Monday, August 29, 2016

Figs with Basil, Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Fresh figs are available in the summer, but just for a brief few weeks. When I see them in the market, I can't resist getting a few boxes of them. Take them home and then figure out what I want to do with them. More often than not, I'd end up eating most of them fresh by themselves.

This salad from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi is hard to beat, combining the incredible sweetness of the figs and the creaminess of young goat cheese. This is a meal by itself, making figs the key player. Think Mediterranean: figs, goat cheese and pomegranate. That's the essence of the dish. I've made this salad several times already after I discovered the recipe. The purple and green basil plants in my backyard are still going strong in mid-August, perfect to add some color, texture and aroma to a summer salad. Some greens, any greens, for that matter, plus a straight forward pomegranate vinaigrette, is a recipe for keeps for figs lovers.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Beignets & "Brionuts" - Variations on Tartine Brioche, BBB

My fondness for the brioche bread, a buttery enriched bread with the morning latte, led me to the search for a brioche dough. I found it in the reliable and versatile dough leavened by an overnight poolish and a young natural leaven from Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. That has led me to the Tartine olive oil brioche, which has no butter in it and uses a lighter and healthier alternative to butter. Many variations later: brioche tart, tarte Tropépienne, Brie in brioche and bostock, I thought I have explored and exhausted all manners of using the brioche dough. When Elle at Bread Baking Babes suggested beignets, which I have not made before, and Elizabeth, also at Bread Baking Babes, mentioned the Tartine beignets, by deep frying the brioche dough, I am in.

I made the brioche dough with olive oil. (See the cheat sheet below for details.) For some reasons, the dough was extremely sticky even after freezing and chilling. I guess the warm summer kitchen makes it more challenging for the dough to absorb all the butter or olive oil (45% of flour weight). Stretching and shaping the dough into a cylinder and cutting them into pieces of beignets is almost impossible without dusting the dough with lots of flour. In the end, they came together in the frying pan, although they didn't take on a uniform and pretty shape as I'd have liked.

I made the maple pecans and the lemon glaze to garnish the beignets. Highly recommended. They added sweet and tart and bright flavor to the otherwise rather plain beignets. (The recipe can be found in the cheat sheet below.) These beignets were addictive: spongy and soft inside, with a lemony, thin crust outside. The chopped pecans enhanced the crunchiness, even on the next day. I had a few of these delicious beignets in a roll, unable to stop eating.

One idea suddenly dawned on me as I was taking a bite: "This tastes like the cronut."

Monday, August 22, 2016

Peaches with Melted Bûcheron

The project at hand is to make a 30-minute express meal. (See IHCC for details.) The clock is ticking. Time is a blur. I wonder how our shortened attention span has shortchanged our way of life.

Prep time for a simple salad can take up precious minutes. Thirty minutes cooking in the microwave seems like eternity. That's for leftovers. Thirty minutes in a slow cooker is a different game; you are hardly getting to first base. What does a thirty-minute express dish entail? I went with the broiler for an instant treat. (A blow torch would work equally well.) I am making grilled peach with Bûcheron. It's quick.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Cherry Tomato Crostini with Vermont Sourdough & Herbed Cheese

Tomatoes are here, in all their glory. Big and small. Red and green. Round and sphere. Perfect time to be making something and everything I can think of to relish the visceral sunny experience of biting into a juicy, warm and ripe tomato. This David Lebovitz recipe of cherry tomato crostini and homemade goat cheese echoes the rhythm and sight of what has been happening lately in my kitchen this summer. Loaves of sourdough bread on the cooling racks. Herbs freshly cut to be sprinkled on or incorporated in pesto and sauces. Tomatoes from the farmers' market on the kitchen counter. Once these seemingly disparate food are assembled in a full complement of one coherent dish, there are no words. Only smiles and ahs!

This is not the first time I roast cherry tomatoes in the oven, except I usually spread out the tomatoes on a sheet pan. This time I roasted them in a baking dish that held the cherry tomatoes in a snug single layer, following closely David's directions. Combining the cherry tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, thyme and rosemary, I baked them for close to an hour, 10-15 minutes longer than the 45 minutes, in a 350°F oven, called for in the recipe, until the juices started to concentrate and brown in the bottom of the dish. The end result was some delectable juice (you don't get that from a shallow baking sheet) that was used to spoon over the toasts. The obvious star of the dish, the cherry tomatoes, were juicy with concentrated, sweet and unctuous flavor.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Labneh with Olives, Pistachios and Oregano

For quite a while, I have been intrigued about turning yogurt into a luxurious Middle Eastern cheese like labneh. In mediterranean restaurants, labneh is served as an appetizer and dessert. They are wonderful in both savory and sweet applications. Put the labneh out on the table with some crackers or bread, and watch it disappear. I decided it's time to make my own labneh.

There is no cooking involved, just chilling and waiting. That doesn't mean it's a quick dish. It does requires some planning and start straining the yogurt the day before. But the actual hands-on time is rather brief. It's a straightforward and mouth-watering recipe I've found on the Ottolenghi website. I have more labneh straining in the refrigerator as I'm writing this post.

Instead of black olives, I used a medley of green and red olives. The herbaceous goodness comes from fresh oregano, parsley, lemon zest and garlic. As the name of the dish implies, two of my favorite nuts, toasted pistachio and pine nuts, are piled high on top to give the labneh some crunchy texture. A few red pepper flakes round out well the creaminess of the cheese and the salty and nutty ingredients. Ottolenghi recommends serving this with chunks of fresh tomatoes mixed in with slices of red onion. There you have it: a complete no-cook dish without any use of heat and fire. Just a sensible and cool way to tackle the intense and unrelenting heat wave this week.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Beans & Kale with Anchovy & Rosemary Sauce

Diana Henry is the monthly featured chef at IHCC. I got some tender and deep green kale from the farmers market the other day. This Diana Henry's recipe, found on her website, seems to fit the bill: a hearty meaty dish, with or without the meat.

This recipe uses fresh borlotti beans, which are impossible to find around here. I did see some dry ones at Eataly in New York City, but with a steep price. So I substituted the prized borlotti beans with their close relative, cranberry beans. They are beautiful looking beans with distinctive crimson streaks on them. The streaks fade as the beans are cooked. But they become mildly sweet, liken to the taste of chestnuts.

What stands out the most in the dish is the anchovy and rosemary sauce. It may not look as appealing as it tastes. You can always count on anchovy delivering that funky umami flavor. Together with fresh rosemary and a squeeze of lemon juice, this sauce is hitting all the different taste notes.

I used one can of anchovies in olive oil. Strained out the oil. Added one teaspoon of fresh rosemary, juice of half a lemon and about two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Crushed them to a paste with a mortar. Seasoned with some salt and pepper. Don't judge a sauce by its color: it's a nondescript gray. This sauce really makes the dish sing, scream or exult, whichever echos your sensibility. It is a keeper, for sure.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Philadelphia Blueberry-Corn Tart

Who could have thought of using blueberries and corn with the iconic Philadelphia cream cheese to make a cool summer tart like this? I have never put fresh corn in tarts, or any desserts, for that matter. This recipe highlights the bounty of farmers market ingredients from the talented Dorie Greenspan in Baking Chez Moi. This tart is a bit out of the ordinary, combining fruits and vegetables, the mix of "cooked and fresh, smooth and chunky, soft and snappy," as Dorie describes the tart filling. You can find what other Tuesdays-with-Dorie's bakers did here.

The sweet tart dough is tender and easy to assemble if you follow Dorie's step-by-step instructions, which are complete with very helpful visual and mental cues. Somehow I managed to miss the step of chilling the dough before rolling it out on the tart pan, hence the unruly look. We used the same sable or shortbread cookie dough before in a previous Tuesdays-with-Dorie's post, the cherry crumb tart. A great dough to work with and a keeper for sure. This time we fully baked the crust for about 30 to 35 minutes and then cooled it ready to be filled.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Apricot Crumble Tart

Two pounds of fresh apricots in a tart to start, what an amazing mound of summer fruits for a dessert? I'm keen to buy up bags upon bags of apricots when they are in season. I have a few winning and crowd pleasing recipes that I've never tired of making. Recently, I've also found a way to preserve apricots so that I can extent the seasonal offering a while longer. Yes, I love apricot desserts of all kinds. I was excited to bake an apricot tart along with the Cook-the-book-Fridays group.

I made the apricot crumble tart and the apricot kernel ice cream from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. He wrote: "I do take the time to treat the apricots right, rolling out a tart shell that I make with pure butter, packing them into the filling, and topping it all with a crunchy topping of nuts and a dusting of cinnamon."

That closely describes the tart recipe in general. Except, when I got to actually making the dough, it required pressing the dough over the bottom of the springform pan, and a little less than halfway up the sides. Haven't done that for quite a while! That tripped me up a little. It was easy said than done. It took some chilling and waiting and pressing to get a decent looking shell. Maybe I was overzealous with the pressing. The end result was less desirable than I'd have liked. The bottom of the tart was soggy and the side was too thick to break with a fork.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Lobster Rolls with Herb Aïoli

Live lobsters beat frozen shrimps in my book, especially when lobsters are on sale. So I went ahead and substituted lobster for shrimp in this shrimp rolls recipe by Curtis Stone. Curtis said that the first time he ate a lobster roll at a waterfront shack on Cape Cod, he knew that it was one of the world's great sandwiches. I have fond memories of my first time eating a lobster roll. Probably not at Cape Cod, but somewhere in or near Boston. Lobster has been my favorite seafood to eat ever since.

The creamy herb dressing is a Yankee classic for the sandwich. Curtis Stone's herb aïoli is easy to put together. I reached for the store-bought mayonnaise which seems to have languished in the fridge for far too long. (I can see using Greek yogurt as the base, instead of mayonnaise, called for in the recipe, to make this creamy dressing.) Cut some fresh chives and tarragon from the herb patch in the backyard. Curtis Stone added a little heat to the aïoli with cayenne pepper and recommended chili pepper or jalapeño for garnish. I picked up some very green and perfect-looking locally-grown romaine lettuce at the farmers market. I used that instead of iceberg lettuce. Substituted hot dog buns with some freshly-baked baguette rolls. The baguette was good on its own. Although I'm not so sure whether a brioche roll, which offers a more tender crust and crumb, may have marginally worked better.