Friday, September 30, 2016

Sardine Spread

This is more than a food blog. Once and a while, you get a delicious dose of health advice too. When it comes to vitamin D deficiency, you have to be convinced that sardine will do right for you.

Not only that, a can of sardine is easy to carry. In fact, our friend J pulled out a can of sardine from his pocket and offered it to the three of us. We were on a quad chair-lift riding up to the peak of a ski mountain. No bread or crackers, just sardine. No one hesitated. We are baby boomers: hardy and up for everything. We shared one can of some no-name sardine on the chairlift in the dead of winter.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Green Bean Salad with Mustard Seeds and Tarragon

Some recipes claim to be easy to make. Others claim to be quick. This recipe is neither. The ingredient list may look long for a bean salad. Somehow I'm starting to understand how three different kinds of beans (green beans, snow peas and green peas), combined with three different kinds of seeds (coriander, mustard and nigella seeds) and a few aromatics (onion, garlic, tarragon, red chile, lemon zest) thrown in make a whole lot of sense. Don't get me wrong, I like simplicity.

But there is something appealing about this dish. Collectively, all the ingredients work harmoniously to make an otherwise generic bean salad sing with the punchy complexity of herbs and spices. Yet the clean freshness of the beans are very present. After making this dish, I can't think of one ingredient I'd leave out. They all add something to the ensemble. It's a revelation! I'm not making an argument in favor of long recipes. I believe that every recipe should only be as long and complicated as it needs to be in order to produce maximum flavor and enjoyment.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Poussins (or Cornish Hens) à la Russe

Peter Kaminsky in Culinary Intelligence shows us how healthy eating, without compromising the fun and pleasure in food, can be done: thinking before eating, choosing good ingredients, understanding how flavor works and making the effort to cook. Cooking is part of the equation, but ingredients always come first.

This recipe exemplifies that the path to truly healthful and enjoyable diet begins with great ingredients. Take the poussins (young chickens weighing about 1 to 1 1/2 lb). Season them with salt and spices, cook over medium heat on the stove top until browned, for no more than 25 minutes, depending on the size of the birds. You are rewarded to the most incredibly juicy, tender and delicious chicken you'll ever taste. Hands down.

This poussins à la Russe recipe comes from Jacques Pèpin, in the Russian style. It does not require a long list of ingredients. Just the best ingredients, the poussins. Free-range and premium quality. Rub the poussins with paprika, salt, cumin, cayenne pepper and olive oil. The poussins I bought weigh about 10 oz., good to serve one. All skin, bones and meat. No hints of fat. They are much smaller than the 1 1/2 lb called for in the recipe. Hence, the cooking time was reduced to less than 10-15 minutes in a cast-iron pan. Don't watch the clock. Let the color and texture on the bird inform you whether the meat is cooked through or not. (For bigger birds, once the skin has browned, I would transfer the bird (in the cast-iron pan) into a 350°F oven to finish cooking, until the internal temperature reaches 152°F.) I did not cut the bird in halves, the way Pèpin prepared his; they were so tiny to begin with. I kept them spread out like a butterfly.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Gazpacho with Herbed Goat Cheese Toasts

I like to think of gazpacho as a chilled beverage/soup served in a glass to hydrate in the hot weather months, in the spirit of Seville, Spain, where I visited several summers ago. David Lebovitz said he liked to think of it as an icy-cold liquid salad. What do you think of it?

This David Lebovitz's gazpacho recipe calls for three pounds of ripe tomatoes. When I started making the gazpacho, found out I only had two pounds on hand, so I adapted the recipe loosely. That's the fun and joy in the making. A little of this, a little of that, everything came together beautifully and deliciously. No strain and no stress.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Apple Tarte Flambée

Is it a tart or is it a pizza? Dorie Greenspan says that everyone in France thinks that apple tart flambée is a pizza, except the Alsatians, who created it. I'll call it a pizza. It takes on the shape and the size of a pizza. Cooks like a pizza: a quick bake at blazing hot temperature. Uses a pizza stone for a crispy bottom. There is also the ubiquitous cheese filling on top. It is a pizza.

This apple tart flambée is prominently featured in the beginning pages after the table of contents in Dorie's Baking Chez Moi. A two-page picture of the tart flambée caught my attention when I read the book the first time. A hybrid between a tart and a pizza, how exciting? This is among one of the few recipes in the book I couldn't wait to bake.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Zucchini-Kumquat 100% whole-wheat Tea Cakes

This zucchini kumquat cakes is one of the trio 100% whole-wheat teacake recipes in Tartine Book No.3. I have posted the other two: apple walnut and the banana teacake almost two years ago when I first got a copy of the book. These are my favorite teacake recipes; the health benefits of whole-grain baking need no convincing.

What set these teacakes apart? No doubt, it's the use of 100% whole-wheat and high-extraction flours. More importantly it's how these cakes overcome the unique challenge of dense crumb associated with having such a high percentage of whole-grain flours in the recipe. The entire kernel, bran and germs and all, are blended in the flours, which impede gluten development of the batter and the subsequent rise as it bakes. A special technique is used in Tartine Book No. 3: cut butter into the flours to create small pockets of air so that the finished cakes would take on a much lighter and more tender crumb structure. All three of these teacakes in the book, in my opinion, have succeeded in attaining the desirable soft and moist texture.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Homemade Ketchup

From ballparks to fast food joints to fine dining establishments, you can find ketchup on the tables everywhere. Curtis Stone has a recipe in his book What's for dinner? for homemade ketchup. Combine pureed tomatoes with a few ingredients: Worcestershire sauce, onion, brown sugar, tomato paste and cider vinegar. Apply some heat. That's all there is. No secret ingredient and no magic to it. He says it would be fun to do and, in the end, you will have a fresh, zesty flavor that's hard to resist. I'm convinced. It's time to handcraft a version of ketchup in my own kitchen.

Tomatoes are so ripe and juicy. They defy any knife's attempt to cut them up. I've found it easier to rub them over the coarse holes of a box grater placed in medium bowl than using a blender. I learned this technique in a cooking class in Spain. This is an old fashion but a fun way to puree the tomatoes without the skin. I skipped the blender step in the recipe all together.

Making the ketchup at home takes time; it takes over an hour to simmer down the ketchup to the right consistency after the sauce comes to a boil. (Without simmering it down all the way, you can get a lovely concentrated sauce suitable for pasta or rice or vegetables.) Just like making any sauce, time is a necessary component so that flavor can develop to its fullest potential. Patience will be rewarded. I'm glad I spent the time to learn from this recipe and cooked up one of the most iconic sauces around the world. Besides, you really can't beat any food made with the freshest ingredients, especially with tomatoes in season, no artificial flavoring and free of preservatives.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Spiced Meatballs with Sriracha Sauce

One curious question for you: Do you have a bottle of Sriracha sauce in your fridge? If you do, the next question is: What do you usually do with it?

Like ketchup, mustard, now Sriracha, to some extent, harissa, is occupying the precious real estate in my fridge. Sriracha, once considered "exotic," has become the go-to condiment whenever heat is called for. (Before that, we used Tobasco sauce from Louisiana.) Sometimes it sits out on the table when more spiciness is needed, in dishes, from eggs to chicken wings. It's the new normal in my kitchen.

The use of Sriracha seems to be on the rise. This Asian chili paste is not only spotted in Asian restaurants; it has become super trendy. It has gone mainstream in the US, seen prominently in restaurants and bistros everywhere, or at least on the east and the west coast.

Spicy meatball is the dish of the week at Cook-the-Book-Fridays, the online community of wonderful cooks who are making their way through David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. David found his inspiration of this spicy meatballs dish from the merguez sandwich, stuffed with sausage and fries, eaten on the sidewalks in Paris.