Thursday, December 29, 2016

Green Lentil Soup with Curried Brown Butter - IHCC Potluck

There are boxes to check off at the end of the year. A tasty vegetable soup that is nutritious and sustaining sounds brilliant; you don't mind making it all the time. I like this easy soup recipe from Heidi Swanson, especially when you want to take a break from all the rich holiday food. As long as you have some dry lentils on hand, you're set to go. This soup can be whipped up with a few pantry standbys. A yellow onion, vegetable broth, curry powder and some coconut milk.

Brown butter is a very useful technique that I've used repeatedly in cooking as well as in baking. I was totally enthralled the first time I browned butter until it turned golden brown and almost burnt. It's simple to follow. Takes only a few minutes. All you need to do is melt some butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then cook down until the water in the butter starts to evaporate, leaving you with a nutty, fragrant liquid gold. Brown butter boosts everything from simple veggies to decadent cakes.

The curried brown butter sauce gives the lentil soup a luxurious kick and the depth of flavor. We often hear from chefs that butter makes everything taste better. I've found it to be true. Brown butter checks off all the boxes in the flavor and texture department. The combination of brown butter and a tablespoon of curry powder has a transforming quality, elevating the earthy lentil soup into something quite memorable. Give it a try!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Rye Pasta with Spiced Butter - IHCC Simple Entertaining

Why is homemade pasta good for entertaining? You can make as much or as little pasta as you like. Fresh pasta freezes well. It takes very little time to cook. The sauce can be prepared ahead of time. Tomato sauce, pesto, brown butter or spiced butter (as presented here) are among a long list of alternatives that go well with pasta. Thin spaghetti noodles also work well in a light broth. The options are unlimited. Stir in the cooked pasta in a simmering sauce in a saucepan. In no time, the pasta dish is ready to be served. It can be made to order individually. Or you can serve a large group. The beauty is the short amount of time it takes to cook fresh pasta.

Add soup and salad and dessert. You have a four-course meal ready to rock and roll. This is an entertaining formula that has generated a lot of enthusiasm in my family.

Have you ever considered having a group of friends or even strangers cook together and make pasta? It could be a bonding experience when you work together as a team in the kitchen and achieve a common goal - a delicious plate of food that you are proud of feeding your friends and family.

I have made this rye pasta a few times since I acquired the Marcato Atlas pasta maker. Lately, I have been making rye bread and cookies. Then why not use the organic rye berries and flour I have on hand to make pasta. This recipe comes from Heidi Swanson's 101 cookbooks online. From everything I know about bread-making, a simple rule of thumb to make the pasta dough is: one whole egg (50 gram) to 100 gram of soft wheat flour (about 3/4 cup). As easy as that. The rest is kneading the dough and cranking the machine.

Do not add salt. (Salt inhibits gluten development. Add salt in the boiling water to cook the pasta.) Knead the dough until it is completely smooth and elastic. Great dough should never stick to your fingers. If the dough is too dry, add some water. If it is too soft add some flour. The true test comes when you feed the dough through the roller on the pasta machine on thickness-adjustment setting number 0, the dough should stay together as one cohesive piece. If it doesn't, feed it through the roller as many times as you need until the dough becomes supple and compliant. Lightly dust both sides of the sheet of pasta with flour. You'll get to the finished line every time, I can assure you of that. The most important ingredient of making pasta at home is patience and, perhaps, a sense of adventure. I really enjoy making pasta, experimenting with all kinds of healthful whole grain flours.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sourdough Beet Challah and Multi-color Monkey Bread - BBB

Monkey bread at Dirt Candy
There is this show stopper monkey bread with whimsical multi-color served up in a flower pot at Amanda Cohen's Dirt Candy, a two-star vegetable restaurant in New York city. This bread showed up on every table in the restaurant and has been widely posted online long before I first tasted the bread. I've wanted to make this bread since the first bite, but there is quite a hurdle to overcome and work to do. Mind you, no food dyes, the colors come from the vegetables. I was sidelined -- until Cathy at Bread Experience, the host kitchen at Bread Baking Babes this month, posted her recipe for the sourdough beet challah.

My breadmaking has been on the back burner lately due to the holidays. This beet challah is simply too irresistible not to do. Cathy has gone through extensive testing in incorporating the beet color in the challah. That gave me enough confidence and the road map to go ahead and bake, starting with the color red from beets. I got some tips from Amanda on her monkey bread; she also assured me she won't sue me for any potential infringements. Thank you both.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Swedish Rye Cookies - IHCC Sweet Treat's Challenge

What are my excuses in baking cookies? The holiday season. Perfect season for baking cookies. I figure that I can wrap them up in pretty cellophane bags and serve them up as gifts. But most often than not, I end up eating too many of them. Not to mention all the cookies you eat at holiday gatherings. So, I don't make a habit of baking cookies other than at yearend.

You see. I have a conflicted relationship with cookies. Since I have been in the holiday baking mode, I've found cookies recipes that may allow me to look at cookies differently.

The amount of sugar and the use of white flour have given me pause about cookies. But I can't be more excited about Heidi Swanson's wholesome approach in using whole grain flours and other sweeteners in her baking. Not easy to find good recipes using this type of healthful ingredients. Please let me know if you find some good ones.

Lately, I've been experimenting with rye flour in my breadmaking. Rye has a flavor notably distinct from the family of wheat. It has very little gluten. My pantry is currently stocked with organic rye grains and stone ground flours from local farms. All the reasons to bake cookies using rye; something I'd embrace enthusiastically.

Heidi Swanson's Swedish rye cookies recipe is unusual. These rye cookies are made with 100% whole grain flour: 50% rye and 50% whole wheat pastry flour (of the total flour weight). It is doing away with the refined flour (or all-purpose flour), completely. Way to go! She also suggests using barley or oats flour in place of rye. These are shortbread-style cookies. There is the usual good amount of butter. Heidi puts in cream cheese, because she likes the combination of rye and cheese. However, I can't really taste it in the cookies, the cream cheese or rye.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Onion Tart (Pissaladière) - Cook-the-book-fridays

Onion tart is such an ordinary name, but this tart is anything but ordinary. I had this for lunch, because I wanted to take pictures of the tart in daylight. I never have much luck taking food pictures using flash exposure in the evening. So I've been trying to get the cooking and photo shooting done during the day. It's becoming a challenge when the day is shorter.

Back to my lunch, I had several pieces of this tart. It might as well be a full meal, with or without a glass of rosé. Well, I did not have a glass. Remember that: in My Paris Kitchen, David Lebovitz, the author of this recipe, tried to make the case that onion tart is best served with iced rosé, the way it is done in the rough-and-tumble Marseiles.

The crust is easier to make than most pizza dough. (It is a 64% hydration yeast dough with 13% olive oil, or 3/4 cup of water, 3 Tbsp of oil to 2 cups of all-purpose flour.) The tart took about two hours to complete, including mixing, fermenting and resting the dough and baking it. The dough can be left in the fridge to retard overnight and bake the next day. Or you can split the dough in half, leave half in the fridge to bake at a later time. The dough is easy, elastic and sturdy to handle. I've expected it to be more complicated. Based on past experiences, making tarts always take time and patience to do. But this recipe was more like making a caramelized onion pizza, except at a lower 400°F oven temperature.

The texture of the tart turned out more like bread, not the crisp and very thin crust that David mentioned. The crust puffed up quite a bit. The bottom of the crust was soft, despite the extra effort of putting a preheated pizza stone underneath the sheet pan with the tart placed on top. I don't know how I can get the desired thinner crust other than using 00 flour or over-proofing the dough. Any idea?

Three pounds of sliced onions were used, cooked over medium heat in a Dutch oven. I might have put in too much olive oil, or set the heat too low, the onions were reduced to the texture of jam or paste after an hour long cooking. It did not take on a deep golden-brown as David has suggested. Topped the dough with the onion jam, 20 large olives and 16 oil-packed anchovy fillets, the finished tart was sweet, salty and full of umami. Just don't tell people in Provence that I used a medley of Greek olives, instead of Nicoise olives, and called it a pissaladière.

Whichever manner you are so inclined to name this tart, I'd call it a flavor bomb. I'll be happy to eat it or serve it as an appetizer for the holidays, knowing that the tart will be gone in no time because it's so utterly delicious.

This tart is universally loved (I've never said that before), even baby W, who is barely one year old, did not stop picking on the olives and anchovy on the tart. The funniest and most impressive thing I see a baby eat. He made us roll in hearty laughs and amazement.

Please visit Cook-the-book-fridays to see the comments and discussions on this recipe from the online group, a community of engaging home cooks, who are working through each and every recipe in David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. You are welcome to join the group and cook along with us.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Lavender Marcona Almonds - A Seasonal Gift Idea

I have made these almonds many times but have not posted the recipe. 'Tis the season to be sharing some of these wonderful gift ideas, besides the holiday cookies I have been making. Even if you are not a baker, you can manage this recipe readily. No special skill is required, just the desire for something homemade from the heart. As delicious handcrafted gifts go, this one tops the list. It's easy and fast to put together with only a handful of ingredients, although dried lavender is one of the special ingredient you can't do without for the flavoring. If you really need to substitute, I believe zest from an orange or a lemon could be as interesting. For something spicy, I'd be inclined to add wasabi.

I grow a profusion of lavender plants along my front walk that attract bees and curious onlookers. They do double duty - ornamental and culinary. I love the scent of lavender when they bloom in the summer and harvest them for my baking. I have enough dried lavender to last me until next summer. It may sound odd. Several of my favorite cakes require lavender; I wouldn't want to be out of them.

These lavender almonds are sugary and salty and fatty, but you need a good amount of willpower to resist them. This is an indulgent and winning gift that you'd want to make again and again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Spiced Honey Cake - Tuesdays with Dorie

Dorie told us to vary the ingredients: spices, nuts, dried fruits or go with some strong tea, and have fun with this cake. I like the freedom in making the cake anyway you like it. There are so many different adaptations of this spice cake. It will be exciting to see how other bakers vary this recipe, please see the blogroll at Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD).

The traditional pain d'épices is made with strong-flavor honey. A lighter or darker honey will alter the intensity of the flavor. The honey I used was not particularly flavorful and I can hardly taste the honey in the cake. I'll make a note of that for future reference to make a more deliberate choice on the honey.

I followed Dorie's recipe fairly closely. Started with infusing three-quarters of a cup of water with orange peel, a few pieces of fresh ginger, peppercorns and dry lavender. The major change I made was using gluten-free flour in place of all-purpose flour. (My husband asked me to make some gluten-free bake goods for his trainer. I obliged.) The dry cherries went in last. The batter came together easily in a cohesive mass. Its texture felt more like a bread dough than a cake batter. Made two mini cakes instead of one large loaf. The mini cakes reduced the baking time to under one hour. The cake had barely risen in height, clearly not a riser.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

French Apple Tart vs. Classic Apple Pie

This is an alternative and a solution to take advantage of the bounty of the apple harvest and to bake something besides the ubiquitous apple pie. I adapted a recent post on the classic apple pie recipe, which is a popular one among bakers. I came up with a new twist and a refined take on a good old standby.

The ingredients used are more or less the same. There are differences in technique between the tart and the apple pie:

  • Instead of a standard pie crust, the tart crust uses a pressed shortbread dough. It's easier to press against the tart pan using melted butter. Yes, melted butter, instead of cold butter. Not a conventional approach, but it works. It's actually a lot of fun to work with a warm, soft and malleable press dough. Kids or adults, every one would love massing around with this Play-Doh-like dough. This is one of the easier crusts I've worked with and one I'd keep using. Additionally, there is no need to chill the dough. It goes directly into the oven. As you can tell, there is no shrinking of the crust! The tart crust is parbaked and does not require the use of pie weights. There is no need to cap the pie with a crust on top. No lattice crust is necessary, another time saver.
  • The artful rosette arrangement of the apple slices may take time to do. But it is not difficult, although time and patience may be a necessary ingredient. In the end, your effort is rewarded with the eye-popping pattern that emerges. The apple slices are cooked and softened before they are put into the tart. That shortens the baking time.
  • The apricot preserves and a few tablespoons of butter dotting the surface give the tart a richer and brighter taste -- with a touch of European flair. The preserves contribute pectin, which helps firm up the texture of the apple filling.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Pomegranate-Glazed Eggplant with Tempeh - IHCC

The challenge this week at IHCC is to post a Heidi Swanson's dish using an ingredient which we have not used before. "Expand the pantry" is our mission. That gave me pause. I literally went through Super Natural Everyday page by page, including the index section, before I came up with a few ingredients I've never heard of before, let alone cooked with them. They are tempeh and seitan. I am not familiar with these products because I'm not a vegetarian, although I eat mostly vegetables.

Tempeh, pronounced tem-pay, an ancient food from Indonesia that is made with soybeans. It is similar to tofu, which is made from soy milk. High in protein and a good source of iron. This is all new information to me.

Now the taste test. While tofu is soft and smooth, tempeh is rough and dense. Both are like a blank canvas waiting to be transformed. It would take on bold flavor from a sauce. The pomegranate sauce adds savory spicy and garlicky notes to the otherwise bland taste of tempeh. The sauce makes the dish as you'd expect.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pfefferneusee - #Doriescookies

Making cookies is a seasonal thing to me. The spirits of giving. The holiday buzz. Sugar and spices. They are all nice to bake with. Pfefferneusee, which means pepper nut, is Dorie's December cookie selection for her make-the-world-sweet campaign: #cookiesandkindness.

At the same time, the Cookies For Kids Cancer has a $250,000 challenge grant that must be met by December 31. Every time anyone bakes from Dorie’s cookies and tags a post #doriescookies and @cookies4kids a $5 contribution is automatically triggered. I support Dorie's effort with everything I can bring from my kitchen.

Dorie told us more about the recipe:
"It doesn’t make any difference whether or not you can pronounce the name of these cookies – you’ll love them!  They’re a cookie that’s been popular for Christmas in Europe for years (as in centuries) and there’s a reason they’ve stood the test of so much time: they’re easy to make, long-lasting and full of flavor.  The name means ‘pepper nut’ and, in fact, there is black pepper and chopped pecans in the cookie.  But there’s also cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves and a pinch of dry mustard, which acts as a picker-upper for all the other spices.  If you’ve never had pfefferneusse, you’re in for a treat."

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pea and Mint Croquettes - IHCC Potluck

There is something about the look of these croquettes that would stop me in midstream every time as I flip through the pages of Ottolenghi's Plenty More. Something visceral, something appealing, something peasy.... Something I can grab with my fingers and eat without a care. Let the crumbs fall as they may. No worry about cleaning up as I munch on one of these while meandering in the garden to see the changing of the season! The mint is gone, but the dill plant is still flowering and striving. You can feel the arrival of winter in the chilly frosty morning air. The first snow has come and gone. I'm pondering what to plant for the next season.

These croquettes may look complicated to make, but they are rather straightforward and intuitive to do. Ingredients include the obvious ones you see: pea, mint and shallots. The rest are the everyday pantry items. The pea croquettes can be made well in advance, up to the point where they are covered with panko bread crumbs, and kept frozen. You can defrost them partially and fry them as you need. It is a great recipe for a vegetable snack or as an appetizer. Green veggie with a crunch and so delicious, a fantastic combination!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Grated Carrot-Beet Salad -- Cook the Book Fridays

There is no cooking involved, except grating the carrots and making a salad dressing. No long work-out session in the kitchen. Felt more like cheating. Don't get me wrong, I like easy recipes as much as the challenging ones. Who can resist an easy-to-do and a raw salad universally loved by all Frenchmen and women? Sixty millions plus people; they can't be wrong about this!

Since this David Lebovitz's recipe takes no time to put together, I let my imagination run wild with the variations. I added the beets making it a carrot-beet salad. Also felt compelled to keep some carrots whole, especially those teeny baby carrots I found in the farmers market. Keeping things wholesome and truthful takes on a whole new meaning amid all the divisiveness around.