Saturday, October 22, 2016

Baked Eggs with Kale and Smoked Salmon

Kale is one of my favorite ingredients. It is on my must-do list to use more kale, especially when they are in season. I got some purplish green, (I believe they are Russian red) amazingly tender and fresh ones from the farmers market. Putting together kale and eggs and smoked salmon are special. Everything in this dish sounds so nourishing and wholesome. The only question left is whether you eat it for breakfast or lunch. I ate it for lunch since it was a rather substantial plate of food.

This David Lebovitz's recipe from My Paris Kitchen of baked eggs with kale and smoke salmon requires several steps:

  • Make garlic bread crumbs in the skillet on the stovetop. One teaspoon of thyme leaves was called for. I was surprised that the thyme plant in my back yard was still full of tender green leaves. I used a generous amount, appreciating the gift from Mother Nature late in the season. Instead of bread crumbs, I used panko from the pantry.

  • Saute the kale in a skillet with some melted butter and garlic until soft. Season with salt and pepper. 

  • Assemble the baked eggs. Kale goes in the bottom of the gratin dish. Lay bite-size smoked salmon above the kale. Next go two cracked eggs, crumbled cheese and a tablespoon of heavy cream. I used Comté instead of feta for no good reason, just on a whim for some French cheese. The bread crumbs go on top. I left the egg yolks peeping out, so that I can judge the degree of doneness. I put the gratin in the oven and baked for about 10 minutes. 

The finished dish looked quite appealing. The egg yolks were still slightly runny, just the way I wanted. But I was not wowed by the taste of the assembled dish. Everything was perfectly cooked but the dish as a whole was not as amazing as its individual parts as I had expected.

Please visit Cook-the-book-fridays to see more comments on this recipe from the online group, a community of engaging home cooks, who are working through the recipes in David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Miso Soup

How do you know you're inspired by a certain ingredient? You think about it first thing in the morning and you want it for breakfast. Miso soup is not my typical breakfast food and I have not made it for breakfast before. This week at IHCC, inspiration is the theme for our cooking.

In my recent trip to Japan, I started following the lead and advice of fellow travelers. (There were more physicians in our group than any other professions. Disease, wellness and health were very much in the forefront of our minds.) I was skeptical in the beginning to have miso soup for breakfast. Then it became a habit; I had miso soup for breakfast everyday for over a week. I missed it when I got home. So for the very first time, I made miso soup, and yes, for breakfast.

light and dark miso paste and bonito
This is what Heidi Swanson said about her miso soup recipe: "This is the miso soup recipe that nourished me back from illness. Remember when I was sick last month? Well, after a couple days of nothing but crackers and popsicles, it was miso soup that eventually brought me back to the land of functioning human beings. The first few pots were simply a couple tablespoons of light, mild white miso paste whisked into water with a pinch of salt - but I began to build from there. A handful of tiny tofu cubes went into the next pot, and noodles into the pot after that. Little by little I started to feel like myself again."

I built the miso base with some bonito flakes to make a dashi, or fish stock. Put a few flakes of bonito, which lends umami to the finished soup, in a pot of water and boil for about five minutes. Strain and add two tablespoons of light miso paste in the stock. Since I wanted my breakfast to be gluten free, I skipped the noodles. I skipped the salt as well. Put in small cubes of tofu, thin slices of mushroom and green onions in the boiling miso soup. In no time the soup was ready. Then sprinkled on top black sesame seeds and nori seaweed to serve. The warm miso soup is light and very nourishing, for mind and body, like spa food. Minimalist but on point. Inspiration met with fulfillment.

To make a more substantial miso soup for dinner, anything goes. You can almost add anything to it: meat or seafood. Chicken or clams. The miso soup can be used as the stock for any ramen and udon noodle dish. To keep it gluten free and vegetarian, I prefer to add green vegetables: baby bok choy, spinach or watercress. A dash of red pepper flakes would do the trick, if you want some heat.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Custardy Apple Squares

This Dorie Greenspan's custardy apple squares remind me of another custardy fruit dessert, clafoutis, in which whole summer fruits, such as cherries and peaches, are generally baked in a flan-like batter. This is the season when there are an astonishing varieties of apple to choose from. In all colors, sizes, taste and crunchiness. I followed Dorie's advice and picked Gala and Fuji. When she suggested that the combination of apples and pears are even better, I put in some Asian pears in the mix for good measure.

The clafoutis is considered my "back-pocket recipe" that I can pull off in a pinch and get freshly-baked desserts from the oven in short order. I did this many times that I'm quite comfortable with this last-minute routine. Make the batter while the dinner table is being cleared or the after-dinner drinks and coffee are being prepared. The batter uses a few everyday pantry items: flour, baking powder, eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla extract. As long as you get enough fresh cherries or peaches (or even frozen one which I had resorted to) available, an aromatic, warm and custardy dessert can emerge from the oven in less than 45 minutes. The same can be said about these custardy apple squares. Dorie added a small amount of butter to the batter, otherwise it is the same method as making clafoutis.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Butternut Squash Crumble

Butternut squash can go so many places: soup, pot pie, quiche, vegetable dish or pasta. It is one of my favorite fall vegetables. Here is another idea.

David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen has a butternut squash crumble recipe that is as easy as pie. It is generally much easier and forgiving to make a crumble than a pie crust for a pie. I enjoy making this butternut squash crumble for its simplicity. Simple enough that you don't even need to follow a recipe.

First, make the squash filling. I like getting the whole butternut squashes from Trader Joe's (at less than $2 each) instead of the pre-cut ones. I used one 2-lb+ squash and cooked half of the recipe. Pricked the butternut surface with a fork, then placed them in the microwave oven for 2-3 minutes to soften the skin. That makes peeling and cutting into cubes so much easier. Cooked the butternut squash cubes in a large pan with olive oil and butter over medium heat. Added salt and pepper and thyme leaves for seasoning. When the squash pieces began to brown, it's time to add the thin slices of shallots until they're soften. Chicken stock went in last and reduced it for about 30 seconds. The filling was then ready to go into a heatproof dish to finish cooking at 375°F oven for 30 minutes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Black Sesame Soba Noodle Otsu Style

What do you cook when you come home after being away for weeks and the refrigerator is practically empty? We had soba noodle in a hot miso soup with some tofu thrown in. That's resulted from finding a box of firm tofu and some miso paste in the fridge. There was also an open package of soba (buckwheat) noodle in the pantry. Voila! Can't think of anything more soothing and healthful that can be put together quickly for a light meal after a long flight.

We went on an "insider's Japan" trip with a Japanese history professor from my husband's alma mater. Every hotel we stayed in Japan served a phenomenal miso soup for breakfast. Miso soup for breakfast is no longer a foreign concept to us. A friend on this trip has explained to us that miso soup is an essential part of her macrobiotic diet.

Soba noodle in Ogimachi Village
My husband and I were constantly at the heel of professor D and peppered him with loads of questions. While in Kyoto, we tacked along to his favorite soba noodle joint. (It's hard to believe that it's easier to find vegetarian restaurants in Kyoto than in Manhattan. There are also temple food served in Kyoto's numerous shrines and temples. I had an entire meal served in tofu in a vegetarian restaurant.) We had a bowl of cold soba noodle in a clear broth for lunch. It was light, plain, comforting and palate cleansing. Now we are home in the U.S, our fascination and craving for miso and soba noodle continues.

Starting this week, we, the home cooks at IHCC, are rotating to a new chef, Heidi Swanson, for the next six months. Needless to say, I'm more than happy to have found this black sesame soba noodle recipe on her blog. This dish can't be more exciting and timely given our recent immersion in Japanese cuisine and culture. Importantly, I'm expecting to get an extensive workout in her supernatural cooking style in the months ahead.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Ribeye Steaks & Green Beans with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette & Chili-Gorgonzola Butter

A steak like this does not show up a lot in my kitchen and for good reasons. I follow a primarily plant-based diet. Kale and quinoa will make the cut. Ribeye, not so much. When I first saw this recipe in Curtis Stone's What's for Dinner? There are several components to this steak dish, it's hard to tell whether it's worth the effort. I do know instantly that my reluctant flexitarian and meat-eating husband would absolutely go bonkers with a steak like this. Don't feel bad for him, we do eat out. Nonetheless, he loves a good steak, ribeye and prime rib, are among his favorites. Once every few months or on special occasions, steaks will make the appearance on the table. When they do, I want it to be spectacular. That makes him happy. Who can blame him? My dad is like that too.

Gorgonzola, tomatoes and green beans is a frequently-used flavor combination for steaks. In fact, anything that goes well together in a cheese burger will invariably make a steak sing. The richness of the blue cheese butter melting into the steak is very appealing. A vinaigrette, enhanced by the smoky and sweet flavor of the roasted tomatoes, gives the steak the depth of flavor. The proverbial icing on the cake, or the vegetable complement to the meat, is the grilled green beans. For a vegetables lover, the green beans are must have. The farmers markets are filled with farm fresh and tender green beans this time of the year.

This is a complete, hearty and delectable dish that would satisfy the most discerning tasters, especially those who crave a chunky juicy piece of steak. The steak could have been better if I chose a thicker cut, over 1-inch thick. I like my steak medium rare and any thinner cut would have been too dry and too well done for my taste. Moral of the story: choose the thickness of the ribeye carefully, based on how rare or well done you want the steak to be cooked.

Would have preferred a rarer and thicker steak

This is the last week cooking along with Curtis Stone at IHCC. It is time to bring out all the stops to honor him with the best known Australian food, the hamburger, on steriod -- a ribeye steak dish.

In the last six months cooking along with Curtis, I've cooked more protein dishes than I normally do: grilled rack of lamb, lobster rolls, tuna ceviche and scallops. All equally delectable and fun to do. It's hard to pick a favorite. His recipes are easily accessible for an average home cook. That's his biggest asset!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Sardine Spread

This is more than a food blog. Once and a while, you get a delicious dose of health advice too. When it comes to vitamin D deficiency, you have to be convinced that sardine will do right for you.

Not only that, a can of sardine is easy to carry. In fact, our friend J pulled out a can of sardine from his pocket and offered it to the three of us. We were on a quad chair-lift riding up to the peak of a ski mountain. No bread or crackers, just sardine. No one hesitated. We are baby boomers: hardy and up for everything. We shared one can of some no-name sardine on the chairlift in the dead of winter.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Green Bean Salad with Mustard Seeds and Tarragon

Some recipes claim to be easy to make. Others claim to be quick. This recipe is neither. The ingredient list may look long for a bean salad. Somehow I'm starting to understand how three different kinds of beans (green beans, snow peas and green peas), combined with three different kinds of seeds (coriander, mustard and nigella seeds) and a few aromatics (onion, garlic, tarragon, red chile, lemon zest) thrown in make a whole lot of sense. Don't get me wrong, I like simplicity.

But there is something appealing about this dish. Collectively, all the ingredients work harmoniously to make an otherwise generic bean salad sing with the punchy complexity of herbs and spices. Yet the clean freshness of the beans are very present. After making this dish, I can't think of one ingredient I'd leave out. They all add something to the ensemble. It's a revelation! I'm not making an argument in favor of long recipes. I believe that every recipe should only be as long and complicated as it needs to be in order to produce maximum flavor and enjoyment.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Poussins (or Cornish Hens) à la Russe

Peter Kaminsky in Culinary Intelligence shows us how healthy eating, without compromising the fun and pleasure in food, can be done: thinking before eating, choosing good ingredients, understanding how flavor works and making the effort to cook. Cooking is part of the equation, but ingredients always come first.

This recipe exemplifies that the path to truly healthful and enjoyable diet begins with great ingredients. Take the poussins (young chickens weighing about 1 to 1 1/2 lb). Season them with salt and spices, cook over medium heat on the stove top until browned, for no more than 25 minutes, depending on the size of the birds. You are rewarded to the most incredibly juicy, tender and delicious chicken you'll ever taste. Hands down.

This poussins à la Russe recipe comes from Jacques Pèpin, in the Russian style. It does not require a long list of ingredients. Just the best ingredients, the poussins. Free-range and premium quality. Rub the poussins with paprika, salt, cumin, cayenne pepper and olive oil. The poussins I bought weigh about 10 oz., good to serve one. All skin, bones and meat. No hints of fat. They are much smaller than the 1 1/2 lb called for in the recipe. Hence, the cooking time was reduced to less than 10-15 minutes in a cast-iron pan. Don't watch the clock. Let the color and texture on the bird inform you whether the meat is cooked through or not. (For bigger birds, once the skin has browned, I would transfer the bird (in the cast-iron pan) into a 350°F oven to finish cooking, until the internal temperature reaches 152°F.) I did not cut the bird in halves, the way Pèpin prepared his; they were so tiny to begin with. I kept them spread out like a butterfly.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Gazpacho with Herbed Goat Cheese Toasts

I like to think of gazpacho as a chilled beverage/soup served in a glass to hydrate in the hot weather months, in the spirit of Seville, Spain, where I visited several summers ago. David Lebovitz said he liked to think of it as an icy-cold liquid salad. What do you think of it?

This David Lebovitz's gazpacho recipe calls for three pounds of ripe tomatoes. When I started making the gazpacho, found out I only had two pounds on hand, so I adapted the recipe loosely. That's the fun and joy in the making. A little of this, a little of that, everything came together beautifully and deliciously. No strain and no stress.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Apple Tarte Flambée

Is it a tart or is it a pizza? Dorie Greenspan says that everyone in France thinks that apple tart flambée is a pizza, except the Alsatians, who created it. I'll call it a pizza. It takes on the shape and the size of a pizza. Cooks like a pizza: a quick bake at blazing hot temperature. Uses a pizza stone for a crispy bottom. There is also the ubiquitous cheese filling on top. It is a pizza.

This apple tart flambée is prominently featured in the beginning pages after the table of contents in Dorie's Baking Chez Moi. A two-page picture of the tart flambée caught my attention when I read the book the first time. A hybrid between a tart and a pizza, how exciting? This is among one of the few recipes in the book I couldn't wait to bake.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Zucchini-Kumquat 100% whole-wheat Tea Cakes

This zucchini kumquat cakes is one of the trio 100% whole-wheat teacake recipes in Tartine Book No.3. I have posted the other two: apple walnut and the banana teacake almost two years ago when I first got a copy of the book. These are my favorite teacake recipes; the health benefits of whole-grain baking need no convincing.

What set these teacakes apart? No doubt, it's the use of 100% whole-wheat and high-extraction flours. More importantly it's how these cakes overcome the unique challenge of dense crumb associated with having such a high percentage of whole-grain flours in the recipe. The entire kernel, bran and germs and all, are blended in the flours, which impede gluten development of the batter and the subsequent rise as it bakes. A special technique is used in Tartine Book No. 3: cut butter into the flours to create small pockets of air so that the finished cakes would take on a much lighter and more tender crumb structure. All three of these teacakes in the book, in my opinion, have succeeded in attaining the desirable soft and moist texture.