Thursday, January 28, 2016

Roasted Parsnips and Sweet Potatoes with Caper Vinaigrette

Roasting vegetable is among my favorite methods in cooking vegetables. To me, the way roasted veggies concentrate flavor is what steamed veggies can never do. I also like the aroma of roasting vegetables wafting through the kitchen. Not to mention the convenience of cooking a good amount of vegetables in a single baking sheet. With or without the help of the oven timer, more often than not, you can tell the vegetables that have been roasting in the oven are ready by the smell of things. It is gratifying when someone comes into the kitchen and asks: "What's smelling so good?" Who would have guessed: it is the often ignored vegetable!

This recipe comes from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. He recommends treating this recipe as a blueprint for an infinite number of vegetable dishes. A variety of vegetables are suitable to be roasted similarly: rutabaga, potato, carrot, beet and cauliflower.

Keep in mind that not all vegetables are cooked at the same rate. Parsnips and onions took the longest to roast -- for a total of about 70 minutes. They went into the oven first. Sweet potatoes took about 50 minutes. They went into the oven 20 minutes after the parsnips. Cherry tomatoes were the last to go in. They took about 10 minutes. After about an hour, the whole pan of roasted vegetables was ready for the table. All in perfect harmony.

A note of caution: If I don't have the preparation and timing guide from Ottolenghi as in this recipe, it would make sense to put the component vegetables in separate baking pans. (Speaking from prior experiences of having messed things up.) Check each vegetable from time to time to ensure that it is cooked to the degree of doneness desired. Take the individual vegetable out of the oven when it is ready. Then assemble the vegetables on a serving dish at the end.

According to Ottolenghi, the caper vinaigrette may also be substituted with other refreshing combinations of chopped herbs, grated lemon zest, harissa, crushed garlic and a mellow vinegar. I feel thoroughly empowered to make my version of roasted vegetables extravaganza. This blueprint is a keeper for sure!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Parsley Sauce

This whole-roasted cauliflower dish has been in the making for quite a while. I first tasted it in a restaurant in D.C. and have been trying to replicate the pure and unadulterated cauliflower taste with a nutty charred crusty exterior. It is the centerpiece of menus all over the country and beyond, to Paris and Tel Aviv. The craze has been picked up by celebrity chefs, like Jamie Oliver and Giada De Laurentiis.

According to the NY Times Recipe Lab columnist Julia Moskin: "One reason the dish has become so popular is that a whole cauliflower behaves very much like a roast of meat, in the oven and on the table. Its rough outer surface grabs onto flavor elements like fresh herbs, lemon juice and crushed spices. The whole head can be marinated or basted and browned, but the inside remains silky and tender."

It looks so simple. But, boy, it's easier said than done. The challenge for the home cook is to brown the exterior, while keeping the interior cooked and soft. Not mushy soft but with a bite and a satisfying toothsomeness. All that should be done with the cauliflower remains intact, not in pieces. Getting the outside browned is not an issue. But getting the inside moist and tender with a slight crunch at the same time could be a big challenge.

I like Jamie Oliver's method of roasting the cauliflower and Giada De Laurentiis's parsley sauce. The roasting method in Oliver's recipe keeps the cauliflower whole. Giada's parsley sauce helps to retain the pure unadulterated cauliflower flavor I desire. Combining the two recipes, I get a properly roasted whole head of cauliflower and a light sauce, that does not overshadow the taste of fresh cauliflower.

With some tweaking with the roasting techniques (see the tips and cheat sheet below for details), I think we have a fantastic tasting cauliflower, roasted and presented whole, and sliced up when served -- just like a piece of steak, meanwhile showcasing cauliflower at its best.

Once you get the proper methodology, it is fairly straightforward to cook the head of cauliflower. Rub it with some olive oil and salt. Slow roast the whole head for an hour and a half. Make the herb sauce. The end result is a bold and gorgeous looking whole-roasted cauliflower. The clean taste, texture and aroma of fresh vegetable is what I so adore.

Roasting tips:
  • Set your oven temperature at 375°F with a pan of hot water on the bottom rack to create steam. (I set my combi-steam oven at 350°F convection and 40% steam.)
  • Roast the head of cauliflower in a preheated and hot cast-iron pan, core side down and uncover, in the oven.
  • Don't be afraid to deeply brown the cauliflower. It may take longer than 1 1/2 hr, depending on the oven and size of the cauliflower. Test for desired doneness, inside the cauliflower. 
Bon Appetit!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Ultimate Scones

Blueberry Spelt & Oat Scone
Currant & Pine Nut Cream Scone

Name the most common ingredients in scones. Probably, you would find all-purpose flour, sugar, butter and dairy of some sorts. That's the blueprint for my go-to cream scones recipe I've been baking for years from the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). My good old standby never disappoints and disappears fast. They have gotten much accolades. Delicious, buttery and flaky. If there is a single baked item I am most confident in making, scone would be at the top of the list. When I saw that this blueberry, spelt and oat scones from Clair Ptak, The Voilet Bakery Cookbook had none of the usual suspects, I was most intrigued. If you seek a sugar-free, diary-free vegan scone, there you have it. Your search is over.

It is the most healthful scone I've seen. The recipe calls for whole-grain spelt flour, oat flour, agave syrup, maple syrup, almond butter and coconut oil. I have not seen too many scone recipes that use anyone of these ingredients, let alone six of these in one dough. Spelt flour. That, I'm familiar with. I have been making bread with spelt flour for a while. Spelt imparts a nutty, soft and tender characteristics to the bread dough. Oat flour, agave syrup and almond butter are not my everyday pantry items. So I went shopping.

Since I was baking this recipe for the first time for a friend whom I've invited for coffee, I wanted to hedge my bets. I made my good old standby cream scones with pine nuts and currants at the same time. This is my favorite scone to eat. I figured that any new scone recipe would have to pass the taste test, comparing it with the cream scone. A rather high hurdle for sure.

One convenient feature about making scones. They are best served the same day they are made. However, the shaped dough can be frozen and brought to the preheated oven when you're ready to bake. I don't mind having extra scone dough around ready to be baked directly from the freezer in a moment's notice.

My friend S is a self-professed adorer of scones -- full of life and wisdom from a lifelong career as an educator. She adored the spelt scones. I offered her some leftover scones to take home. Guess what, she chose the blueberry spelt oat scones over the cream scones with currants and pine nuts. There is so much to like about this healthful alternative to the traditional scones. Not much needed to be said, except: try it.

Spelt scone served with blueberry compote and yogurt

Cream scone turned golden with egg wash

I am offering you two "ultimate" scone recipes. One is extremely healthful: whole grain, refined-sugar free, low fat and dairy free. And guilt-free. One is a traditional scone at its best: creamy, flaky and buttery. You'd have to decide which one works best for you. "Ultimate" is in the eyes of the beholder!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Morning Glory Baked Oatmeal

Nothing can get me out of bed faster than the stirring aroma of food or java from the kitchen. The trouble is: I'm the primary cook in my family, chances are I won't smell the rich aroma of awaiting breakfasts. This is where the made-ahead dishes can meet you half way. (More made-ahead dishes can be found at IHCC this week.)

It's especially tempting to stay in bed as long as you can when the outside temperature is below freezing in the early morning in Vermont. The wind is howling still. At the same time, you want to hit the freshly packed snow on the mountain before anyone gets there. Imagine having this morning glory oatmeal to get you all warmed up and ready to hit the slopes. A must have.

Ellie Krieger's baked oatmeal got its inspiration from the morning glory muffin, a throwback to decades past. It brings together all kinds of fruits and vegetables with the earthy oatmeal. There are more than 10 ingredients: pecans, raisins, cinnamon, maple syrup, coconut flakes, shredded carrots, apples and oatmeal, but still manages to taste very good together. The kitchen sink approach at its best. I can think of adding more fruits and nuts: like pineapple or sunflower seeds.

The baked oatmeal is best served warm with milk or yogurt. It makes a complete breakfast, in both nutrition and taste terms. They need the enhancement of neither butter nor jam.

The baked oatmeal can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Cover with foil and reheat in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes, or microwave individual portions on high for 1 minute.

Now I have this baked morning glory oatmeal in my back pocket, it'll be tough to go back to the plain oatmeal or granola breakfasts on the ski weekends. I baked the oatmeal in a 9-inch pie dish. It makes eight servings, leaving no one hungry and everyone ready for the morning run schussing down the winter wonderland.

Think carrot cake for breakfast

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Mango Black Rice Pudding: Dairy- and Refined-Sugar-Free Dessert

Green veggies have long been hailed as healthful foods that are good for us. Less well known is that dark fruits, vegetables and grains are nutritional powerhouses as well. Black beans, black lentils, black berries and black rice. These black foods have more antioxidants than light-colored foods because of their high pigment content, anthocyanins, that may help lower the risks of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

I posted a black rice risotto recipe adapted from nutritionist Ellie Krieger a few weeks ago. Black rice recipes are not that easy to spot. Very pleased to have come across this black rice pudding recipe. It is a sweet dessert dish from Jamie Oliver's Everyday Super Food. Oliver has been on a mission to get school children, and all of us, to eat healthier. He is the featured chef this month at IHCC with which I've been cooking and blogging.

If you have a difficult time finding black rice in your local markets, try looking for it in Asian food markets.

This black rice pudding looks like the mango panna cotta I've posted earlier. The similarity ends with the look. The black rice pudding is low in fat, no dairy or refined sugar is added. Regular panna cotta is made with cream, milk and sugar, lots of them. The black rice pudding might not have the smooth custardy texture of panna cotta. But it is as satisfying as it is good for you. I served a mini version of this pudding to a few health conscious friends (one with doctorate in nutrition), no one turned down this dessert.

The cooked black rice was blitzed with ripe bananas, almond milk, vanilla extract and a small amount of manuka honey in a Vita-mix blender. Almost like making a smoothie, except that the pudding is thicker and denser. Spooned the black rice mixture into individual glasses and then topped with the mango puree. I put them in the refrigerator until service time. A sprinkle of chopped hazelnuts and coconut flakes added a finishing touch.

I substituted almond milk for hazelnut milk in the black rice mixture, since almond milk is more widely available in my area. Jamie Oliver's recipe calls for the passion fruit and yogurt, together with the mango for the fruit puree atop the rice mixture. I skipped the passion fruit because it was not in season. Skipped the yogurt to make the dessert dairy free.

I made this black rice pudding dairy-free, gluten-free, low fat and refined-sugar free. Somewhat guilt-free, if you will. I need to find a few more of these back-pocket, delicious, naturally sweetened and healthful desserts to treat my friends and family. It is January when resolutions are made. I'd love to see these big ideas getting played out more in the months ahead.

Mango puree, hazelnuts and coconut flakes topped the pudding

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Spicy Parsnip Soup

Vegetable soup. Warm soup. Spicy soup. Soup for dinner served with some homemade bread. A parsnip soup that's so earthy, naturally sweet and comforting. It begs the question why it hasn't shown up in my kitchen until now. What else have we been missing? It's question like this that keeps me searching for the simple, delicious, and sometimes overlooked dishes or ingredients that tickle our palate, if not our imagination.

Kudos to Jamie Oliver, the writer of this recipe. Not only for his leadership in the food revolution in healthy eating, but for his deft hand in elevating a common root vegetable soup into something so divine and tantalizing. Jamie Oliver said: "I've given the humble parsnip soup a new lease of life with aromatic Asian flavours and added heat." He did exactly that. My taste buds won't easily forget the experience.

The recipe calls for six parsnips but does not specify the size or weight. I used three big ones or at least three pounds of parsnip. I don't think you could ever go wrong putting in extra parsnip in the soup.

What makes this soup a standout is the use of spices, garam masala, in particular. I have a small bottle of this spice laying around for the longest time. Unused and underappreciated. It won't be any longer going forward. The sweet pungency of the mix of cardamom, cinnamon and clove in garam masala is so seductive. I can't resist sticking my nose to the bottle, smelling and inhaling its rich warm aroma.

I don't have fresh red pepper. Red pepper was used as the focal point garnishing the parsnip soup posted on Jamie Oliver's website. I substituted with red chili flakes. The fresh pepper would have spiced up the soup beyond measure. I would use the fresh kind next time around. Maybe as soon as next week.

Served with crusty sprouted whole-wheat bread

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Walnut Raisin Apricot Ciabatta

Ciabatta dough is so different from any others. There is so much to like about ciabatta. I wonder why I don't make it more often. They make perfect sandwich breads. Go well with soup. Toast well with its thin blistered crust over a wide flat surface.

True, it is a very wet dough with more than 75% hydration. Since there is no degassing, preshaping or shaping involved, there is almost no actual work between mixing the dough and getting it in the oven. I left the divided ciabatta dough pieces on parchment paper to rest. Then they were ready to be transferred straight to the preheated oven. No inverting the dough out of the shaping baskets, so there are no sticking issues. No hot Dutch oven to transfer the dough into. No scoring either. Pieces of bread dough were laid out flat on their backs and allowed to rest naturally. No coercing. No struggle to keep the dough in the strict confine of an ideal shape. No marker of any sorts, regarding shapes. This allows everyone to take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the finished bread.

If you have not baked home-made artisan bread before, this may be a good place to start. Most bakers find shaping bread dough challenging. A stumbling block, real or imagined. Once shaping is taken out of the equation, all you need is to do is to follow closely the fermentation schedule, you'll have a decent loaf of tasty bread made. And become the proud baker that you are! I wish someone has told me this.

There are a few essential equipments you'd need: pizza stone to fit on the oven rack and a peel to transfer the dough into the oven. If you are familiar with pizza making, you can skip the rest of this paragraph. If you don't have these equipments and don't mind experimenting, try resting the dough in a parchment-paper lined baking sheet (A). Preheat another sheet pan on the oven rack. When you are ready to bake, transfer the dough along with the sheet pan (A) in the preheated oven. Place sheet pan (A) on top of the preheated sheet pan. In other words, use double sheet pans as a way to add to the thermal mass. The crust may not be as crackling as the bread baked on a pizza stone, but you won't be compromising on taste.

To replicate the steam environment critical to developing a crusty bread exterior, put a cast iron saute pan in the oven as you preheat the oven. This is what I did. As you load the bread dough in the oven, pour in a cup or more of boiling water in the preheated cast iron pan to create a burst of steam. Close the oven door as quickly as you can. Be careful not to burn your fingers. I've found this to be the most effective way to create steam in a home oven. (If you are leery about this procedure, the alternative is to spray water, using a spray bottle, on the bread loaf in the oven.)

This is one tasty bread with a thin delicate crust!

Lots of random-sized holes and translucent cell walls

Monday, January 4, 2016

Grilled Vegetable Stacks

I love grilled vegetables, as long as I can cook it on the stovetop in the warmth of the kitchen, and not on the outdoor grill. The outside temperature has finally dropped to below freezing here in the New York area the first time this winter season. I have been thinking snow. I'm glad to see that winter is here and, hopefully, here to stay for a while. Nothing like the change of season to energize our body, spirit, and the menu. My skis are tuned. So is my grill.

Grilling vegetables, such as eggplants, zucchinis, bell peppers, tomatoes and onions, is something I do frequently. These are the vegetables that compose a classic ratatouille and they taste harmoniously together. Grilling at high temperature caramelizes the vegetables and brings out the sweet and natural attribute of each vegetable. Assembling the vegetables in a stack, as Ellie Krieger has suggested, seems like a smart idea for plating. She also gave detailed instructions on how thick the vegetables should be sliced and the order they should be plated. Not something I normally think much about. But if that adds to our enjoyment of the dish, why not.

I picked up red bell pepper in the store instead of the orange one called for in the recipe. I didn't pay enough attention to details; lesson learned. Then it dawned on me why you'd need the orange pepper. For the color contrast. Brilliant! I compensated by using a yellow plate for a punch of yellow. Other changes I made were: sliced onion very thin, cut bell pepper lengthwise and zucchini in planks to get the charred effects I wanted. A splash of red wine vinegar and a sprinkle of fresh basil chiffonade finished the stacked look.

The vegetable stack is beautiful, as it is irresistible, to ponder before cutting into it. The taste is complex, if you can get several kinds of vegetables in a single bite. I'd be stealing the idea to stack up the grilled vegetables as a plating alternative. Should a dish, any dish, look as good as it tastes? Perhaps I don't think enough about plating design, since I believe taste is paramount. Some food for thoughts! Feel free to weigh in on this.

Please check out for more ideas from other home cooks at IHCC in celebration of the new year or the new season. Happy cooking and eating!

Eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, tomato and onion on a yellow plate
Red onion sliced thin, zucchini in long planks, pepper cut lengthwise

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Rondo's -- Dutch Whole-Wheat Cookies

My command of the Dutch language is limited to three words. The three shapes (ronde, ovaal and vierkant) of the biscuit/cookie that "everybody in Holland knows." That is round, oval and square. (Please correct me if I have them wrong.) I made these shapes, which may not be the conventional shapes, but they are all I have when it comes to cookie molds. I presume you need the molds to maintain the shape of these cookies as they bake.

Seeing a picture of a rondo's with crispy layers of dough and rich almond paste convinced that I want to make the cookie, although I've never tasted one before. I like that the writer of this recipe gives us different options for the filling. An almond paste that can be made in advance and frangipane that can be made on the same day. I made the frangipane in three shapes of this cookie.

I took one bite of a finished rondo's for the purpose of taking a picture of its interior crumb structure. But I couldn't stop myself with just one bite. These cookies are addictive. They have an amazing crisp and crunchy texture. I thought I like the taste and texture of an almond tart. Now I'm not so sure! If I am only allowed to have one bite, that one bite would have to be this cookie. A single bite that is packed with the most delightful taste and mouth feel.

Making these cookies requires multiple steps. Preparing the cookie dough, resting it and rolling it out. Making the almond paste or frangipane as fillings. Cutting out the top and bottom parts of the cookie and, finally, assembling everything together. None of these steps are tricky, although you are reminded not to overwork the dough to achieve that flakiness that this cookie is known for. Cubes of cold butter are cut into the dry ingredients which reminds me of that of making biscuits.

The only change I've made to the recipe was substituting regular pastry flour with whole-wheat pastry flour (highlighted in red in the cheat sheet below). I have a strong preference for a wholesome and healthful approach in my baking. Try to think about it, the way butter is cut into the flour mixture in this recipe is well suited to whole-grain flours, which tend to give denser results. Following that, I got the tender crumb as intended. That makes me a happy baker. Next time around, I'd go further and reduce the amount of sugar as well.

Used 100% whole-wheat flour

A thin band of frangipane in the middle of the cookie

I haven't been posting at ABC for a while, but this is an interesting and compelling recipe that I decided to join in for the fun.

Happy New Year!