipe highlights the bounty of farmers market ingredients from the talented Dorie Greenspan in Baking Chez Moi. This tart is a bit out of the ordinary, combining fruits and vegetables, the mix of "cooked and fresh, smooth and chunky, soft and snappy," as Dorie describes the tart filling. You can find what other Tuesdays-with-Dorie's bakers did here.

The sweet tart dough is tender and easy to assemble if you follow Dorie's step-by-step instructions, which are complete with very helpful visual and mental cues. Somehow I managed to miss the step of chilling the dough before rolling it out on the tart pan, hence the unruly look. We used the same sable or shortbread cookie dough before in a previous Tuesdays-with-Dorie's post, the cherry crumb tart. A great dough to work with and a keeper for sure. This time we fully baked the crust for about 30 to 35 minutes and then cooled it ready to be filled.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Apricot Crumble Tart

Two pounds of fresh apricots in a tart to start, what an amazing mound of summer fruits for a dessert? I'm keen to buy up bags upon bags of apricots when they are in season. I have a few winning and crowd pleasing recipes that I've never tired of making. Recently, I've also found a way to preserve apricots so that I can extent the seasonal offering a while longer. Yes, I love apricot desserts of all kinds. I was excited to bake an apricot tart along with the Cook-the-book-Fridays group.

I made the apricot crumble tart and the apricot kernel ice cream from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. He wrote: "I do take the time to treat the apricots right, rolling out a tart shell that I make with pure butter, packing them into the filling, and topping it all with a crunchy topping of nuts and a dusting of cinnamon."

That closely describes the tart recipe in general. Except, when I got to actually making the dough, it required pressing the dough over the bottom of the springform pan, and a little less than halfway up the sides. Haven't done that for quite a while! That tripped me up a little. It was easy said than done. It took some chilling and waiting and pressing to get a decent looking shell. Maybe I was overzealous with the pressing. The end result was less desirable than I'd have liked. The bottom of the tart was soggy and the side was too thick to break with a fork.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Lobster Rolls with Herb Aïoli

Live lobsters beat frozen shrimps in my book, especially when lobsters are on sale. So I went ahead and substituted lobster for shrimp in this shrimp rolls recipe by Curtis Stone. Curtis said that the first time he ate a lobster roll at a waterfront shack on Cape Cod, he knew that it was one of the world's great sandwiches. I have fond memories of my first time eating a lobster roll. Probably not at Cape Cod, but somewhere in or near Boston. Lobster has been my favorite seafood to eat ever since.

The creamy herb dressing is a Yankee classic for the sandwich. Curtis Stone's herb aïoli is easy to put together. I reached for the store-bought mayonnaise which seems to have languished in the fridge for far too long. (I can see using Greek yogurt as the base, instead of mayonnaise, called for in the recipe, to make this creamy dressing.) Cut some fresh chives and tarragon from the herb patch in the backyard. Curtis Stone added a little heat to the aïoli with cayenne pepper and recommended chili pepper or jalapeño for garnish. I picked up some very green and perfect-looking locally-grown romaine lettuce at the farmers market. I used that instead of iceberg lettuce. Substituted hot dog buns with some freshly-baked baguette rolls. The baguette was good on its own. Although I'm not so sure whether a brioche roll, which offers a more tender crust and crumb, may have marginally worked better.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sweet Summer Salad

This is the start of restaurant week in New York city. It's a great opportunity to explore the diverse offering of international cuisines and to meet up with friends I haven't seen for a while. By the way, it's also the best buy in town. R and I went to The Dutch in Soho. We had ceviche, fresh peas and the most memorable summer salad, served with mustard greens, nectarine, goat cheese, chicken as the main course. We thoroughly cleaned up the plate, every last scrap of the greens, stone fruits and every drop of the salad dressing. Somehow, we didn't finish the chicken. (Everyone around us was ordering the fried chicken, the iconic dish of the restaurant.) We peppered the waitress with so many questions and she was patient and helpful enough to go back to the kitchen to get us the answers. These are the tips as we can gather: the freshest greens daily from the Union Square market and the secret dressing.

I could never get enough of a glorious summer salad like this. The very next day, I set out to replicate its delicious goodness in my kitchen and to take advantage of the bountiful stone fruits and greens available locally. I also get some help from this recipe I found on Ottolenghi's website.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Chickpea & Swiss Chard Sauté with Greek Yogurt

Swiss chard is in season. I can't resist picking up a bunch when I see it in the farmers market; they are inexpensive and they have the easy sweetness that I like. Except that I don't really have a favorite way to cook it and elevate it to the next level. So I was looking for help and inspiration from Ottolenghi's cookbooks. When it comes to cooking vegetables and imparting unbelievable and brilliant flavors, he always seems to come through. Well, I have not been disappointed.

This recipe is so simple and quick. First, blanch the swiss chard, then refresh under cold running water. Next, sauté carrots and caraways seeds for a few minutes. Swiss chard and cooked chickpea are added after that. Finally, garlic, herbs and lemon juices go into the sauté pan. Remove from heat and that's all it takes. Like any sauté dishes, cooking time is brief. Food prep is where you spend most of your time.

Greek yogurt brings this vegetable dish together with some added creaminess. I see this as an everyday dish which would work well with a number of green-leaves vegetables. When chard is not in season, Ottolenghi recommends using a combination of spinach and arugula. That takes even less cooking time; no blanching is necessary with spinach and arugula.

It's IHCC's July potluck, please see what cool plates other home cooks are dishing up here.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Onion Bialys with Natural Levain

Bialys are the Polish cousins of bagels. I have never made or tasted a bialy before. How can I ever resist making them? This is BBB's (Bread Baking Babes) project of the month -- "babes bake bialys", hosted by Judy at Judy's Gross Eats. Bagels were what my daughter first craved when she went to college. Alas, not mom's cooking. Whenever she comes home, my husband would buy lox and several kinds of bagel: everything, sesame, onion, cinnamon raisin, pumpernickel bagels, for the breakfast spread. There won't be any leftovers; they'll be either consumed or taken back to school, for friends and roommates. Good bagels are hot commodities. She is such a bagel snob; she judges every city she visits by the quality of their bagels.

I've made bagels once or twice, never quite succeeded in comparison to the bagels from Bagel Spot, Bagels 4-U or Collegetown Bagel.... The list is long and competition is fierce. The bar is too high, so I stopped making them.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tomato Tart Goat Cheese Herb Salad

The fresh and sunny glow of summer tomatoes is fully echoed in this dish. I can't decide whether this is really a salad or a tart. More important, the taste is tomato forward, at its peak flavor and in its true essence. I love the concentrated flavor of slow-roasted tomatoes, showcased in this Curtis Stone's recipe. The administrators and friends at IHCC have the good taste and foresight to pick "you say tomato, I say tomahto" as the cooking theme in mid July. They are the best! Hands down.

The list of ingredients may seem long. However, the shopping list is quite short, for me, only two: tomatoes and goat cheese. Most of the herbs come from the garden. Mother nature provides the fresh picked greens: basil, thyme, rosemary, chives and parsley. I left out the chervil; the plant has perished. The rest of the ingredients are everyday items from the pantry. Even the pie dough came from leftover pastry dough scraps found in the refrigerator. No store-bought puff pastry is necessary.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Buckwheat Crêpes with Ham, Cheese and Egg

Buckwheat flour is one ingredient I love to use in breads, waffles and pancakes. Buckwheat has always been a favorite grain and lends an earthy flavor to many world's cuisine. Pasta and polenta in the Italian Alps and soba noodles in Japan. This week at Cook the Book Fridays, we are making buckwheat crêpe from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. I sing to the idea of making buckwheat crêpes, which I have not made before, and serve them with ham and cheese as a main course. However, it hadn't been smooth going for me. The crêpes I made from the first batch of batter was nothing short of a disaster.

I milled the buckwheat flour from scratch as I've always done by blitzing whole-grain buckwheat in a Vitamix blender. Combined all the ingredients according to Lebovitz's recipe. For some reasons, the crêpes fell apart in a thousand fissures. The batter was too thick for it to spread all the way around the pan to make a thin layer. I added water, maybe more than I should have, but the batter was too fragile to withstand flipping over to cook the other side. It was a total flop and a mess.