Monday, November 30, 2015

Energy Bars

What makes a dried fruits and nuts bar an energy bar? I wonder.

You're looking for a bar that's low in fat, that is with less than 5 grams of fat per serving. For fiber content of bars, aim for 3 to 5 grams. Checking the calories listed on the label, a Luna Bar contains 170 to 180 calories. Meal-replacement bars tend to be larger than other bars, with proportionately higher levels of carbohydrates, fats, and protein.

Ellie Krieger's energy bar has 20 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fat, 5 grams of protein and contains 133 calories per serving. To my surprise, protein comes, in part, from nonfat dry milk. These energy bars fit all the criteria for nutritional bars. I feel comfortable having them on hand to nibble (along with friends at IHCC gathering this week) and between meals for a quick pick-me-up or for breakfasts when I'm on the go.

Now I can custom design energy bars to suit my taste, nutritional requirements and what's available in the pantry. That's why I'm so excited about making these energy bars.

A friend of mine gave me some tips on slowing graying hair which she has very few to speak of. She is blessed; recently she celebrated the birth of her first grandchild. She attributes her glistening, healthy, non-graying hair to the daily intake of black sesame seeds. Although this is purely anecdotal, I'm willing to give it a try. I bought an ample supply of black sesame seeds. I would put them in energy bars substituting wheat germ that is called for in Ellie Krieger's recipe.

My "youth nectar" is full of hair-raising black sesame seeds

I'll call these energy bars my "youth nectar," for now.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Squab (Any Small Bird) with Burnt Miso Butterscotch and Pomegranate-Walnut Salsa

Instead of having an oversize turkey, we had a much smaller bird for the Thanksgiving meal today. We had squabs. This sqaub recipe is adapted from Ottolenghi's NOPI, which uses an even smaller bird, a quail.

Though small in foot prints, the squabs were packed with a big-flavor miso butterscotch paste and finished with a colorful pomegranate walnut salsa. This dish made up a light Thanksgiving fare for our family this year, together with gratin Dauphinios instead of mashed potatoes and the likes. A few vegetable sides. Fresh cranberries showed up in an apple galette for dessert. I'm glad that there was no leftovers to deal with afterwards. We licked our plates clean.

Every component of this dish rises above our expectations: the squab, the miso butterscotch paste and the pomegranate walnut salsa. I love each and every component of it and would use them separately or together with other combinations. I can see preparing duck breasts using both the paste and the salsa. Squab is not a novelty to us; the burnt miso butterscotch is. According to Ottolenghi, the inspiration for this dish came from David Chang's Lucky Peach Magazine.

The miso butterscotch involves roasting a thin layer of miso paste on a parchment-lined baking sheet until it is almost burnt with a rich dark caramelized patina. After the caramel cools, it is mixed with mirin, brown sugar, butter and sherry vinegar in the food processor until a smooth aerated paste forms.

The smoky intoxicating aroma of barbecue wafted from the kitchen. We haven't even gotten to cooking the squab yet. The miso butterscotch paste was spread evenly on the birds which had been sauteed over high heat in a pan. The dish came together very fast after this. Unlike turkeys, squabs took minutes to cook on the stovetop and even less time under the broiler. Broiling was the final step to caramelize the butterscotch paste until it bubbled over the squab. To serve, the pomegranate walnut salsa was spooned on top alongside with some chopped parsley (I substituted with green onion). I've never come across this technique of making a miso butterscotch paste before in my baking or cooking. It's a revelation!

My daughter loves fresh pomegranate seeds. I seeded another whole pomegranate just in case and set it aside. There is never enough of them around; anything with pomegranate seeds in it disappears quickly. We had an interesting conversation whether pomegranate seeds should be used in the galette instead of cranberries. However, it's never in doubt that the pomegranate salsa is a bright and perfect complement to the gamey flavor of squab. We are so thankful for such a delicious spread for Thanksgiving that is nourishing and much cherished. We're also privileged to eat and cook in a time and place that's a crossroads of culinary tradition and countless innovation.

Good wishes for a happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Roasted Eggplant with Black Garlic, Pine Nuts and Basil

This happens to be the first recipe in Ottolenghi's new book NOPI, in the starter section. I have marked a similar recipe, eggplant with black garlic, in his last book Plenty More but has not made the dish because I was not able to get black garlic until now. Ottolenghi said he'd love black garlic to be more widely available. I can't agree more.

Black garlic is supposed to be one of those superfoods for the health conscious type. Now it has become the star, if not staple, ingredient for chefs.

"We discovered black garlic around the same time that NOPI opened, and quickly became hooked. It has an addictive mellowness and depth of fermented flavor: part balsamic vinegar gummy candy, part licorice allsort."

Black garlic is basically fermented white garlic. But black garlic owes its characteristic flavor not to fermentation, but enzymatic breakdown and the good old fashioned Maillard reaction. Processed at around 140°F for a month to six weeks, it essentially gets a low and slow roast that converts sugar and turns the cloves black.

First time I tasted black garlic, it was cooked very simply with sauteed asparagus, in its unprocessed form. I was hooked at first bite. You won't find any uneaten black garlic on anyone's plate. It was that good and surely addictive. It has a sweet, savory, funky and lively flavor all its own.

There are several recipes of eggplant on this blog. What's different here is the high-temperature roasting and, of course, the extraordinary black garlic dressing. This recipe calls for eggplant wedges to be roasted at 425°F until golden brown, about 40 minutes. The flavor is further enhanced by mixing roasted eggplant in a black garlic dressing for at least an hour. The end result is some deeply flavored eggplant that very few could identify or distinguish the taste other than: it's remarkable. There is some unfamiliar umami flavor. You may think it's soy sauce, anchovy, truffle or molasses. But it's none other than a few cloves of black garlic in a simple dressing.

Pear-Cranberry Roll-up Tart

Putting fresh or frozen cranberries in a tart gives me pauses. Are cranberries too tart and acidic for sweet pastry? After baking along with Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Julia and, now, her latest book, Baking Chez Moi, I should have known that Dorie's recipes work well and seldom disappoint. She took care of business by adding one tablespoon of sugar. That's all it takes to balance out the flavor for the tart fillings.

Cranberries look so festive and seasonal. The pear and cranberry combination is an exciting one. Just the right dessert for the Thanksgiving table.

The galette dough is used for the roll-up tart. This dough is a delight to work with. We made the apple pielettes a while back with the same dough. Instead of making a pie or a free-form galette, rolling up the dough with the fillings to look like a jelly roll is a splendid idea. A touch of fresh and ground ginger and a dollop of orange marmalade make the tart more sensational than it already is.

I have to admit rolling up the dough with the fillings was a bit tricky. It takes some practice. I should have rolled it up tighter for a neater package. Would happily make this roll-up tart again using seasonal fruits and variations that Dorie has suggested. You can find similar posts from other Tuesdays with Dorie bakers at TWD blogroll here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Black Rice Risotto

In ancient China, black rice was considered so superior and rare, it was reserved exclusively for the emperor and royalty. These days this ancient grain, also known as forbidden rice, are sought after by gourmets and people seeking superior nutrition.

The color of black rice is the result of plant pigments called anthocyanins, also found in blueberries, which have been linked to impressive health benefits: from anti-inflammatory properties to healthier arteries and better insulin regulation.

Black rice contains the highest amount of antioxidants, protein and dietary fiber of all rices varieties. Black rice is also a good source of iron, which can be hard to get for vegetarians who rely on grains and legumes for protein.

I have not cooked black rice before. According to Ellie Krieger's recipe, it'd take a good 50 minutes for the rice to cook. I followed her cooking instructions carefully; the rice came out soft with some bite to it. It does not have the degree of creaminess as arborio rice, commonly used in making Italian risotto.

Cooking black rice risotto is similar to making any risotto, except for the longer cooking time. Rice is first cooked in a soffritto of onion and olive oil to coat each grain in a film of fat; white wine is added and cooked until fully absorbed by the rice. Very hot stock (6 cups to 1 1/2 cup of rice) is gradually added while stirring gently and constantly, creating a smooth creamy-textured liquid. Finishing with grated parmesan cheese adds the extra richness and creaminess to the rice.

The recipe can be found here on Ellie Kreiger's website. I've made a few cosmetic changes: replaced basil chiffonade with thinly sliced green onion and dressed up the risotto by garnishing it with a piece of brightly-colored and lightly sauteed langostino tail. I can't think of a more satisfying and feel-good side dish than a black rice risotto. Definitely, the dish turns out to be more sensational than I've expected.

For over an hour, you smelled the aroma of sweating onions, the vapor of reducing wine and broth, and the earthy note of simmering rice. Black rice gives a stunning, deep purple hue and a delightful nutty flavor as Krieger has suggested. Too bad, these senses can't be captured beyond the written words.

For other "scentsational sides," the theme of the week at IHCC, the online cooking group, please visit the blogroll for details.

Quite a selection in local markets

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tofu Escabeche

I think I should cook tofu more often since it's so good for you. It is the staple for a plant-based diet and an alternative for animal protein. It may be time to revisit tofu and search for the "right" recipes to bring it to the dinner table more regularly. Right to me means: delicious, foolproof and with bold flavors.

I drink soy milk and put tofu in smoothie and grill them from time to time. I try to like them, but I don't. It's tough to bring out the best in tofu; they are just bland and mostly tasteless. To make them the star ingredient is a tall order. Or is it doomed on day one?

I've found Mark Bittman's tofu escabeche a step in the right direction. It piques my interest and, to some extent, my taste buds. Bittman said he cooks tofu several times a week. It gives me confidence. This recipe ought to be a good start.

"Escabeche" means brine or pickle. The recipe may be used as a core recipe, the concept that Bittman espouses in his new cook book, Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix. You change the brine, tofu can take on different character, personality or cultural origin. It's a fun way to cook and I heartily embrace it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tri-color Salad Pizza with Sprouted Wheat Dough

The sprouted wheat pizza dough I have on hand is ready to take on a different shape, texture and flavor with some fresh salad greens, including radicchio, endive and arugula. I can't sing enough praises to the sprouted wheat dough and the nutritional benefits of sprouted flour. Peter Reinhart has been on the forefront of the bread movement since he published The Bread Baker's Apprentice. In his latest book, Bread Revolution, he explored new frontier in sprouted flours, ancient grains and alternative flours. It is breathtaking. There is so much to learn and so little time to bake!

I made this salad pizza tonight. Love having fresh greens served on a hot crispy pizza. The idea came from Ellie Krieger's Weeknight Wonders. I adapted the recipe to work with the dough. Turned up the oven temperature to 550°F. I know I'm pushing the limit here. Just in the spirit of experimenting with high-temperature baking. This is the closest I'd get to the temperature range of a wood-fired pizza oven.

In no time, about 5-7 minutes, the parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella cheese melted like lava and the dough browned nicely. Let the look of the pizza inform you when it is done, not the clock. Topped it with tri-color salad greens, dinner is served. Any way you slice it, this pizza is both heathy, refreshing and satisfying as part of any meal, day or night.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Hazelnut Baby Loaves

Sometimes the best recipes are the simplest. This hazelnut baby cake is a good example of that. At first glance, it is a basic quick bread or muffin recipe whose not-so secret code was previous reviewed in the berry buttermilk cake post. In the nutshell, this type of cake batter is generally made with four basic ingredients following roughly these ratios: 2 parts flour: 1 part egg: 1 part butter: 2 parts liquid, measured in weights (ounces or grams). These cakes can be shaped and baked in loaf pans, muffin tins or sheet pans. Endless varieties, sweet or savory, can flourish from this one basic recipe.

This recipe comes from Baking with Julia. Check out what other bakers at the online group Tuesdays with Dorie think about this recipe. What I like best about the hazelnut baby loaves are: the crunchy bite of the hazelnut, the thin light crust and a satisfying crust to crumb ratio. The addition of the almond extract gives off an appealing nutty scent.

I did not make the grappa-mascarpone cream. I'm sure it makes the cakes extraordinary. My concerns are the extra fat and calories that I don't need. (To further decrease the fat content, 3/4 cup of milk and 1/4 cup of sour cream may be substituted for 1 cup of heavy cream called for in the recipe.)

My loaf pans are larger. They are 3 1/2 x 6 x 2 inches. I got four loaves out of this recipe.

The key to success of these cakes goes beyond the ingredients. I watched Julia Child's PBS video carefully and I've learnt a few tricks. The video was very helpful. I believe making a good cake is all about techniques. Following the recipe instructions from contributing baker, Johanne Killeen, I creamed the butter and sugar mixture longer than I normally do. The results are noticeable; these loaves are fluffy and light.

Hazelnut cake served with berries and yogurt cream

I took some notes as a reminder on how the quick butter cake batter is best handled. Next time when I am stuck in some faraway and forsaken places (with a kitchen but no internet) and want to make butter cakes, this set of instructions (which I should save in my permanent memory), and the 2-1-1-2 ratio would set me free to improvise with convincing and delicious results.

  • Cream the softened butter and sugar well until they lighten in texture and turn pale. The process takes 3 to 4 minutes in a stand-mixer.
  • Add the eggs one at a time. Give each a good beating and for an additional minutes or two after the last egg goes in. A wonderful airy bubble structure will form and volume tripled. 
  • Slow down and add the dry and liquid ingredients alternatively, starting with the dry ingredients. You want to be gentle and careful not to deflate the airy structure. You may switch from the mixer to a rubber spatula and fold in the rest of the ingredients. Stop mixing as soon as the last speck of dry ingredients disappears.
  • Test early and often for doneness. Take a look at the loaves five minutes before the recipe says it might be finished baking.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Butternut Squash and Gorgonzola Pizza with Sprouted Spelt Dough

A wonderful and wholesome sprouted wheat pizza

Once you master the pizza dough, making pizza can be as easy as pie. I made butternut squash, gorgonzola and sage pizza from Ellie Krieger's Weeknight Wonders. The recipe calls for four ounces of pizza dough.

This butternut pizza joins this week's "any way you slice it" themed cooking gathering at IHCC.

I am very excited about the 100% sprouted wheat pizza dough from Bread RevoIution by Peter Reinhart. This is a straight dough that can be mixed and baked on the same day.

Reinhart's approach in using sprouted flour is truly revolutionary and the next frontier in breadmaking. Most nonsprouted flours utilized pre-ferments and cold fermentation to release the full flavor potential from the grain. But that's not necessary with sprouted flour which is already preconditioned, with flavor being released during the sprouting process.

This is my first attempt using sprouted flour. (I've sprouted whole grains before, but have not milled them into flours.) For this pizza, flour from sprouted whole spelt, an ancient grain, is used. Refined white flour is nowhere to be found on the ingredient list. This is the most healthful and wholesome pizza I've ever made in my test kitchen.

Five pizza toppings were lined up in a row, ready to be assembled. Cubes of butternut squash, raw red onions, fresh sage leaves, crumbled gorgonzola cheese, and walnut pieces. A few changes were made to the toppings. I roasted the butternut squash lightly and caramelized the yellow onion for some of the pies. The below 10-minutes bake time for this dough won't be sufficient for butternut squash or yellow onions to cook through. I roasted the walnuts as well and sprinkled them on top of the pizza before serving. Opening the searing hot oven door to drop a few walnuts on top, few minutes before the pizza is done, as written in Krieger's recipe, is more trouble than is warranted.

It's tricky to get all the topping ingredients and the dough done simultaneously and cooked evenly. That takes experimentation. Recipes are mere guidelines.

Dough recipes are of a different breed. They tend to be more precise. No fooling around! See the cheat sheet below for the pizza dough recipe. What surprised me about this dough was how quickly it doubled in size during the bulk rise, (due to high level of enzyme activity in sprouted flour). Dough was ready to be baked in a relatively short timeframe.

The baking stone needs to be preheated in the oven for over an hour. Reinhart's sprouted wheat dough requires the highest temperature setting. I set the temperature at 500°F, not daring enough to crank it up any higher. The pie was finally ready to be loaded in the 500°F oven. Eight minutes later (and under watchful eyes), the pizza came out of the oven — with a rich tone and taste of fall. I'd like to see more char on the rim. May be by raising the oven temperature? Next time. The saltiness of the gorgonzola cheese pairs well with the earthy sweetness of butternut squash. By and large, home-made pizzas fit the bill for weeknight wonders, especially when made with a healthful all-wheat dough.

Topped with roasted squash, gorgonzola, sage and red onion, ready to be baked 

Ready in 8 minutes in 500°F oven

Sprinkled some walnut pieces on top