Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sweet Summer Salad

This is the start of restaurant week in New York city. It's a great opportunity to explore the diverse offering of international cuisines and to meet up with friends I haven't seen for a while. By the way, it's also the best buy in town. R and I went to The Dutch in Soho. We had ceviche, fresh peas and the most memorable summer salad, served with mustard greens, nectarine, goat cheese, chicken as the main course. We thoroughly cleaned up the plate, every last scrap of the greens, stone fruits and every drop of the salad dressing. Somehow, we didn't finish the chicken. (Everyone around us was ordering the fried chicken, the signature dish of the restaurant.) We peppered the waitress with so many questions and she was patient and helpful enough to go back to the kitchen to get us the answers. These are the tips as we can gather: the freshest greens daily from the Union Square market and the secret dressing.

I could never get enough of a glorious summer salad like this. The very next day, I set out to replicate its delicious goodness in my kitchen and to take advantage of the bountiful stone fruits and greens available locally. I also get some help from this recipe I found on Ottolenghi's website.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Chickpea & Swiss Chard Sauté with Greek Yogurt

Swiss chard is in season. I can't resist picking up a bunch when I see it in the farmers market; they are inexpensive and they have the easy sweetness that I like. Except that I don't really have a favorite way to cook it and elevate it to the next level. So I was looking for help and inspiration from Ottolenghi's cookbooks. When it comes to cooking vegetables and imparting unbelievable and brilliant flavors, he always seems to come through. Well, I have not been disappointed.

This recipe is so simple and quick. First, blanch the swiss chard, then refresh under cold running water. Next, sauté carrots and caraways seeds for a few minutes. Swiss chard and cooked chickpea are added after that. Finally, garlic, herbs and lemon juices go into the sauté pan. Remove from heat and that's all it takes. Like any sauté dishes, cooking time is brief. Food prep is where you spend most of your time.

Greek yogurt brings this vegetable dish together with some added creaminess. I see this as an everyday dish which would work well with a number of green-leaves vegetables. When chard is not in season, Ottolenghi recommends using a combination of spinach and arugula. That takes even less cooking time; no blanching is necessary with spinach and arugula.

It's IHCC's July potluck, please see what cool plates other home cooks are dishing up here.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Onion Bialys with Natural Levain - BBB

Bialys are the Polish cousins of bagels. I have never made or tasted a bialy before. How can I ever resist making them? This is BBB's (Bread Baking Babes) project of the month -- "babes bake bialys", hosted by Judy at Judy's Gross Eats. Bagels were what my daughter first craved when she went to college. Alas, not mom's cooking. Whenever she comes home, my husband would buy lox and several kinds of bagel: everything, sesame, onion, cinnamon raisin, pumpernickel bagels, for the breakfast spread. There won't be any leftovers; they'll be either consumed or taken back to school, for friends and roommates. Good bagels are hot commodities. She is such a bagel snob; she judges every city she visits by the quality of their bagels.

I've made bagels once or twice, never quite succeeded in comparison to the bagels from Bagel Spot, Bagels 4-U or Collegetown Bagel.... The list is long and competition is fierce. The bar is too high, so I stopped making them.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tomato Tart Goat Cheese Herb Salad

The fresh and sunny glow of summer tomatoes is fully echoed in this dish. I can't decide whether this is really a salad or a tart. More important, the taste is tomato forward, at its peak flavor and in its true essence. I love the concentrated flavor of slow-roasted tomatoes, showcased in this Curtis Stone's recipe. The administrators and friends at IHCC have the good taste and foresight to pick "you say tomato, I say tomahto" as the cooking theme in mid July. They are the best! Hands down.

The list of ingredients may seem long. However, the shopping list is quite short, for me, only two: tomatoes and goat cheese. Most of the herbs come from the garden. Mother nature provides the fresh picked greens: basil, thyme, rosemary, chives and parsley. I left out the chervil; the plant has perished. The rest of the ingredients are everyday items from the pantry. Even the pie dough came from leftover pastry dough scraps found in the refrigerator. No store-bought puff pastry is necessary.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Buckwheat Crêpes with Ham, Cheese and Egg

Buckwheat flour is one ingredient I love to use in breads, waffles and pancakes. Buckwheat has always been a favorite grain and lends an earthy flavor to many world's cuisine. Pasta and polenta in the Italian Alps and soba noodles in Japan. This week at Cook the Book Fridays, we are making buckwheat crêpe from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. I sing to the idea of making buckwheat crêpes, which I have not made before, and serve them with ham and cheese as a main course. However, it hadn't been smooth going for me. The crêpes I made from the first batch of batter was nothing short of a disaster.

I milled the buckwheat flour from scratch as I've always done by blitzing whole-grain buckwheat in a Vitamix blender. Combined all the ingredients according to Lebovitz's recipe. For some reasons, the crêpes fell apart in a thousand fissures. The batter was too thick for it to spread all the way around the pan to make a thin layer. I added water, maybe more than I should have, but the batter was too fragile to withstand flipping over to cook the other side. It was a total flop and a mess.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Summer Galette

Summer galette puts a smile on my face for the wide variety of juicy and delicious fruits I can use in it. This is the project at Tuesday with Dorie this month. You are welcome to join in for the fun.

The rustic look of the galette is appealing. It is easy to put together. No fitting is necessary. An open-face free-form galette is simple, easy to roll out and crisp and light to bake. It marks the easy pleasure of summer living. I like the idea of baking galettes using different summer fruits as often as I can.

This pie dough is not sweet and can be used for savory tarts as well as for desserts. A real winner. It is a versatile dough that I have used a few times before.

A pinch of salt, one to two tablespoons of sugar and one to one-and-a-half cups of all-purpose flour are mixed together first. Then cut in one stick of cold butter. Drizzle in few tablespoons of ice water until the dough comes together. Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper. Some resting time in the fridge is all it takes to get the galette dough ready for the fillings.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Wheat with Mint and Mango

The title of a summer entry, in Nigel Slater's Notes From the Larder, A Kitchen Diary with Recipes, "sorting the wheat," grabbed my attention and interest. The baker that I am feeds the indulgence in collecting all kinds of lesser-known wheat and grains. From time to time, it is imperative to clean out the pantry. I found a big bag of organic whole-grain cracked freekeh, ideal to make this Nigel Slater's salad with a mixture of seasonal vegetables and herbs. The recipe calls for cracked wheat. Cracked freekeh is one kind of wheat. Close enough. Nigel Slater is the featured chef this week at IHCC. Guess what other of his dishes are brought to the table by other home cooks? Please visit IHCC for details.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Preserved Apricots in Syrup

When there is abundance of fresh summer fruits around more than you can eat and you want to extend the peak-of-the-season fruits beyond the summer months, consider preserving them in a light syrup. The preserved apricots have a concentrated flavor. Incorporate them in a cooked compote or jam, or in your cake batters or galettes, the concentrated flavor of apricots could do wonder in elevating any dish.

Who can resist the sunny look of a jar of these preserved apricots? They look like a snapshot of a summer moment. The bright orange color of the apricots got some help from ascorbic acid, which is the scientific name for vitamin C that keeps vegetables and fruits from discoloration. Preserved apricots in syrup will last up to a year.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Grilled Harissa Rack of Lamb with Summer Succotash

We started really appreciating the gamey flavor of lamb after a trip to New Zealand years past. Lamb was on the menu everyday as we biked our way through the Southern Alps on the South Island. There are more lambs in this small, open and beautiful country than there are people. Reading the food labels more carefully, I learn that the supply of lamb here in the US comes mostly from Australia. Meanwhile, Curtis Stone, the featured chef at IHCC, got his inspiration for this dish from a trip to Morocco where harissa is a spice mixture used to flavor lamb. Combining the spice and the lamb juices season everything on the plate. Obviously, at this time of the year, I can't get enough of the local sweet corns. Inexpensive, succulent and sweet. There you have it: a perfect BBQ dish with the pulses of cuisine from around the world.

I only made half of the lamb recipe, since meat is not really my thing, although I enjoy eating it more than I'd admit. But I don't miss it.

Didn't fire up the outdoor grill this time. It takes too long to heat up the whole grill. I opted for the stove top with the trusty heavy-duty cast-iron grill and pans (the most used and functional cookware in my kitchen). Generally, I have a better feel and control grilling on the gas stove, without having to deal with the flare-ups. I doubled the amount of the summer succotash, the kind of food in which we don't hesitate to indulge.

What I love most about this recipe is the variety and combination of vegetables: green beans, corn and zucchini. In addition to the rack of lamb, there are two other ingredients: olive oil and harissa paste, without counting salt and pepper for seasoning. That's all she wrote. Uncomplicated, yet richly complex in flavor.

The flavor and smell was unbelievable. I had a difficult time keeping the bees and the flies from swarming to the meat when I tried to get a few shots outdoor. The lighting conditions were getting dim for indoor photography at dinnertime. You may sense haste in these picture; we wanted to get to the food first before the bees. Happy grilling!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Raw Vegetable Slaw with Creamy Garlic Dressing

Raw vegetable slaw is not something I gravitate to. Maybe I'm not a big fan of cabbage that makes up the majority of slaw salads. When I first saw the long list of ingredients in David Lebovitz's recipe in My Paris Kitchen we were supposed to make and blog this week at Cook the Book Fridays, I was bewildered. It was a relief after reading further that we could just pick a few of the vegetables on the list. The choice is extensive and exciting. Cabbage, radicchio, Belgian endive, carrots, beets, apples, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, fennel, kohlrabi, and avocados.

I like going to the local farmers markets and get the freshest seasonal produce I can find. Lately, I'm been getting a lot of kale, chard and beets. I picked up some kohlrabi last time. That would be the core ingredient for the slaw. 

It took a while to peel and cut the kohlrabi in matchsticks. I didn't mind that in the beginning, as an exercise to improve my knife skill, which needs improvement, to say the least. But it was getting to be a long and tedious job.

I added fennel, carrots and avocado, vegetables I always have around, to the slaw. I took out the mandolin to slice the fennel and rediscovered the julienne feature that I haven't used for so long that I've forgotten about it. I used that to cut up another kohlrabi. I have to tell you: that's the best way I've found to cut vegetables into matchstick slices, a neat trick for those who are chef-knife challenged. It was no chore at all to cut up perfect kohlrabi matchsticks with the mandolin slicer. It took very little time to do.