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.

Ottolenghi has at least two socca recipes. One served with caramelized onions and cherry tomatoes that I came across in Plenty. One served with spiced eggplant. I put up one of his socca recipes here for comparison. The choice is yours. Heidi Swanson and Yotam Ottolenghi recipes are presented below side by side. The 50% scaling column gives the amount in weight to make half of the recipe. Make socca in any sizes, texture and for different occasions of your choosing. Similar to making pancakes and crepes, you might have to play with the recipes somewhat, by adding more flour or water to the batter, to suit the conditions in your kitchen.

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.

It's hard to put my fingers on what makes these ribs so delicious. The flavor, the scent, the texture or all of the above?

There were a lot of ingredients that went into the sauce braising the pork ribs: granulated sugar, brown sugar, beer, bourbon, apple cider vinegar, ketchup, minced ginger, soy sauce, Sriracha sauce (or any hot sauce), Dijon mustard and ground black pepper. Every ingredient served as an integral part of the finished sauce, and naturally, the ribs. Making the caramel sauce base was a worthwhile experience. You poured the cold beer into the smoking hot copper-color caramel, followed by the bourbon, vinegar and the rest of the ingredients. The mixture expanded like a rising tide, seized and then hardened. It raised my heart rate just watching this spectacle unfolding before my eyes and almost to my face. Anyhow, I do look forward to doing it again, albeit with greater caution. That was fun!

The ribs went into the Dutch oven, covered and roasted in a 350°F oven for about two hours. In the final 15 minutes (30 minutes would have been too long in my case), the lid was removed to allow the juice to thicken in the pot. The sauce was every bit as delicious as the ribs. I tried to remove the last drop from the pan. I went further and deglazed the gluey sticky goodness that was left at the bottom and around the pot, with some water. Reduced it and strained out the liquid. I even scooped out the remaining scraps inside the strainer, normally headed to the garbage bin. That became the sumptuous ragu which we ate the next day with some soccas (chickpea pancakes). I try not to waste anything realizing that food from waste can be stupendous. In my mind, the closer I can get to attaining zero waste, the better it is for me and the planet! We have a long way to go.

Please visit Cook-the-book-fridays to see the comments and discussions on the caramel pork ribs 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.

You may not need any sauce; but it's delicious too
The ribs are served with a watercress salad

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.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Lemon & Goat Cheese Ravioli - IHCC

Homemade ravioli is an act, more than the food itself, that appeals to me the most. I have started making my own pasta since my trip to Tuscany last fall. It was pivotal; I'd never look at pasta the same way. I haven't shopped for any store-bought pasta ever since. Making fresh pasta is not as intimidating as I've thought. You do get better at it with practice. Fresh pasta is irresistible; they taste so much better. Best of all, I can't be more excited about the flexibility and opportunity of experimenting with different flours (I like using rye) to make any type of pasta I want. More whole grain flour, less nutritionally empty white flour, for a more healthful diet. If you are a bread baker, your dough hand and mind would be put to good use.

To fill the ravioli, you can really get creative with the ingredients: vegetables or seafood or leftovers. Anything goes.

Since you put in the time to labor on the dough, there is no need to make a heavy sauce to cover up the clean taste of the soft goat cheese ravioli. The sauce is a simple combination of grapeseed oil, pink peppercorns, chopped tarragon and a dash of lemon zest and juice. You really don't need much for the homemade handcrafted ravioli to shine.

This recipe is another winner from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. The dough comes together quickly in a food processor, mixing olive oil, eggs, "00" pasta flour, ground turmeric and lemon zest. See the cheat sheet below for details. It is an enriched dough using olive oil, instead of water. The dough is easier and less sticky to handle than a typical pasta dough. I think the dough may need an additional one or two tablespoons of water, since I've found it to be on the stiffer side. May be it's winter and my kitchen is dry. The rule of the thumb: 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. (For what it does and the fun of making pasta, the pasta machine is worth every penny.)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Farro Salad with Radicchio, Root Vegetables & Pomegranate - Cook-the-Book-Fridays

Wheat berry (or farro) salad with radicchio, root vegetables and pomegranate is a long name and a mouthful. The recipe comes from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. The good part is that you can take one bite in the salad and taste every ingredient in it: the chewy wheat berries, the mild bitterness of radicchio, the crunchy carrots, crunchier parsnips, the sweet butternut squash and the surprising pop of pomegranate seeds – all the flavors in one scoop. You'd also notice the tangy fresh lemon flavor of the dressing. To me, it was a delicious and well balanced bite. It has such a diverse and complex flavor, you want to eat more of it. I had more than two bowls of this salad for dinner the night before. In fact, it was a filling and hearty salad; it was the only thing I ate. There were no leftovers.

The prep work took quite some time to complete, more than I've expected. So it pays to plan ahead.

  • First the wheat berries have to be cooked. I used farro, not the pearled variety. It took a good 45 minutes until they softened and splayed. I have a good supply of spelt, kamut and rye berries on hand (I use them to bake breads); I couldn't wait to make a similar salad with them. Cooking the grains can be done ahead of time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Braised Spring Vegetables with a Parchment Lid - IHCC Picture Perfect

What makes a dish picture perfect? Spring vegetables, such as carrots and asparagus, with their brilliance and vibrancy have all the visual appeal I'm looking for. You can make a simple salad to bring out the best these spring vegetables have to offer. Or you can take a few extra steps to transform the raw crunchy vegetables into a warm dish of braised and tender vegetables. This dish is the definition of picture perfect, as well as pitch perfect!

My favorite approach in braising vegetables is to use a technique I learnt a while back when I took a fine-dining course in the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Frequently, I find myself using the parchment lid technique, or à l' étuvée, (not only for vegetables, and for fruits too), to preserve the vibrancy and flavor of vegetables. It's a slightly more labor-intensive approach, like the majority of techniques in French cooking. Invariably, you are rewarded by the clean and unadulterated flavor of delicate vegetables with a little extra effort and attention in preparing them à l' étuvée.

When I am all alone in the kitchen, slow braising vegetables with a parchment lid, put me in a meditative mode that connects my senses to the food. I can hear the barely audible sizzling sound of food cooking in the pan and see steam gently escaping around the lid. In the end, the food is not only picture perfect, it comes fully alive. It sings.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cauliflower Cake - IHCC

I learned that Yotam Ottolenghi's upcoming book is going to be about desserts. Among all the delectable Ottolenghi's recipes I've made, there are quite a long list of them, the most unforgettable and surprising ones are in the dessert category. Guess what, there is another big surprise! Early this month, Ottolenghi started writing for the weekly Food Section in the New York Times. His inaugural piece, titled "It's not sugar, it's the thrill," among all things, highlighted a rich dessert: pastry nests with poached pears and feta and saffron cream. He has inspired me to cook, to bake and to bake some more.

I'm thrilled making these delicious dishes and cakes. Still, there are much catching up to do. At the rate he has been producing them, I might never taste and test out all these wonderful recipes.

This week, I chose to bake a vegetable cake from Plenty More for a light supper.

There are always a twist that tickles your imagination, some special ingredients make you scratch your head and an unusual technique involved in most Ottolenghi's recipes. The cauliflower cake is no exception.

The cake is baked in a 9 1/2-inch springform pan. There is no need to make a crust, unlike a quiche. A plus for a light meal during the week. (That gets me thinking about adapting some quiche recipes into springform-pan cakes.) At room temperature after cooling, the cake readily came off the pan, and can be easily cut and served on a plate.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lemon Sole with Burnt Butter, Nori and Fried Capers - IHCC PotLuck

Lemon sole is a misnomer since the fish is neither a true sole, nor does it have the taste of lemon. Why do we favor lemon sole in the early months of the year? it's in season. It's a good time to enjoy fishes, such as cods and soles in February, according to the seasonality guide from the Marine Conservation Society. The key to sustainability is, by and large, to avoid consuming fishes during the spawning season. Can't go wrong buying and eating what's seasonal.

Lemon sole is a delicate flat fish that I don't often buy or cook. I'm least comfortable working with lemon or Dover sole. The thinness of the flesh makes it easy to overcook. After reading the recipe several times, I believe that it is as good as any, in terms of the cooking technique, the ingredients, and the flavor profile that'd bring out the best in lemon sole.

The recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi's NOPI. There is a whole chapter on fish in the book that I've always found appealing. Yet I haven't cooked any. Meanwhile, we love fish and all kinds of seafood; I'd love to see more fishes showing up on the family table.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Merveilleux Two Ways: Egg & Aquafaba Meringues

Merveilleux is a sandwich of two light meringues welded with whipped cream, and then coated with whipped cream all around and dusted with chocolate shavings. I have not tasted or made them before.

In some ways, they are similar to macacrons. I have always been intrigued with macarons. In fact, macacrons were the first cookies I learned how to bake, starting with taking a class in Paris. I did not know I was in over my head at the time; I had never baked cookies before. But once I've mastered making macarons, everything else comes easy.

The challenge now is how to make a healthier version of them. I have been experimenting with aquafaba or chickpea liquid to make whipped cream. This recipe gives me another foray in exploring and comparing the taste and technique of using aquafaba, the vegan version of the eggs-based meringue cookies.

The picture on the upper left are merveilleux using egg whites to make the meringues, following David Liebovitz's recipe. The picture on the upper right are merveilleux made with meringue cookies, highlighted in a pink coloring, using liquid from a can of chickpea. Knowing the many uses of the chickpea liquid, I no longer pour it down the drain. (See the cheat sheet below for details.) Two different ingredients and recipes, both whipped to stiff peaks and baked in a similar fashion (in a 250°F oven, no convection, for an hour to an hour and a half). I can't say I whipped up the two batters to the same degree of stiffness -- due to the very subjective nature of look and feel of stiff peaks. The chickpea liquid certainly took longer to whip to a stiff peak.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Healthful Double Chocolate Cookies - IHCC Food We Love

Talking about food we love is not an easy conversation. It's complicated. The matter of the heart is never straightforward. Admitting what you love is somehow like admitting some fundamental weaknesses or worse, something illicit.

I have a sweet tooth; I loathe sugar. I like the taste of a sweet dessert at the end of a meal or a cookie with a cup of coffee or tea. At the same time, my head is complaining that sweets are not good for my body. You have to take a stand against sugar these days considering all the talks and public health concerns about sugar consumption.

Part of my solution is to bake everything from scratch, quick breads and all manner of desserts, which gives me the freedom to substitute table sugar with something more healthful. My pantry is filled with all sorts of natural sugar alternatives: from organic cane sugar, palm sugar, coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, dates to apple sauce. I have used them all in my baking. Thank goodness, there are suitable sugar substitutes out there and they work.

The latest one I've found is this cookie recipe from Heidi Swanson. Not only that it uses ripe banana as a sugar substitute and a binding agent, my first using banana in this capacity, there is more. There is no sugar, no butter, no eggs and these cookies are gluten free. I'm truly impressed that you can make these cookies and eat them too. Wow!