Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Black is the New Food: Black and Red Salad

Food dressed in black! There is nothing new about them. Forbidden or black rice is one of the ancient varieties. Then there are black beans, black sesame, blackberries, black garlic and mussels I've posted during the few months cooking with IHCC's featured chef and nutritionist Ellie Krieger. I'm glad I spent time exploring all these food in black.

But color is only skin deep. What's remarkable beyond the black patina is the pigment anthocyanin which is the real hero. Anthocyanins are found in red/purplish fruits and vegetables, including purple cabbage, beets, blueberries, cherries, raspberries and purple grapes. Anthocyanins have been linked to impressive health benefits: from anti-inflammatory properties to healthier arteries and better insulin regulation. I like the twist of adding more antioxidant rich food in my daily diet, if possible. A shift of color focus gets me there. Just look for food in darkish red/purple/black colors.

It is time to bid farewell to Ellie Krieger, our featured chef for the last six months at IHCC. I am finding another dish highlighting blackberries and black plums. Adding to the color black is the bold color red: beets and radicchio. The deep tone and flavor of the black and red ingredients make for a stunning and mouth-watering salad. The sweetness of the plum balances well with the pleasantly bitter beet greens and walnuts, and the creamy goat cheese.

The use of the whole beet in a single dish, beetroots and greens, is out of the ordinary. Chopped beet green ribbons add a different flavor and texture to the radicchio, my choice for the red leaf lettuce. Beets are grated with a box grater and eaten raw in this salad, similar to that using carrots. They give a fresher flavor than cooked beets. What a wonderful idea! (Shopping tips for beets: pick the ones with green leaves that are fresh and intact.)

Thanks, Ellie, for this and many delicious dishes with an eye on healthful and nutritious ingredients, black and red and otherwise.

black: berries & plums; red: beets & radicchio

This post will also be joinng our friends at Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Auberge Walnut Bread - BBB

I did not think I'd like this bread as much as I do. But who doesn't like surprises, especially the good kind? Thanks to Elizabeth (Blog from OUR kitchen), the host of this month baking project at Bread Baking Babes (BBB), for her excellent bread selection. The bread is based on recipes in Auberge of the Flowering Hearth by Roy Andries de Groot and The Italian Baker by Carol Field. Elizabeth's personal stories of finding inspiration among her in-law's cookbook collection added another layer of intrigue and relevance.

There is so much to like about this bread. Starting with superb ingredients. Walnut, one of my favorite nuts for baking, is added in the bread dough in two ways: in the flour (8%) and on the crust. Walnuts saturate the bread with a dark walnut color and delicate nutty flavor. Whole wheat flour is about 60% of the total flour weight relative to 40% of all-purpose flour. (I used white whole wheat flour which lightened the color of the bread. I should have used the regular kind, consistent with a darker tone of walnut.) Surprised so much whole grain flour can be packed into a single loaf. Yet, the outcome is a desirably light and airy bread with an open crumb structure. Most unexpected: the ginger and honey.

I amped up the amount of spices and honey, making the bread noticeably spice forward and flavorful. I might have deepened the flavor beyond what was intended in the original recipe. I used two and a half teaspoons of a spice mixture consisting of: ground anise seed, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. That worked out remarkably well. The bread resembles a mellower version of pain d´épices. It tasted medieval.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Root Vegetable Pies

pastry dough cut into rounds over the vegetables

Pot pies go back to the time of the Romans. In England, meat of all sorts, like chicken, beef or game from the hunt, are main ingredients in pot pies. This dish is an old-world classic, usually made together with potatoes, vegetables and cream. Recipes for pot pie abound, each seemingly a little different than the others. Ottolenghi's root vegetable pies recipe resonates with me: a spin on the old-fashion classic. I've found his recipe to be vegetables forward, no meat but tastes like there is, harmonious use of many spices (curry, caraway seeds, mustard seeds and cardamom) and remarkably comforting. Over the years, the recipes I've tried in his cookbooks always deliver and seldom disappoint, like a trusty old friend.

Lesser known facts about Ottolenghi are his pastry background and his training at Le Cordon Bleu. He was the pastry chef at Kensington Place restaurant in London before he opened the deli-style and high-end restaurants of his own. A few of his baked recipes are my favorites among favorites: apricot, walnut and levendar cake and membrillo and stilton quiche. I have never tasted anything so over-the-top delicious with the unusual mix of ingredients. A flavor bomb and sensory provoking.

pastry dough on the top only

Back to this recipe. I did not know there was another surprise in the making. This time it's the pie crust. There are only three ingredients involved: flour, butter and sour cream. Elegant in its simplicity, and the uncommon use of sour cream. I have committed the ingredient weights in memory. It is one of the easiest pastry dough to work with. Easy to roll out, even the second or third time. Extendable and no tearing. I had fun cutting out the pastry for different shaped tops: small rounds, big rounds, rectangles. It's light and flaky after baking. Making pastry dough has been my nemesis. An ongoing history of having it made and also failed. I struggle. This recipe is the best I've ever come across. A keeper for sure. There is nothing quite like it!

This dish is joining the IHCC's potluck gathering this week. There will be plenty of interesting and exciting dishes to gawk over!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Chocolate-centered Matcha Financiers

Matcha financier baked in muffin tin
I like matcha. I like financier. And I like white chocolate (the bonne idée). They go so well together with a cup of green tea in a leisurely Sunday afternoon. So I set out to make white chocolate-centered matcha financiers, a recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Chez Moi. Needless to say, I had high hope for them. I have made financiers a few times before, including gluten-free ones.

For some reasons, they didn't quite come together as I'd have liked. May be it's a matter of expectations. I have made and tasted much better matcha financiers before. What's off?

  • The batter could have been lighter. Some recipes call for whisking the egg whites to form soft peaks. That could have made a difference. I was cognizant of that. It was too late, though, to change the plan as I started stirring in the butter. The batter got heavier and heavier.
  • I missed the beurre noisette (the nutty brown butter) element in these cakes. The recipe calls for boiling the butter for 1 minutely only, but not until it gets brown.
  • The bonne idée suggests adding chunks of white chocolate in the center of the batter when filling the mold. A similar idea to the soft-centered chocolate teacup cakes. White chocolate is sweet. Adding them made the financiers excessively sweet, in spite of the effort in reducing the sugar amount from 200g to 170g. I should have known!
  • Dorie indicates that the batter is enough to make 20 to 30 mini-muffin size cakes. I got nine in the silicone financier mold, plus leftover batter for an extra one in the size of a standard muffin tin.

I must have an off day! My husband ate most of the financiers and reminded me, encouragingly, that the test kitchen approach of do-over should be my guide. Not sure whether I fully subscribe to that!
Other bakers at Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) who use the same recipe might have better luck than I do. Don't forget to check the blogroll at TWD to see how others have approached this recipe. Can't wait to compare notes.

Matcha financiers with white chocolate chunks

Friday, March 18, 2016

Belgian Beef Stew with Beer and Spice Bread

amber beer creates another layer of flavor

Beef stew is something I don't usually get too excited about. But the idea of using bread as a flavor enhancer and body builder for a stew is intriguing. This recipe, Belgian beef stew with beer and spice bread, comes from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. It's an exciting opportunity to cook through David's remake of French classics in the book, one recipe at a time, along with other home cooks at cookthebookfridays.

I started the honey-spice bread first. Of course, I can't just make a quick bread. I made a spice yeast bread. I also added more whole wheat flour (to 60% of total flour weight), making it a more wholesome loaf.

The aroma wafting through the kitchen was alluring. My husband stepped into the house. He immediately started asking what's smelling so amazing. He wanted to know each of the spices used in the bread dough. The splendid brouquet of warm spices of anise seed, cinnamon, all spice, ginger, nutmeg and clove was reminiscent of some mom-and-pop bakeries where all the bread loaves are made on premise. You step in and won't want to leave. The sweet scent of bread baking in the oven is most welcoming and unforgettable.

I adore this bread with its remarkable taste and a tender crumb. Honey, the other standout ingredient imparts a sweet balance to the assertive flavor of the spices. Using a lighter honey and leavening with yeast (coupled with hour-long fermentation) makes this bread less dense than David's version. This bread is a true keeper and stands on its own.

There is more; let's not forget the beef stew. In my opinion, adding beer and spice bread is a stroke of genius, making this an outstanding dish, even in the spring (in the Northeast), when beef stew is not among the seasonal favorites. There are so many pleasing and comforting layers of flavors with this stew. The beef chuck is an inexpensive cut of meat. It was elevated and, ultimately, transformed, after several hours of gentle simmer in the Dutch oven, into a flavorful, tender and heart-warming roast.

to the assertive flavor of the warm spices
honey imparts a sweet balance

Monday, March 14, 2016

Savory Danish with Brie and Mixed Greens

Melted brie crisp on the bottom is a real treat

The idea of a savory danish is tempting. The recipe is adapted from the veggie danish recipe found on the online site Weekend Bakery, through Avid Bakers Challenge (ABC), which I've participated from time to time. I bake on weekends, weekdays and odd hours. It's more of an obsession. For this recipe, I only made half of it. (See the cheat sheet below for details.) This recipe provides ingredients in weight which makes it very user-friendly to scale, halve or double the recipe amount. When it comes to bread baking, I like to measure the ingredients with accuracy. Another obsession?

Putting a requisite guilt-reducing, healthful spin on the danish, I used a mix of 20% sprouted spelt flour and 80% bread flour, in the final dough. I use spelt flour often as a whole grain option. Sprouted spelt tends to add a slight sweetness, which I adore. It serves as a counterpoint in a savory dough. Just what I needed in this recipe. Don't think I can add more sprouted spelt flour without reworking the entire recipe.

Sprouted flour is a new territory in many ways. These days they are much easier to find; many whole food markets carry them. The biggest benefits of using sprouted flours have to do with flavor and nutrition. Sprouting softens the bran of the wheat grain, reduces its phytic acid and renders it less bitter. Sprouting also makes the grain easier to digest. The natural sweetness and tenderness of the sprouted spelt obviates the need to add sweeteners or oils to whole-wheat doughs. There is no sugar in this recipe; that's fine. Don't know whether I should lower the amount of olive oil in it? Something to experiment with. (Try 20gm in stead of 23 gm/25 ml of olive oil in a half recipe next time.) The dough felt stiff and may have benefited from a little more water.

For the vegetable fillings: I went for brie, homemade white peach chutney and mixed greens of chard, kale and spinach. Sprinkled some fresh thyme on top. Things that I love to eat with bread and crackers. These fillings combine to produce an unusual and delightful sweet and savory note to the danish.

Anything goes here with this savory danish. Feel free to experiment with the fillings. The combination with mozzarella and tomatoes is a popular one. You may also experiment with other cheeses, sun dried tomatoes and different kinds of greens, herbs and seasoning. Olives, mushrooms, garlic, peppers, artichokes are choices suggested by Weekend Bakery. Really, anything you love to put on a pizza or focaccia would do. You can't go wrong.

Please check the blogroll at ABC to see what other interesting savory danish options are offered. The range of options may surprise you.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Pan-Seared Shrimp with Green Chile Adobo

Rick Bayless says that the marriage of green chile and cilantro is iconic in the Mexican kitchen. So I made the green chile adobo, a kind of Mexican pesto, which offers a way to preserve fresh herb flavor and add depth and interest to everyday dishes. Key ingredients include roasted garlic and serrano chiles, parsley, cilantro and lots of olive oil. All blended together in a blender or food processor. See the cheat sheet below for details.

Once you have this beautiful Mexican saucy flavoring on hand, the possibilities are limitless. Toss it with pasta. Mix with eggs. Smear over roasted vegetables. Drizzle on dips. Saute with seafood. I made this adobo a few weeks ago. Surprised how it stays vibrant, green and flavorful for so long.

I added this herby and spicy green chile adobo to shrimps and caramelized onions for a delectable main course. That took me only minutes from start to finish. Caramelized the onions took six to seven minutes under medium heat in a large cast iron skillet. Then the onions were set aside. Using the same skillet, I heated two tablespoons of vegetable oil until the pan was sizzling hot. Tossed in the shrimps that I dried thoroughly. They were browned in less than two minutes under high heat. (I used one pound of 31-40 per pound raw shrimps in two batches.) Off the heat, the onions and dollops of green chile adobo mixture were stirred into the shrimps. Done!

Rich Bayless cooked all the onions and shrimps together for about 5 to 6 minutes in a large skillet in one full scoop. I took a more conservative approach and cooked them separately, so that the onions were nicely caramelized and the shrimps were richly browned.

In his book More Mexican Everyday, Rick Bayless wrote about simple ways to create dynamic flavor. His short cuts call for making one of these flavor-packed adobos and sauces that you'd always want to have in the refrigerator, ready to be deployed anytime. He features them as his secret weapons. I'm looking forward to try my hands on the other secret weapons I haven't tried yet: a marinade-like red chile adobo, a slow-roasted garlic mojo and a smoky sweet-sour dark chipotle seasoning. Yum!

In Mexican cooking, the flavorings have a lot to do with the adobos, as I've uncovered here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Blood Orange Cake

This recipe is adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Odile's fresh orange cake in Baking with Chez Moi. Like all things in life, there are so many ways to get to the endpoint. Skinning a cat (metaphorically speaking) or baking a cake, the task at hand. Instead of poaching sliced orange, as Dorie has suggested, I used sliced whole blood oranges, including the peel.

I had a problem. I only had two blood oranges and several Cara Cara oranges. The blood oranges fell apart when I attempted to cut them crosswise for poaching. I love the color of the blood oranges and wanted to get as much out of them as I could. So I had to quickly devise a plan B. In the end, the cake turned into a candied blood orange cake instead of Odile's version as I set out to do.

Sliced blood oranges were simmered in syrup (by boiling granulated sugar and water in equal amount in a saucepan) until the orange peel became soft and translucent. The orange peels taste more like candied than poached fruit. Believe it or not, the skin of the orange developed into something quite transcending. Sweet and tangy, and with a soft bite. The after taste lingered. I went for a second piece of cake.

The idea of using the whole orange was not new. I borrowed it. The original idea came from Claudia Roden's orange and almond cake. A whole orange is cooked for two hours, seeded and pureed. Then the orange puree goes into the cake batter. The result is one of the most moist and deeply flavored orange cakes I've ever eaten. You'll never forget the experience how you put pureed whole oranges, peel and pith and all, in a cake. Radical, different with unexpected results. And it works.

Odile's orange cake batter is similar to a classic pound cake formula: equal weight in flour, sugar, butter and egg. Sugar (with orange zest from one Cara Cara) and butter (one stick) were creamed together until smooth. Then eggs were beaten into the batter. Juice from one orange (Cara Cara) and all the dry ingredients (flour, salt and baking powder) were incorporated last.

I put the batter in a parchment lined 9-inch pan and baked it for 20 minutes in a 350°F oven. The candied blood orange slices were arranged on top of the cake. Brushed them with some orange syrup for the final finishing touch. An eye-candy of a cake too beautiful to eat! But someone has to do it.

Candied blood orange slice has a sweet, tangy and soft bite

Home bakers at Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) are making Odile's fresh orange cake this week. Please go to the blogroll to see what other bakers have whipped up. You'll always find some interesting surprises.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Herbed Bulgur-Lentil Pilaf

Bulgur is often used as a base for salads, tabbouleh and pilafs. For lentils, I used petite French green lentil. These dark green, lightly dappled lentils are prized for their peppery flavor. Unlike other kinds of lentils, these have a firm texture even after cooking. I couldn't get over how well they cooked. There are so many times my lentils turn mushy; I'm trying to avoid that here. Lentils also help provide a large measure of the daily protein for vegetarians. Together with bulgar, they add crunch and heft to the pilaf. The combination of whole-grain bulgur and lentil makes for a hearty and nutritious side. This may not be a chef dish. Let me tell you, dishes like these will invariably take up a special place on our table.

When it comes to pilaf, rice pilaf is the most popular. There are many versions of pilaf throughout the world. Food historians often date pilafs back as far as about the 5th century BCE, and likely first occurring in the Middle East. Some credit the Persian Empire with the dish’s creation. Numerous dishes have taken off from the earlier pilaf. Jambalaya and paella are variants. Fried rice in Asian cuisines is somewhat similar. Risotto is another dish that can be directly tied to it.

Rice and lentil are two key ingredients often cooked together in dishes like khichdi in India. Less common is combining whole grain, such as bulgur or farro, and lentil in a pilaf. They work, as this recipe has shown.

In the "new world," ancient grains and heritage beans are new and fresh again. More dishes using ancient grains can be found at IHCC this week. It's exciting to have the opportunity to explore dishes far and wide, with an amazing array of grains and pulses at our disposal.

whole-grain bulgur and French green lentil
Pilaf: bulgar, green lentil, yellow pepper, red onion, chive and herbs

One fairly constant aspect of pilaf is that the grain is seasoned by cooking it in broth, with various spices and vegetables added. Usually, any liquids are cooked down or sometimes drained if liquid remains after the grain is fully cooked. This recipe follows the traditional cooking technique. Prior to serving, fresh herbs, lemon zest and lemon juice are added. This is surely a delicious updated version of the traditional pilaf. I sprinkled in some fresh and fragrant Thai basil, parsley and chive to round up the global flavor of the dish. Adding some heat with fresh green chillies is an appealing option I will explore next time around.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Braid-and-Wheat-Stalk Pain de Campagne

wheat stalk
braid around the oval loaf

This is a sad looking pain de campagne despite my best efforts. Worst bread I've ever made; I don't know why and I did not see it coming. I used my good old starter (100% hydration levain using all-purpose and whole-wheat flour in equal weights) which was active and always reliable. (I use this starter weekly to bake breads of all flavors and ingredients, mostly the Tartine-style wholesome country loaves.) I did not follow Joe Ortiz's refreshment schedule in Baking with Julia to make the sponge over a span of three days. Other than that, I followed the rest of the recipe closely. I figured this: I don't have to wait four whole days and get "a loaf as flat as a pizza." I was willing to give it one day for the experiment.

I don't usually make white bread like this. My rationale for making this bread is to get my hands on shaping the braids and the wheat stalks. Shaping sticky bread dough (70% hydration) into delicate braids and wheat stalks are not all that easy or pretty. But I persevered.

If I have to pinpoint the culprit of this unintended flat bread, the problem could have been the oven temperature. 400°F to 425°F is too low, in my opinion. (The usual temperature for levain breads is at least 460°F.) There was no oven spring to speak of as the dough hit the oven. By all measures, the final dough was properly fermented and passed the dimple test before it went into the oven.

Well, another bread, another day! I won't be making this bread again. Other bakers at Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) may have better results. Don't forget to check out the blogroll there.

soft crumb but hard crust