Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Red, White and Blue Pudding for July 4

July 4th is right around the corner. I need to come up with a dessert to bring to a celebration party far away from home. So it has to be a make ahead dessert that travels well. I was in the middle of making Dorie's rice pudding, strawberries and spiced hibiscus syrup, chosen this week at Tuesday with Dorie, as we bake through her book, Baking Chez Moi. There was a lot of idle time (30 to 40 minutes) when I just stood next to the stove and stirred in the pot waiting for the simmering rice to thicken to the proper consistency. The idea came to me, out of the blue, that I could easily adapt this rice pudding into an appropriate festive dessert for the party. Substitute blueberries for strawberries, I'd have all the right colors. The red from the hibiscus syrup, the white from the rice and the blue from the blueberries. Just perfect for the occasion.

I like the plan.

The jewel-red color of the syrup comes from steeping dried hibiscus flowers. Can't really taste anything much from the dry flowers. Something happened. Adding the warm spice of cardamom, handful of bruised peppercorns, a strip of orange peel and the finishing squeezes of lemon juice to the syrup transformed what's reputedly a homey rice pudding into something quite elegant and sensational.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Semolina-lemon Syrup Cakes

These extra moist lemon cakes came about from Yotam Ottolenghi and his team cooking their way through the dessert recipes for his new book, yet to be published.

According to the article in the April issue of Bon Appetit, Cook Like a Pro, these cakes started out in a loaf tin, then ended up in the muffin-pan zone. Yotam Ottolenghi liked the version with the lemon slices on top. Others on his team disagreed. The Bon Appetit's recipe came without the lemon slices. I added them back so that they clearly looked like lemon cakes. I was baking and serving an orange cake at the same time for company. It was an all citrus dessert ensemble and didn't want to confuse my guests as to which was which.

I have served the orange cake several times and it has proven to be a consistent crowd pleaser. But this lemon cake recipe was sort of untested, other than the reputation of the chef who created it. What better time to put these lemon cakes up for direct tasting comparison?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Green Papaya Salad with Mint and Chile

The diversity and profusion of summer fruits make it hard to decide which kind of fruits to pick for this week's theme dish at IHCC. A small but good problem to have. Having myriad of choices in the stores can be very exciting. An abundant supply in a competitive marketplace makes for friendly consumer prices for seasonal fruits. I'm taking full advantage of it by making a lot of fresh salads and smoothies while preserving what remains.

Berries, stone fruits, or tropical fruits? I chose green papaya because it is one fruit that I've not used in my cooking. I've wanted to make a green papaya salad for quite a while but have had a difficult time getting the right ingredient. I thought green means unripe papaya and found two kinds were available on the shelves. Can't tell the difference since they both looked green outside. Unripe papaya has a greenish flesh whether they are the red- or yellow-flesh variety.

Green papaya can be cooked and added into stir fries, stews, or curries. It has a texture similar to that of squash. Although it can also be eaten fresh, green papaya does not have the sweetness and texture as ripened papaya, making it appropriate for savory applications.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

100% Whole-Wheat Walnut Sourdough Bread - BBB

all-whole-wheat b√Ętard and pan loaf that you want to eat

This bread pushes the limit. I have never baked 100% whole-wheat bread. The fear of producing a dense and brick-like bread that no one wants to eat is hard to ignore. I don't like eating all whole wheat bread either; it tastes bland, uninviting and coarse. But the host of this month's project, Notitie van Lien, at Bread Baking Babes (BBB) is putting us to the task. She pushes further, in making a healthy bread, by doubling down on the unfavorable characteristic of 100% whole wheat bread, the coarseness of it, by adding more bran. Seriously? Thank You, Lien, for the challenge.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Butterflied Chicken - Poulet Crapaudine

What I like most about making this butterflied chicken from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen, the project at Cook the Book Fridays this week, is the ease of serving it. He calls it chicken lady chicken. The recipe can be found here.

I chose a small organic chicken of about 2 1/2 lb, got even smaller after removing the back bone and cooking the bird. It yielded two servings. Three may be a stretch, especially if this was the only main course. I served it with a romaine salad for a weekday dinner.

Cutting up a small and flattened bird is as easy as carving a piece of steak once the backbone has been removed. Cooking and serving a chicken whole has a lot of appeal: it's economical, flavorful and wholesome. (The backbone and the innards went into the stockpot to make the chicken stock.) Besides it looks great on the plate. The smell wafting through the kitchen evoked the comfort of home and hearth when the chicken was cooking.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Le Fraisier

Another fancy cake from Dorie Greenspan's Baking Chez Moi (page 103) is a challenge I can't resist. Le Fraisier is the French cake that celebrates the fruit. This is a good looking cake, not unlike the tarte Tropezienne we made a few weeks ago at Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD). Fancy cakes turn heads and draw your attention. I can see why special occasions call for fanciful cakes. This is what bakers at TWD are making this week. I should know how to make one, I tell myself, even though I don't make cakes like these ever.

Since I don't have the rose syrup or the extract, my fraisier would just have to be a plain Jane version.

The recipe makes a 9-inch layered yogurt cake. I split the batter and made two mini cakes. I can always give away one of them so I don't end up eating all of them. Instead of putting more whipped cream on top, like what Dorie did, I took a minimalist approach. I decorated the cakes with a single sliced strawberry and some mini meringue cookies on top. I did follow Dorie recipe and made a glaze with jelly; I used peach and brushed it lightly on the top cake layer.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Tuna Ceviche with Coconut and Soy

Am I the only one who has somehow stayed away from serving seafood raw? Don't get me wrong, I love eating sushi in Japanese restaurants. And these days, most supermarkets have a sushi counter where packaged raw, or mostly raw, seafood are sold in volume. I have purchased my fair share of these pre-packaged sushi and sashimi.

Try to think about it, all I need is a little nudge from someone, who is in the know, to get me out of my comfort zone. Some hand holding of sorts, to help get me over the hump. I've found that in Curtis Stone, IHCC's current featured chef.

Sushi-grade tuna is available at the local farmers' market. According to the fishermen, their catch comes from miles off the Atlantic coast and the tuna is not previously frozen. Hurray! The tuna I got was gleaming with freshness and succulence. I figured how badly can I possibly screw up getting to the finished plate as long as I left the tuna alone, more or less. In this case, less is more?

I took a leap of faith. Saw this ceviche recipe which seems to be doing the least but delivers the true flavor of the sea. I found the recipe in one of the "Take Home Chef" episodes where Curtis Stone sneaked up on a shopper (mostly a woman) at a grocery store and asked her to take him home. The deal was he would prepare a delicious meal for her and her family. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Black Sourdough Rye Bread with Chocolate and Cherry

Inspiration for this bread came from the dark chocolate bread I had at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I made the chocolate cherry rolls in my first attempt. I want to bake a darker, crustier levain bread. Jeffrey Hamelman's black bread is yet another attempt along this journey to make a deeply flavorful, black and chocolaty bread that you can serve as a dessert bread without adding any sweetener in the dough.

The black bread dough stands out in several ways: 60% in rye flour, an old-bread soaker and ground coffee. Besides, Hamelman named it the black bread in his book Bread. I set out to bake the darkest black bread!

First, the sourdough is made with mature sourdough culture and medium rye flour. That takes between 14-16 hours for the sourdough to ripen. Meanwhile, make the old-bread soaker by combining old bread (with the crust), ground coffee, vegetable oil and hot water. The final dough is mixed by combining the sourdough, all of the soaker, rye flour, bread flour, salt and yeast in a stand mixer. No water is needed. All the water comes from the sourdough and the soaker. (One change I've made to the original recipe: I folded in the chocolate chips and dried cherries at 15 minutes into bulk fermentation.) The high percentage of rye flour and the addition of commercial yeast shortens bulk fermentation to 30-45 minutes. This is very fast in the world of dough development. The final fermentation takes another hour. I almost couldn't believe the loaves are ready for baking within two hours after the dough is mixed.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Hummus and Kale on Baked Sweet Potatoes

Baked potatoes are the perfect vehicles for hummus and kale, the two ingredients that I need to cook more, use more and improve upon. After reading "How to make hummus: kitchen notes from a chickpea pedant," to settle the debate on what should be included in a hummus recipe, I was inspired and made a big batch of hummus following this Ottolenghi's formula. This basic hummus is essential to my living pantry.

Meanwhile, fresh kale from the farmers' market looks so fantastic, green and ravishing, I want to put it in every dish I make. Smooth homemade hummus together with the fresh kale sealed the deal for me to make this Donna Hay dish, bringing everything together, in the week when Hay is the featured chef at IHCC. This dish highlights perfectly the signature style of Donna Hay: contemporary, simple yet sophisticated.

Baked sweet potatoes are easy enough to do. Even with dried chickpea, a big bowl of hummus can be simply put together without much fuss. Just give it some time to simmer until tender. Then there is the sweet caramelized onion that "makes everything taste better," according to my husband. The most tricky part of the dish is the crispy kale which requires tossing with salt, pepper and olive oil and then baking in a 400°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes. The margin for error is rather small. It takes me two trials to get the crispy texture I wanted, through and through. I believe the key is to get very fresh kale. Anything less than the freshest kale makes for an unevenly browned and chewy, instead of light and crunchy, kale chips after about a 10-minute bake. Stand by and watch carefully during the last few minutes in the oven. Kale chips, done right, can be addictive.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Fattoush: Romaine Salad with Herbs and Sumac

This is fattoush without the fatteh, the Arabic word for shards of toasted pita bread, which give this salad its name. I substituted pita chips with home-made sourdough crackers. I did sprinkle a good amount of sumac for garnish in order to maintain the salad's Middle Eastern identity. (Ground sumac is a versatile and essential spice in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. It has a tangy lemony flavor, although more balanced and less tart than lemon juice and milder and less acidic than vinegar.) At this time of the year, when the young tender herbs are ravishing, I'm never tired of using and eating herbs in a salad. This salad came from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen, the recipe of the week at Cook the Book Fridays, a wonderful community of bloggers who come together and compare notes as we work through David's cookbook.

This may be a simple salad to make, but it took me three takes to get it right. Took pictures of the first plate in the early evening when lighting was soft and I was able to get some great shots.

Moments after I put down the camera, I realized that I forgot to sprinkle sumac on top of the salad. So back to the drawing board and worked the camera again for more pictures. The sun was setting and the lighting conditions had dimmed somewhat. Then we proceeded to have dinner and easily finished the big bowl of salad I made. My husband liked the spice but he could not identify what it was. He loved the smoky and fruity flavor of sumac. It was not until after dinner, coming from nowhere, it came to my mind that I did not put pita chips in the salad. Not again, another forgotten ingredient!

First take: No sumac, no toasted chips

I made the salad again for lunch the next day and this time with the sourdough chips I made a few days ago. They were fantastic, crispy and crunchy. Perfect as a toasted pita bread substitute. The reality is: I don't usually buy bread, ever since I started baking them at home -- from scratch and with a natural sourdough starter. There are always unused starter (a mixture of flour, water and yeast) that I discard whenever I refresh and make new levain. Instead of throwing them out, jars and jars of old starter sit in the fridge waiting to be repurposed. One typical use is to make sourdough crackers. To make a long story short, buying pita bread for this recipe is out of the question. I have to take advantage of whatever kind of bread I have available.

For this salad, I skipped the radishes. I did not spot any good ones at the store. I got some farm-fresh spring onions at the farmers market; they are in season. Parsley, mint, chervil, chives are all in plentiful supply in my garden. Torn pieces of these herbs went into the salad together with the rest of the ingredients: romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes and cucumber. I put a light drizzle of dressing on top, made with lemon juice, salt, garlic, Dijon mustard and olive oil. This salad is delicious with beautiful bright flavors!

Second take: No pita chips