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.

This is an Ottolenghi's recipe from Plenty. Learning the use of herbs and spices began in earnest when I started cooking and reviewing the recipes in his books: Plenty, Plenty More and now NOPI. Certain lessons and recipes are starting to make good food sense to me.

He uses baby chard leaves, an optional ingredient, which gives the otherwise all green dish a touch of purple. I added the yellow wax beans instead for the color contrast. You don't see yellow beans too often. I found them next to the green beans in the farmers' market. They looked like they belong together, in the shopping basket, as well as, in this dish. True, I'm adding to the already lengthy list of ingredients. As long as it is not subtracting from the dish, it can stay.

Added yellow beans for their contrasting color

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.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Homemade Ketchup

From ballparks to fast food joints to fine dining establishments, you can find ketchup on the tables everywhere. Curtis Stone has a recipe in his book What's for dinner? for homemade ketchup. Combine pureed tomatoes with a few ingredients: Worcestershire sauce, onion, brown sugar, tomato paste and cider vinegar. Apply some heat. That's all there is. No secret ingredient and no magic to it. He says it would be fun to do and, in the end, you will have a fresh, zesty flavor that's hard to resist. I'm convinced. It's time to handcraft a version of ketchup in my own kitchen.

Tomatoes are so ripe and juicy. They defy any knife's attempt to cut them up. I've found it easier to rub them over the coarse holes of a box grater placed in medium bowl than using a blender. I learned this technique in a cooking class in Spain. This is an old fashion but a fun way to puree the tomatoes without the skin. I skipped the blender step in the recipe all together.

Making the ketchup at home takes time; it takes over an hour to simmer down the ketchup to the right consistency after the sauce comes to a boil. (Without simmering it down all the way, you can get a lovely concentrated sauce suitable for pasta or rice or vegetables.) Just like making any sauce, time is a necessary component so that flavor can develop to its fullest potential. Patience will be rewarded. I'm glad I spent the time to learn from this recipe and cooked up one of the most iconic sauces around the world. Besides, you really can't beat any food made with the freshest ingredients, especially with tomatoes in season, no artificial flavoring and free of preservatives.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Spiced Meatballs with Sriracha Sauce

One curious question for you: Do you have a bottle of Sriracha sauce in your fridge? If you do, the next question is: What do you usually do with it?

Like ketchup, mustard, now Sriracha, to some extent, harissa, is occupying the precious real estate in my fridge. Sriracha, once considered "exotic," has become the go-to condiment whenever heat is called for. (Before that, we used Tobasco sauce from Louisiana.) Sometimes it sits out on the table when more spiciness is needed, in dishes, from eggs to chicken wings. It's the new normal in my kitchen.

The use of Sriracha seems to be on the rise. This Asian chili paste is not only spotted in Asian restaurants; it has become super trendy. It has gone mainstream in the US, seen prominently in restaurants and bistros everywhere, or at least on the east and the west coast.

Spicy meatball is the dish of the week at Cook-the-Book-Fridays, the online community of wonderful cooks who are making their way through David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. David found his inspiration of this spicy meatballs dish from the merguez sandwich, stuffed with sausage and fries, eaten on the sidewalks in Paris.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Figs with Basil, Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Fresh figs are available in the summer, but just for a brief few weeks. When I see them in the market, I can't resist getting a few boxes of them. Take them home and then figure out what I want to do with them. More often than not, I'd end up eating most of them fresh by themselves.

This salad from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi is hard to beat, combining the incredible sweetness of the figs and the creaminess of young goat cheese. This is a meal by itself, making figs the key player. Think Mediterranean: figs, goat cheese and pomegranate. That's the essence of the dish. I've made this salad several times already after I discovered the recipe. The purple and green basil plants in my backyard are still going strong in mid-August, perfect to add some color, texture and aroma to a summer salad. Some greens, any greens, for that matter, plus a straight forward pomegranate vinaigrette, is a recipe for keeps for figs lovers.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Beignets & "Brionuts" - Variations on Tartine Brioche

My fondness for the brioche bread, a buttery enriched bread with the morning latte, led me to the search for a brioche dough. I found it in the reliable and versatile dough leavened by an overnight poolish and a young natural leaven from Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. That has led me to the Tartine olive oil brioche, which has no butter in it and uses a lighter and healthier alternative to butter. Many variations later: brioche tart, tarte Tropépienne, Brie in brioche and bostock, I thought I have explored and exhausted all manners of using the brioche dough. When Elle at Bread Baking Babes suggested beignets, which I have not made before, and Elizabeth, also at Bread Baking Babes, mentioned the Tartine beignets, by deep frying the brioche dough, I am in.

I made the brioche dough with olive oil. (See the cheat sheet below for details.) For some reasons, the dough was extremely sticky even after freezing and chilling. I guess the warm summer kitchen makes it more challenging for the dough to absorb all the butter or olive oil (45% of flour weight). Stretching and shaping the dough into a cylinder and cutting them into pieces of beignets is almost impossible without dusting the dough with lots of flour. In the end, they came together in the frying pan, although they didn't take on a uniform and pretty shape as I'd have liked.

I made the maple pecans and the lemon glaze to garnish the beignets. Highly recommended. They added sweet and tart and bright flavor to the otherwise rather plain beignets. (The recipe can be found in the cheat sheet below.) These beignets were addictive: spongy and soft inside, with a lemony, thin crust outside. The chopped pecans enhanced the crunchiness, even on the next day. I had a few of these delicious beignets in a roll, unable to stop eating.

One idea suddenly dawned on me as I was taking a bite: "This tastes like the cronut."

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.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Cherry Tomato Crostini with Vermont Sourdough & 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.