Thursday, February 25, 2016

Stuffed Peppers with Fondant Rutabaga and Goat Cheese

Fondant rutabaga is an unfamiliar term to me. Rutabaga is a confusing vegetable. I thought I bought rutabaga. The Whole Foods' receipt printed: purple top turnip. Turnip or rutabaga? You need a taxonomist or an anthropologist to figure it out. For these reasons, I have been skipping this recipe on page 269 as I leaf through the pages of Plenty More by Ottolenghi.

I'm glad I've finally made the dish and found it transcending. All vegetables, yet with deep flavor and entirely satisfying. I must have eaten a few of these stuffed peppers in one seating. Someone has to stop me from eating more.

Fondant is a classic cooking technique, but infrequently used. The rutabaga dices are cooked in butter, more than one stick of it, at lower heat on the stovetop until they are completely softened and caramelized. That took about 50 minutes. Ottolenghi recommends that the leftover butter be used for cooking carrots and zucchini. So plan your menu accordingly.

The big player of the dish is the roasted pepper. I've roasted peppers before. Little did I know that the proper technique is to crank up the oven temperature to 500°F. No, it isn't a misprint. 500°F for 30 to 40 minutes. The peppers were slightly charred and the flesh was soft. I finally got it! Perfectly roasted peppers: succulent, sweet and caramelized.

The mixture of fondant rutabaga, grated Parmesan, crushed garlic and chopped capers is then spooned into the roasted peppers. Goat cheese pieces are dotted on top of the peppers. The last step is to bake the whole assembly in a 425°F oven for another 10-15 minutes. Everything can be prepared ahead until the final baking step. Or, the peppers can be served at room temperature. A stunning and company worthy dish not to be skipped.

Rutabaga mixture and roasted peppers can be done ahead, before the final baking
The pepper is cut lengthwise with the stalk intact
50% scaling makes half of the original recipe

Monday, February 22, 2016

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomelo & Star Anise


Try to think about all the exciting vegetable and citrus (or fruit) combinations that capture my imagination and taste buds, this brussels sprouts and pomelo salad tops the list. Brussels sprouts are in a class all its own. Oranges and grapefruits are almost too mundane, in comparison to pomelos. (If you can't find pomelo, grapefruit can be substituted. Pomelos are sweeter and sharper, add less lemon juice if you use grapefruits.) Vegetables and fruits make good partners!

Reviewing all the previous posts, I see a cauliflower and grapes salad that I really adore. There are also fennel and pear. Tomatoes and pomegranate seeds. The order they are listed is not indicative of their appeal. I have made each of these dishes more than a few times. Each and everyone of these pairings works remarkably well. What is your favorite combination of vegetables and fruits? I'm curious.

What a creative and flavorful commingling of roasted brussels sprouts and sweetened pomelo? Nuttiness of the roasted brussels sprouts shines and delights. And none of bitterness remains. Not from the sprouts or the pomelo.

This dish disappeared faster than any salads or vegetables I put on the table. Another amazing and genius recipe from Ottolenghi's Plenty More. This dish will be joining other IHCC home cooks at our potluck gathering in February. There are always something unexpected and exciting on the offer. Do check them out.

The most time-consuming step in preparing this salad is peeling the pomelo, getting rid of the skin and membrane, and breaking the flesh into bite-size pieces. But it is worth the effort. Then the pomelo segments are marinaded in a syrup, that is combined with sugar, water, cinnamon, star anise and lemon juice, for an hour. I don't mind the tangy and slightly bitter flavor of fresh pomelo. Next time, I may just bypass the step with the marinade and the sugar, making it a healthier salad.

What I would not change is roasting the brussels sprouts. As you know, there are brussels sprouts lovers and haters. They are equally adamant about their preferences. My family happens to love brussels sprouts. I've found roasting them to be the best way to bring out the nutty flavor of brussels sprouts. Ottolenghi's recipe calls for blanching the sprouts, together with the shallots, for two minutes, straining and drying them, and finally roasting them in a 425°F oven for about 20 minutes. This two-step process makes for a moist and crispy brussels sprouts, as well as for the shallots. Highly recommended.

The dressing is a simple mixture of the leftover pomelo marinade juice, lemon juice and seasoning. I can see adding a few drops of fish sauce to give the salad extra depth and saltiness. You are reminded (by Ottolenghi) not to throw out the leftover sugar syrup. It adds a unique flavor to fruit salads, smoothies or sauces. Yum!

Cinnamon sticks and star anise go into the pomelo marinade
Brussels sprouts & shallots are blanched and then roasted

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Caramelized Onion Levain Bread - BBB

The appropriate title of this bread should be: caramelized onion levain bread with whole-grain buckwheat, rye and wheat, which closely reflects its key characteristics. Yes, it is a long name. There is a lot going on with this bread. The taste of caramelized onions and the sweet earthy note of buckwheat give this bread a bold and exceptional balance of flavors, not to mention its dark and distinctive look. The recipe is adapted from the caramelized onion bread from Bien Cuit by Zachary Golper, Peter Kaminsky & Thomas Schauer.

The on-line baking group, Bread Baking Babes (BBB), is baking this bread this month. The host Tanna has selected this splendid recipe for the group. There are plenty to like about this bread. Can't wait to join in for the fun. This month also marks the 8th anniversary for BBB. Congratulations and please continue bringing us good bakes and recipes.

I wanted to stretch myself a little for an improved healthful and tasty version. These were the directions I wanted to explore:

  • Reach for the sourdough starter (140 grams) that's just been fed, instead of using a preferment that will take time to develop. My wild yeast colony was lively and ready for work. This sourdough starter is an 100% hydration levain, built with all-purpose and whole-wheat flours in equal portions. The natural levain is expected to improve the keeping and eating quality in breads. (No sourdough starter. No problem. The rye preferment in the Bien Cuit's recipe is a good option.)
  • Use a blend of whole-grain wheat and dark rye flours (25%) to make the finished bread more wholesome. Lower the percentage of white flour (the powdery white endosperm–almost entirely void of nutrition) to less than 60% of the total flour weight.
  • Use buckwheat flour (15%), which has no gluten, to the highest amount feasible, to inject some bold flavors. In many ways, this bread reminded me of a similar sprouted buckwheat bread I posted earlier.
  • Include a larger amount of caramelized onions (70 grams) to heighten the sweet note of the bread. I used a whole onion for the recipe.
  • Try my hands on new scoring patterns I saw in Bien Cuit.
  • Meanwhile, keep hydration at a manageable (74%) level.

Delicious looking burnt crust

The highlights in red in the cheat sheet below showed all the changes I made to the recipe. Along the way, I had my share of doubts. The dough was very sticky and seemed to tear apart as I folded it. Should I be using bread flour instead of all-purpose flour? I held back some water and salt (reduced to 10 grams) until the first fold. The dough was not easily extendable until close to the end of the bulk fermentation phase. I wanted to give the dough as much time as it needed. All in all, it took about five hours. I should have expected that. It's wintertime in the Northeast!

I was prepared to start from scratch and do over.

After 12-hours of cold ferment, the loaves did not seem to be ready for the oven. (Didn't pass the dimple test.) I took them out of the fridge and let them sit on the counter for about two hours at room temperature. Next they went into the preheated Dutch ovens. Baking was the best part of the whole process; the aroma was amazing. The loaves turned out better than I've expected. It is one of the most full-flavor breads I've had for a long time. I can't stop eating it. Savory and sweet in the same bite, with an incredibly moist, tender and delicious interior. The crust was rich and dark. Bien cuit (well baked, but not overdone), indeed!

Denser and darker crumb resulted from 40% non-white flour

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Vegetarian Black Bean Chili with Ancho and Orange

Chili is the ultimate comfort food in the winter, when the ground is hard, the wind is blowing and the temperature drops below freezing. It's a struggle to keep your fingers and toes warm as you stay out in the cold doing winter sports, like skiing.

The mountain lodges may have chili on the menu. But more often than not, I find the homemade version far superior. The vegetarian version is far more healthier. Chili can be refrigerated overnight and reheated quickly. A large pot of chili could be made ahead. With some planning, there will easily be something hot, substantial and delicious waiting when we step in from the cold.

Ellie Krieger, author of You Have it Made: Delicious, Healthy, Do-Ahead Meals, has exactly the vegetarian chili I am looking for. What I like best about this recipe are the ancho chili with a little heat, and the orange zest and juice which give the chili the right amount of fragrance, brightness and acidity. This is such a tasty chili that I don't miss the meat at all, as strangely as it may sound.

The only change I've made to the recipe was using dried beans and bypassing the can. I agreed with Melissa Clark, columnist of A Good Appetite of the New York Times. "Canned beans are never going to be as good as home-cooked dried beans, no matter how many seasonings you add to your pot. They're like any other convenience food: a wan simulacrum, fine in a pinch but never transcendent."

The trick in using dry beans is to soak them. But you don't need to soak it overnight; I don't. An hour or two should do. However, adding salt to the soaking water helps speed up cooking by breaking down the bean's skins. Being the impatient cook that I am, I reached for a pressure cooker which took hours off the bean cooking time. I followed Krieger's recipe to the point when beans were added (step 3 in the cheat sheet below).

The black bean stew was then transferred into the pressure cooker. Locked the pressure-cooker lid in place and brought it to high pressure over medium-high heat. As soon as the pot reached high pressure, heat was reduced to low and cooked for 25 minutes, adjusting as needed to maintain pressure.

Served with Greek yogurt and avocado

I was afraid that some beans will burst apart under pressure. But 25 minutes under pressure appeared to be long enough for the beans to cook through evenly without bursting. After pressure was released naturally for about 15 minutes, I simmered the beans in the cooker for another 5 minutes to reduce the liquid until all the flavors melded.

This healthful vegetarian black bean chili has found its way as a must-do winter comfort food for my family. Nourishing as well as restorative to whatever challenges come our way.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Octopus with Onions and Red Wine

A photo in the cookbook Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes, from IHCC's monthly featured chef Tessa Kiros, of octopus left hanging out on washing line in the sun to dry in Greece caught my attention. It heightened my interest and desire in traveling to Greece and having fresh seafood for lunch by the beach.

The next best thing for now, to satisfy my stomach and curiosity, would be to make an octopus dish from the book. Perhaps, a cooking experimentation, if you will, since I've never worked with octopus before. The fun started when you tried finding octopus to buy when you don't live near the sea. I ended up getting a small frozen whole octopus.

Learning the anatomy of octopus is another lesson in itself. "Cut the head off the octopus just below the eyes. Remove the beak by pushing it out through the center of the tentacles. Cut the eyes from the head by slicing off a small round. Remove the intestines by pushing them out of the head." Seriously? I read the instruction a few times and did not quite get it. I've butchered whole chicken and fish, but that's the extent of my butchering skill. Lucky me, I found out after the package of octopus was defrosted that all these awesome steps were done for me. All I had to do was to rinse and to cut up the octopus into chunks.

I substituted pearl onions for small white boiling onions because that's what I could find in the local markets. I followed the recipe closely. After simmering for over an hour, the sauce turned out more like a thick tomato sauce than a light red wine sauce, as shown in the book. Nonetheless, the sauce was richly flavored. The octopus and pearl onions tasted fine, but not perfect. The octopus was a bit chewy. The original 1-inch pieces of octopus shrunk and looked somewhat lost in the sea of red sauce. It's probably the results of my own doing for not following through with the last procedure: adding water, if necessary, and not giving the octopus the 30-minute cooling time in the hot stew before serving.

I haven't tasted an octopus stifado before. Just don't know what to expect! Has anyone tried making this dish? I'd love to hear about your experience if you have.
This won't be my last run with octopus. If and when I can get my hands on some fresh whole octopus, there is another octopus recipe in Kiros' book I'd like to make: grilled octopus with oregano. The octopus is quickly grilled and lightly dressed with oil and vinegar. I thought of grilling the octopus, but even the small piece I brought home was far too big to fit on the stovetop grill. Sadly, the outdoor grill was inaccessible, under several inches of snow.

I may even go as far as dissecting the whole octopus next time around. That would have to wait until the summer when you can hang the octopus on the washing line in the sun to dry.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Soft-Centered Chocolate Teacup Cakes

I adore molten chocolate or lava cakes and have been collecting and saving the recipes. But I have never attempted to make them until now. A soft-centered chocolate teacup cakes, which bakers at Tuesday's with Dorie TWD are making this week, are too adorable to pass up. I can't think of anything more indulgent than a fine and textured chocolate cake, presented to your love ones, with a red rose, on Valentine's Day. The idea came to me when we went to a Pre-valentine's Day party for couples. There were red roses abound. They made perfect companions next to the molten chocolate cakes.

I don't know whether my teacups would hold up to 400°F oven temperature. I used oven-proof ramekins instead and called these cakes ramekin cakes.

Now I learned the trick to achieve the soft moltenness is to add chunks of chocolate to the final chocolate batter, which are spooned in cups or ramekins. Then they go into the oven for about 10 minutes. The whole process is much easier than I've thought. No more than five ingredients are needed.

I like to serve the chocolate cake warm. I only made one-third of the recipe using just one whole egg. It has worked out well for me. You can efficiently weigh out 19 gm of butter to 66 gm of bittersweet chocolate (save 19 gm of it, cut in chunks and set aside). I melted the rest of cbocolate, coarsely chopped, together with butter in the microwave oven, in 30-second intervals, until they were almost completely melted. Whipped one egg and 20 gm of confectioner's sugar in a stand mixer for about five minutes until the mixture turned pale and have increased in volume. Added one-third of one tablespoon of cornstarch to the egg mixture. (The cakes are gluten-free as cornstarch is used, instead of all-purpose flour.) Combined that with the melted chocolate mixture. Placed the remaining chocolate chunks inside the batter which has been divided among individual cups. They were ready to be baked in the preheated 400°F oven.

In less than half an hour from start to finish, you get one to two, depending on the size of the cups, of these adorable cakes. Quick, simple and decadent. I'll definitely make them again! Maybe with a twist, like stuffing these cakes with white chocolate chunks, frozen berries, or berry coulis, as Dorie has suggested.

Valentine's day is just around the corner.

Molten lava flows from the cake

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Asparagus "Pasta" with Garlicky Breadcrumbs

Pasta or noodle without carb is something my family wants to eat with abandon. I often use zucchinis and other root vegetables, spiralized to make a vegetarian "pasta." Along the same line, I also stock organic edamame spaghetti in the pantry. Have you checked the prices on these? They are five times the unit price of wheat-flour-based spaghetti.

The concept of asparagus pasta, which I have not made before, is compelling. And you don't need a special equipment other than a peeler. I found this Ellie Krieger's recipe in the Washington Post.

First, remove the tips of the asparagus. Hold the woody end of the asparagus and peel a narrow strip along the stem. This is a bit fussy to do than I'd have liked. The prep work takes time and attention. I was left with some odd pieces of asparagus that I had to find ways to use or to dispose. Getting thick asparagus is key to make the even-sized ribbons of noodle.

The asparagus noodles are cooked by quickly sauteing on the stovetop with some olive oil. That takes two to three minutes. Finished with a splash of lemon juice. Toss the garlicky breadcrumbs on top. There you have it: a simply made vegetarian noodle dish with a faint taste of asparagus.

To me, the best attribute of this pasta is not defined by what it has, but what it doesn't: carbohydrate.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Buttermilk Cloverleaf Rolls

A sprinkle of herbes de Provence on top of the cloverleaf rolls

This is an everyday bread that doesn't take a whole day to make. It can be easily baked from start to finish in a bread machine, a recipe contributed by Lora Brody in Baking with Julia. I watched the PBS video clip where Brody and Julia Child demonstrated several shaping techniques: bread sticks, the cloverleaf and knot rolls. Looked like a fun project to shape the bread dough differently than the conventional ways. This post will join other bakers, along with their breads, at Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) this week.

Making bread can be so simple since very few ingredients are required. This recipe uses a few extra general pantry items. The bread rolls were made tender with powdered buttermilk and sweetened with maple syrup. The only change I've made to the recipe is swapping out half a cup or 17% of all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour to make these rolls slightly more wholesome. Whole wheat flour also adds flavor and texture in spades.

Since I don't have a bread machine, I adapted the recipe for the Kitchen Aid stand mixer using the dough attachment. I put in some extra kneading, with a few stretch-and-folds by hand to strengthen the dough, during the first 30 minutes into the first rise.

First and second rise took less than two hours in total. I garnished the cloverleaf rolls with herbes de Provence and others with black and white sesame seeds. After 15 minutes in the oven, I had these buttermilk rolls ready for the table.

I made the whole recipe, but saved half of the shaped rolls to be frozen for later use, as Brody has recommended. Like the idea of serving fresh dinner rolls on demand. Nothing can be more satisfying than having warm bread fresh from the oven.

Added some wholesome whole wheat flour to the dough

4-leaf clover for good luck?