Monday, May 30, 2016

Pan-Fried Snapper with Fennel and Salsa Verde

Putting food on the table shouldn't be a complicated decision. But I just happened to learn that buying the right fish to put on the table can be. Fishing worldwide has become increasingly industrialized. There was no red snappers at the farmers market, they never have, as I was told by the local fishermen, because they don't have the commercial license to catch red snappers. Mindlessly, I shopped around. I was able to purchase a piece of red snapper fillet at the local supermarket for this Curtis Stone's recipe. I must admit it was not my finest moment -- for making less informed choices. And on the wrong side of cooking and eating what's local and sustainable.

After some checking, this is what I've found. Red snappers have been fished too heavily, in the Gulf of Mexico, since the 1980s. They are currently below the level scientists have determined to be sustainable. There are quotas restricting commercial fishing activities in order to rebuild the stock of red snapper. I should have checked the consumer's guide to sustainable seafood choices published in the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch. Or stick with the striped bass as a safe choice for a pan-fried white fish. 

Well I managed to make this dish for dinner. The fish was OK. I was more excited about the heaps of vegetables and salsa verde. This is an Italian version of salsa verde made with herbs, capers, shallots, olive oil and lemon. All the herbs are from my garden: basil, parsley, rosemary. I added some chives in the mix. I can't resist cutting some; they are in full bloom.

I have adapted the Italian salsa verde to one with an Asian vibe; it has been very well received by friends and family. I add store-bought black bean chili sauce and some soy sauce with whatever herbs I have on hand. Ginger is optional. Substitute a small portion of olive oil with sesame oil. The rest of the ingredients (capers, shallots and lemon zest) stays unchanged. Voila! I serve this "Asian" salsa verde with whole steamed fish all the time.

If you feel like having a Mexican version of salsa verde. Use fresh tomatillos, white onion, garlic, serrano chilies and fresh cilantro. This dish would take on a whole different vibe! I have to think about the appropriate substitute for fennel, any suggestions!
The best thing I love about this Curtis Stone's recipe is the grilled lemon. Funny I said that. Curtis Stone describes in his cookbook What's for Dinner that French chefs often use trucs, or tricks, to heighten flavors without much effort. Grilling lemon halves caramelizes the sugars in the lemon juice and the heat noticeably intensifies the lemon flavor. The grill marks on the lemon halves created the visual interest on an otherwise all-beige plate of food. This is a trick I'd use over and over again to enhance and embellish simple protein dishes.

Imagine having a lemon tree for picking year round. I have to contend with my herb patch and what's it has given me -- liveliness and freshness on every dish, in addition to environmentally responsible local and seasonal eats, theme of the week at IHCC.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Spring Herbs and Preserved Lemon Focaccia - BBB

A tale of a focaccia bake: Day 1 (above), Day 2 same dough with overnight cold ferment (below)

This is spring, the best time of the year for a gardener, even a casual one. Everything springs to life with the vibrancy and urgency not seen in other seasons. When Cathy at Bread Experience, this month's hostess at #Breadbakingbabes, picked this spring focaccia recipe as the baking project for May, I felt the urgent call to make it. A bread symbolic of new growth, awakening the senses and the return of green.

Everything has lined up for me as the easy living of spring reckons. I have every single ingredient on hand ready to go: 00 flour, sprouted spelt, spring herbs, za'atar and preserved lemon. I haven't made focaccia for a while and the previous one I made left me wanting to go back to the drawing board. I also like the idea of making a thin crust focaccia and finishing up the 00 flour that has been forgotten for the longest time. What better flour to use than the sprouting spelt to celebrate the rite of spring?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Hazelnut and Spinach Pesto

If there is one thing I would change about this dish from Ottolenghi's NOPI, it is that I wish I have made a double portion. I served the soup to my family for dinner on a gray and rainy spring day. A warm creamy vegetable soup was just what we needed to perk us up. Our heads nodded in unison, agreeing that this artichoke soup was complex, with layers and layers of flavor. All were in favor of making a bigger batch, for us, or perhaps, for company sometime soon.

I often wonder how Ottolenghi repeatedly manages to make vegetables so sensational. What makes this artichoke soup a stand out?  I say it's the hazelnut and the spinach pesto, besides the wonderful fresh Jerusalem artichokes.

This is the first thing you do when you make the soup; and a step not to skip, for sure. Hazelnuts are roasted first and added to fresh spinach, tarragon, lemon zest, garlic and green chiles. Blitz that mixture with oil, vinegar and water. This pesto is a huge supporting star of the dish. I made a big batch for later use with meat dishes, soups and salads.

A small amount of the coarsely chopped roasted hazelnuts were set aside to sprinkle on top of the soup. I should have roasted more hazelnuts, served on the side to be added to the soup for anyone who wanted more. Let me tell you, no one can resist having more! The crunch of the nut gives the soup the desirable texture and elevates it by imparting a pleasant smoky and nutty flavor.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Jamie's Food Revolution Day: Blue Cheese & Pear Quiche

If I have a magic wand, I would like every plate of food put in front of me to be instantly transformed into a lighter, healthier, sustaining and guilt-free fare without compromising flavor. Since I have no magic power, I need to work harder; that involves adding, subtracting and substituting. Who would think adapting recipes is like doing math!

Today is Food Revolution day, and a special occasion for us as participants at CooktheBookFridays, to show our support for Jamie Oliver's cause, which is "feed the future" for 2016. (Jamie is advocating delicious nutritionally balanced recipes that can give anyone the confidence to cook healthy meals for themselves and their families, now and in the future.) We’re all cooking what's considered a “must know” starter French recipe: A quiche. It is a versatile vehicle that almost anything can go in. We made the ham, blue cheese and pear quiche from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. Thanks Mardi for coordinating and energizing our efforts. The recipe can be found here.

Please check the blogroll to see how each of us tackled the task. Most were singing the praises of the versatility of the quiche. We saw a file box of treasured quiche recipes going back many decades. We heard inspiring stories from bloggers reminiscing their experiences leading up to their own personal food revolution.

Here is how I approached the recipe. I added lovage. Parsley is called for in the recipe. My herb patch is overflowing with this beautiful bright green lovage that looks like giant parsley, but tastes like angelica, fennel and celery. Lovage is a perennial herb and have been growing rapidly in my garden since early spring. Meanwhile, parsley, which I planted next to lovage a few weeks ago, is still at its early phase of growth. So I ended up using both lovage and parsley, seasonal in our area and fresh from the garden, in the quiche filling.

I subtracted ham. My intention was to make a vegetarian quiche. There is plenty of flavor with layers of sweetness, from the pear, and saltiness, from the blue cheese. I don't think I am missing the ham. I could have gone further and left out the cream cheese in order to lighten the filling. Next time, if I make the quiche again.

I substituted ground nutmeg for freshly grated nutmeg. That's what I have in the pantry. Other than that, I followed the recipe as printed. No snags. Everything worked as expected. Forty-five minutes in a 350°F (convection) oven, the quiche was done. I do wonder though, whether caramelized onions would be a good substitute for shallots, in both flavor and convenience. The recipe uses six shallots. It took me a while to peel and slice all the shallots. The job would be easier if one big onion is used.

Lovage and parsley are the herbs used

This crust is easy to work with. The crust calls for 140g all-purpose flour, 55g (or 28% of total flour weight) cornmeal, one stick of butter and one large egg for a 9-10 inch pie. I've found it to be sturdier than most pie crusts. I guess, cornmeal is responsible for its firmer structure. The only negative is the coarseness of the cornmeal. There were more than a few bites in the crust that were unpleasant and jarring to the chewing and grinding motion in the mouth. Maybe the cornmeal I used, Bob's Red Mill stone ground 100% whole grain medium grind, is too coarsely ground for this purpose. Or the cornmeal should have been sieved. Minor details that could have made a big improvement in the enjoyment of this quiche.

I firmly support Jamie's Food Revolution and the current theme, "feed the future," and strive to renew and expand my commitment for healthful eating and cooking -- one recipe at a time.

Monday, May 16, 2016

French Toast with Microwave Brioche, Berry Sauce and Vegan Whip Cream

French toast is great for weekend breakfasts, especially with company. It takes more time to prepare but its elegant taste and look is making up for the extra time. There are more steps in making a French toast than a piece of toast, or oatmeal or smoothie for the morning wake-me-up. This french toast breakfast dish, especially, is more than a meal, it is a project. But it's a fun-filled and entertaining one as you turn your kitchen into what seems like a science lab. You line up all the equipments: Vitamix, whipping siphon, mixer, microwave, timer. Contrary to what you'd expect with most projects, this one takes very little time to materialize. Instant gratification, perhaps, for the most attention deficient among us.

We made french toast with brioche bread that came out from a whipping siphon and a microwave oven. (More about the microwave brioche can be found in an earlier post here.) That took 5-10 minutes, not hours that would normally require to bake the traditional brioche bread. For that reason, I don't want to make brioche the convectional way just to use it for French toast. More importantly, the butter content is usually 40-60% of flour weight in traditional brioche bread, way too rich for me. If you are not a baker, you would be pleased to showcase a brioche bread made with less time than it takes getting all the ingredients in place. No one would know, and I won't tell, that you did not labor in the kitchen for hours making the bread.

The red sauce was made with fresh berries and blitzed in a high-power blender to make it ultra smooth, no straining was necessary. The most unusual of all, we made non-dairy whip cream without the heavy cream.

The vegan cream came from a can of chickpea, whipped up in a mixer following a breakthrough approach that you're likely to hear more about in the future. It's a game changer. The cheat sheet below provides the details how to make it. The steps are straight forward. Quite incredibly, cloud-like, light and glossy white cream emerges from the beige soapy liquid that you normally throw out from a can of chickpea. However, don't expect it to taste like real cream. The vegan whip cream retains the beany taste and aroma. Visually, you may not be able to tell the difference.

It is so cool to watch the chickpea liquid whipping up to stiff peaks. I read about it in the New York Times article, "the chickpea takes on the egg," and learn about aquafaba, a liquid substitute for egg whites. A light bulb went off and I started my own experimentation. You might want to call this: chickpea whip cream, aquafaba cream or vegan whip.... Whatever it is, there is no denying, it works perfectly.

Food Revolution Day is coming this week on May 20th. It is a day for global action spearheaded by Jamie Oliver to engage and inspire people of all ages to learn about healthy food and how to cook it. The main goal is to get everyone everywhere to join Jamie’s revolution and to make a real difference to change our food system for the better.

This week at IHCC, we are making breakfasts. I adapted Curtis Stone's cinnamon french toast recipe and took a spin in a more healthful direction in support of Jamie's food revolution. All the elements of the cinnamon french toast were there: the berry red sauce, the brioche and the cinnamon sugar on top. I substituted the optional crème fraîche with the vegan whip cream. The final plate has less fat, less sugar and less calories, but high on the fun factor and the reward of discovery and community. The original recipe can be found here.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

NOPI's Burrata with Blood Orange, Coriander Seeds and Lavender Oil

This dish took my breath away: it's brilliant in color, ultimate in taste and spectacular in presentation. I stared at the dish for a very long time when I first saw it in Yotam Ottolenghi's latest book NOPI. If the dish were a person, I'd have felt totally embarrassed by my extended stare. (The picture in the book is so much better than my shots here.) We, participants at IHCC, are cooking along with Ottolenghi, the featured chef of the month. There will be other exciting Ottolenghi dishes there, please take a look.

NOPI has been awarded the 2016 winner by the James Beard Foundation in cooking from a professional point of view. I'm bringing this exquisite dish to help celebrate NOPI's exalted accomplishment. I have drawn inspirations, time and time again -- from meeting Ottolenghi and Scully while they were on the book tour in New York city, leafing through the book, to cooking a few of its recipes. Words are falling short on how NOPI and Ottolenghi's earlier books have made me a better cook and expanded my palate. Honestly, I won't be able to put together dishes like these without the help and instructions from the authors/chefs.

I can see these NOPI's dishes showing up on tasting menus in restaurants anywhere and getting rave reviews. What Ottolenghi and Scully put together in the book is pure genius. Some of these dishes may look complicated. They may not be your everyday dishes. But the majority of the recipes can fit on one page. Above all, they have succeeded in making restaurant-quality dishes accessible for the home cooks -- and without dumbing down.

These dishes are suitable for tasting menus anywhere

Here is my interpretation of a tasting menu based on various NOPI's recipes:

Burrata with blood orange, coriander seeds and lavender oil

Roasted eggplant with black garlic, pine nuts and basil

Red quinoa and watercress salad

Lobster, fennel and grilled grape salad

Quail with burnt miso butterscotch and pomegranate and walnut salsa

Semolina-lemon syrup cake

The burrata starter, according to Ottolenghi, is one of the hot selling items at NOPI (his high-end restaurant in London). I can understand why. Burrata is rich cream wrapped in mozzarella as an outer shell, like a ball. The cream oozes out as you cut open the mozzarella layer. There is nothing quite like it. It is second to none given its mellow, smooth and creamy goodness.

Burrata is getting easier to find these days. I've found burrata in the local farmer's market. But they sell out fast! With increased popularity, I've even spotted burrata on the shelves in Trader Joe's and Costco from time to time.

Burrata is usually paired with tomatoes, making it more of a summer dish when tomatoes are at their best. This can be found in an earlier post when I first discovered this remarkable cheese through -- guess who? Yes, the one and only Ottolenghi.... (He has introduced me to countless ingredients which have become indispensable in my pantry.) Little did I know that it also pairs well with blood oranges, which are generally available in the early spring.

I saved my last blood orange of the season for this dish. I'm so glad I did. A taste of the creamy burrata, a citrus spark from the blood orange, the sweet aroma of lavender and the pop of roasted coriander seeds put me in a very happy place. A place teeming with a heightened sense of awe, enthralled by the incredible flavor and texture of delectable food, as you take that first bite. You really have to try it.

There is no reason why we can't have a similarly delicious dish using other seasonal fruits when blood oranges are not available. Ottolenghi recommends white peaches, clementines, pink grapefruit, roasted red grapes, pickled pears and kohlrabi, or simply regular oranges. With so many good options, this awesome dish can be enjoyed year round.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tarte Tropézienne

Tarte Tropézienne, a popular cake in Saint-Tropez pastry shops, was described by Pierre Hermé to be mythique. At least that was how Dorie Greenspan recounted in her book Baking Chef Moi (the recipe can be found on page 82 or here at Food52). With that in mind, I set out to make this "fancy" cake along with other bakers at Tuesdays with Dorie this week. Please check the blogroll to see their creations.

Things went in a different direction than anticipated. While I was kneading the dough, before the butter was added, my Kitchen Aid mixer began to sputter. I steadied the machine. Wrapped a kitchen towel around the glass bowl while holding down the mixer to prevent it from slipping and skidding on the countertop. All of the sudden, the glass mixing bowl cracked and broke in pieces. I was reaching for all the wrong levers to stop the paddle from spinning. Meanwhile, fragments of the glass bowl, some big and some small, were shattered all round. You can see tiny shards of glass on the surface of dough, which was still hanging around the paddle attachment over the broken bowl. What a sight! (In retrospect, I should have switched to the dough hook, and not continuing to use the paddle for the task. I might have been able to avert the disaster. I should know better.)

Time to throw out the dough as well as the butter sitting next to the mixer. Time to clean out the debris on the kitchen counter and the floor from the carnage. Nothing can be salvaged. It was tedious to remove every teeny bit of broken glass in all the nooks and crannies. If I want to make the cake, it's time to do over and, calmly, gather the fresh ingredients (dry yeast, milk, all-purpose flour, sugar, eggs and butter) for another batch.

Then I discovered that the motor of the mixer had stopped running properly. The mixer was smoked. It was history. The strain of the extended kneading and 20+ years of continued service must have taken a toll on this poor classic Kitchen Aid mixer. If I still want to make the cake, the brioche dough would have to be done by hand. The task requires 15-18 minutes mixing time at medium speed in an electric mixer. Decision time: continue or abolish?

I took the plunge. I was not ready to surrender. I mixed the ingredients and kneaded the dough with all my might and grit. For a while, I thought it was a lost cause because the shaggy dough just wouldn't come together. The butter was melting. I put the dough in the refrigerator to chill so that it became more workable in my hands. When all else seemed to have failed, my biceps/triceps took over and came to my rescue. Watching the Kentucky Derby while kneading was also a helpful distraction. In fits and starts, the kneading continued, together with series of slap and roll. The finished brioche dough was smooth and nice to the touch when I was done with it. Finally, something was working well. All that had happened and the shattered nerves were kneaded tightly into this ball of dough, the size of a grapefruit.

The dough was left out at room temperature for the first rise until it doubled in volume. Then I put it in the refrigerator for a cold ferment overnight. Next morning, it was shaped and placed in a 9-inch round pan ready to be baked. That was uneventful.

No pearl sugar, used decorative sparkling sugar instead

The cake was finally done. I decorated it with some fresh raspberries around the edge of the pastry cream fillings between the cake layers. I served the tarte Tropézienne to a few guests for dinner on Mother's day. Not much was said about the cake. But there was nothing left of it. I think it's a good cake with a tall tale, mythical or not, waiting to be told.

A replacement Kitchen Aid mixer will arrive in a few days. I found some good deals online. I treated myself with an upgraded mixer, but no glass bowl, for Mother's day!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Salted Butter Caramel-Chocolate Mousse

This salted butter caramel-chocolate mousse is rich and decadent. You would surely expect that from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. I made half of the recipe. I lightened it up by substituting heavy cream, a major component of the mousse besides chocolate and the eggs, with half and half. It is a necessary adjustment since my stomach has been protesting vehemently to the rich food I attempted to cramp in there lately. The dessert is still rich and decadent, a bit on the heavy side. I don't think the flavor is at all compromised by putting in less fat. I enjoyed it and my stomach was cool about it!

I'm curious to find out how far I could go with the heavy cream substitution. Whole milk or even yogurt or a combination of both? Please feel free to weigh in on that.

The best part of the mousse, in my opinion, is the salt. I did not use salted butter as the recipe calls for; I only have unsalted butter. I'd sprinkle even more flaky fleur de sel on the mousse next time since the sweet and savory flavor is such a winning combination. Salty caramel has such an exquisite balance of taste. Meanwhile, my husband ate his chocolate mousse with a big heap of mixed berries on top. He really enjoyed it and licked his glass clean.

To see how other cookthebookfridays bakers approached this sweet recipe, please check the blogroll here. I also found a printable version of the recipe here.

Substituted heavy cream with half and half

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mango Pineapple Smoothie

Smoothies of any flavor, berries, tropical or greens, are among the best and easy eats that I like to make when I have fresh fruits on hand. It is healthy, convenient and fuel-on-the-go anytime during the day. Sometimes I like mine with some extra protein supplement added to it -- as a recovery drink after a hard workout.

The recipe comes from Curtis Stone. He recommends this mango pineapple smoothie, substituting the usual evening cocktail with a fruity mocktail. Or go all out, submit to the temptation and blend some golden rum into the smoothie mixture. It's freedom of choices: recovery drink, mocktail or cocktail. It's all good!

For more choices, go to IHCC where Curtis Stone's drinks in many flavors and for all occasions are featured this week.

This smoothie recipe calls for just a handful of ingredients: one ripe mango, a quarter of a fresh pineapple and one cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice. I did not have fresh pineapple, so I threw in some frozen pineapple chunks, together with two to three cups of ice cubes, in the Vitamix. (It took four oranges to extract one cup (8 oz) of juice. I should try whole-fruit juicing with the Vitamix next time to get more fiber and nutrients from the oranges instead of discarding all the pulp. Also save some time not to have to clean up the juice extractor.) A quick blitz. It's done, smoothly and effortlessly.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Chocolate Cherry Dessert Rolls

Inspired by Blue Hill's

Inspiration of this chocolate bread came from an unlikely source. We were celebrating a milestone birthday for my husband a week ago. I was lucky and thrilled to get a last-minute reservation at Dan Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I have tried to get a reservation there for years and sort of given up; it's almost impossible to get a table on weekends. It is the ultimate farm-to-table restaurant serving innovative sustainable food, even before the movement becomes mainstream. Most of the vegetables are grown on the four-seasons farm nearby at Pocantico Hills, founded by the Rockefeller family, outside of New York city. There is no menu. They serve a tasting (grazing) menu according to what's seasonal and available on the day.

The chocolate bread was served for dessert with a caramel sauce. We knew it was going to be a treat even before it landed on our table. The patrons in the next table were finishing their dessert when we started with our appetizers. They couldn't stop raving about how the bread was the best dessert they've ever had with such accolade and enthusiasm. You couldn't avoid not noticing the comment. We had high expectation for this bread.

We were not disappointed. I also packed one piece to try it at home the day after. The bread was truly amazing.

This is a dessert bread, as earthy and common as the daily bread, that can hold up against any desserts. It reminds me of the chocolate, cheese and petit fours served at some of the Michelin-starred establishments in France. This bread can be firmly placed in the wonderful spaces between dessert and cheese plates. It shouldn't be missed.

For my version (see the cheat sheet below for details), I put in a total 340g of this lovely 71% cacao Valrhona bittersweet chocolate (or more than 50% of flour weight), the bread has to be transforming and decadent. I should find some higher quality cherries to add to the mix.

Sourdough chocolate cherry rolls

My first attempt is to make a chocolate bread using a sourdough starter and chocolate three ways: chunks, melted and cocoa. This recipe is adapted from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. If you don't have a starter, there are steps outlined in the cheat sheet to make a preferment the night before.

Another way to approach this bread is to make it more like a quick bread, rather than artisan sourdough bread, with flours, such as rye and buckwheat, which give the bread a darker tone. My next project would be to make a version of the rye levain bread I made earlier, and substitute chocolate and cherries as add-ins, instead of caramelized onions. My head is filled with so many bread ideas, inspired by the one I ate at Blue Hill.