Monday, January 30, 2017

Cold-Busting Vitamin C Tea Blend - IHCC

I don't seem to be able to shake the drag of a developing cold and a scratchy throat. All I can think about is to find some relief to the discomfort and to booster the weakened immune system. It was just so handy that I came across Heidi Swanson's tea blends on her blog that suited my needs. I like the idea of using natural remedy from everyday food stuff. There is a big herbal tea section in Whole Foods filled with a bewildering mix of chamomile, ginger, ginseng, hibiscus, mint, pomegranate and other preservatives (which I can't start naming or spelling). I've found it difficult to make an informed selection. So I opted for Swanson's Vitamin C tea blend. It appeals to me because it's an approachable home-brew solution. After all, I have three out of the four ingredients on hand: hibiscus, saffron threads and lemon peels. I only need to get some rose hips.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Whole Roasted Celery Root with Romesco Sauce - IHCC

Anytime I can whole roast anything, I'd go for it. The prep time is minimal, no knife skill is required. Perfect recipe for a robot or a young child. All you need is your ability to program an oven. My favorite whole roasted vegetable is the cauliflower. I have it programmed in my oven since I used the technique so frequently. Just clean the vegetable, season it with salt and pepper, rub olive oil all over it. I like roasting it in a cast-iron skillet. Place it in the oven. An hour or so later, the smell of the cauliflower would inform you it is done. The beautiful brown crust outside is another sign that it's ready to take center stage. I say that because anything tall and whole has a commanding presence; the whole roasted technique makes it possible.

It has been a while since I uncover another vegetable I can whole roast. It is the celery root. I found the recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's NOPI. It's hardly a recipe since there is no other ingredient involved and the step is to roast the celery root in a 375°F (or 340°F convection) oven. Roast until a knife inserted into the flesh goes in easily. Ottolenghi says it takes 3 hours, it took me about two.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Salt Cod Fritters and Brandade - Cook-the-Book-Fridays

Round fritters pan fried more evenly than those shaped in balls

fritters with a tartar sauce
I was told the restaurant businesses have gone down across the board in Manhattan since the election, as compared to the same period in prior years. You can easily get a table in normally busy restaurants. The probable cause, as a restaurant owner explained to me, was that people didn't feel like going out. They wanted to hunker down and stayed home. To the contrary, take-out places were doing well. Obviously, these observations are simply anecdotal evidence, I did not think much of it. It didn't occur to me that our emotional state and behavior are so tightly linked to our political life -- until now. I've found myself having trouble focusng my thoughts to compose a coherent post in the gathering storm on this day. So I'll keep it brief.

I've made brandade before; it was not bad, but nothing special either. To make the David Lebovitz's fritters from My Paris Kitchen, it's necessary to buy the salt cod, soak it for 24 hours and make a cod and potato puree. At that point, I split the recipe, oven baked half of it in a gratin dish and made the fritters with the rest. I made the tartar sauce that accompanied the fritters.

I did not want to fry the fritters, for obvious reasons: too much fat. I used a spoonful of oil, dipped the fritters in a beer batter and pan fried them. Slowly, I figured out (my gears turning in fits and starts) that flattening the fritters, shaped initially in small balls followed by a short rest in the refrigerator, with the back of a measuring cup into rounds made more sense. I was able to turn the patties more easily and fried both sides evenly. The flat crusty exterior balanced well with just a thin layer of brandade inside.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Quinoa Skillet Bread - IHCC Face-the-Day

The Breakfast Book, is one of the most enduring cookbooks of its time from Marion Cunningham, a food writer and advocate of home cooking, who served as an assistant to James Beard and discovered many new talents, like Alice Waters. She tirelessly promoted the idea that breakfast ought to be the most important and the best meal of the day. (If you have a friend who is getting married, get her this book.) It is a classic and a treasure.

I'm certainly guilty of not following her sage advice, often favoring something fast and easy for breakfast on-the-go or nothing at all, besides a cup of latte. There is no denying that breakfasts can be very special, served in bed on birthdays and in a dining room somewhere while on vacation. It sets the tone of the day, if not creating some hard-to-forget lifetime memories.

Thanks to Marion Cunningham's custard-filled corn bread which Heidi Swanson adapted to become the quinoa skillet bread, I have uncovered the most unbelievable breakfast bread. If you have tasted Cunningham's corn bread, you'd understand what I mean. Or take a look at Swanson's recipe and see for yourself the magic behind a nutritious and custard-filled quinoa-based quick bread. A few strong points:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lemon Posset with Roasted Butternut Squash - IHCC Ingredient Challenge

Lemon posset got on our radar screens and captured our imagination when a group of us, volunteer sous chefs, got together and helped chef Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy of New York City prepare dinner for 30 in Tuscany. Lemon posset with butternut squash was on the dessert menu. It is a classic English dessert that you'll find in the repertoire of every English celebrity chefs, like Nigel Slater and Yotam Ottolenghi. The posset is catching on in the US lately. Popularity aside, what I'm most impressed is the science behind the three magic ingredients and the ease of preparation.

I made this for dessert last week away from my home kitchen while skiing. Needless to say, I had limited access to ingredients or equipments. I had to make do with something very basic. The posset came to mind. All you need are three ingredients (cream, sugar and fresh lemon juice or citrus acid), a stove and a refrigerator. I served the posset to some friends with rave review.

From the first bite to the last, the well-balanced, sweet-tangy flavor and the silky velvety texture really set this dessert apart. From the practicality viewpoint of a home cook, this recipe is godsend. No worry about tempering the eggs or using cornstarch, flour or gelatin to thicken the custard. Just follow this straightforward recipe and boil the cream for a few minutes to break down the milk proteins. Don't be afraid to use heat. (Milk and cream can be boiled and reduced for hours.) Lemon juice increases the acidity of the cream to allow it to solidify.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sprouted Buckwheat Spelt Loaf - Tartine Nordic-style Pan Loaf

This loaf of bread has the ultimate look of a healthy whole grains and seeded bread. In fact, the bread is dark, rugged, densely packed with seeds and grains, you have to strain to find the regular bread crumbs. You may reluctantly take a piece and eat it; you know it's full of fiber and nutritious goodness. I made the bread and put some of it away in the freezer thinking that no one in my family would be enthusiastic to eat it. I didn't have the time to make an elaborate sales pitch singing the praise of a low-gluten nutrient-dense brick of hearty bread.

Quite unexpectedly, when I put it out on the counter in the kitchen, the bread sells itself on its own merits: the grainy toothsome texture and its natural nutty sweetness. A bread with substance, tangy and surprisingly delicious. The bread is made with 80% spelt flour, 20% freshly milled buckwheat flour, 105% sprouted buckwheat groats, and 80% seeds, including sunflower, flaxseeds, sesame and pumpkin seeds. See the cheat sheet below for details.

Does rugbrod, or Danish rye bread, rings the bell for you? Rudbrod is a dense bread containing a coarse mix of grains and kernels. It provides the base of most open-faced Danish and similar sandwiches found in Nordic countries, served with herring, cured salmon, ground liver or smoked cheese. Rugbrod was the source of inspiration from which Chad Robertson drew to formulate what he calls Rene's-style pan loaves. I adapted one of his pan loaf recipes from Tartine Book No. 3.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Honey-Yogurt Mousse & a Vegan Version - Tuesdays with Dorie

There is a lot to like about this dessert. The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan's Baking Chez Moi. As far as healthy dessert goes, this one comes close to be perfect. In addition, you need very few ingredients and it's simple to put together.

Low-fat Greek yogurt is the key ingredient to make the mousse. (Kefir yogurt can be substituted.) A plus if you want to lower fat intake. However, you do need half a cup of heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks, to lighten the texture of the mousse. I guess without the whipped cream, the mousse may not be as velvety and light as we'd prefer. If you worry about sugar consumption, sugar is not required here. Honey is the sweetener. By and large, these are mostly pantry items that you have around, with the exception of gelatin. You'd need it to bind everything together to form the mousse.

The Greek yogurt takes about two hours to strain. After leaving the strained yogurt in the fridge overnight, several tablespoons of whey were collected at the bottom of the bowl. Dorie mentioned that you may skip this step if you don't have the time. The flavor and the texture of the mousse may just be lighter.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Wintery Spring Rolls - IHCC's Food Goal

Our food goals are simple and straightforward. There are none. Food that are wholesome, natural and seasonal get the nod. We cook food that's nourishing, something we want to eat. If there are any goals: it's everything in moderation, no dogma and no fad. Farm to table or sea to table as much as feasible -- in a sense, more about sustainability, than any personal food goals. Visit IHCC and find out which food goals are popular among food bloggers.

These spring rolls not only go on the dining table. They can be packed when you are on the road or brought as appetizers to dinner parties. Eating well even on the go.

I like all the fresh ingredients that go into the spring rolls. Ginger, green onions, brown sugar, garlic, tofu and mushroom. The only processed component is the rice wrapper. As much as I can gather on the ingredient list, it is made with tapioca flour and rice starch. A product of Vietnam.

First, make the ginger onion paste and cook the tofu and mushroom. Next comes the assembly by folding the lettuce greens, tofu and mushroom fillings with the wrappers.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Fresh Herb Omelet - Cook-the-book-Fridays

Do you look up and use a recipe when you make an omelet? I never did until now. This recipe comes from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. Starting with the right size nonstick skillet, I chose a 10-inch skillet to make a two-egg omelet for one person. Stirred the eggs with one teaspoon of heavy cream briskly with a fork. Then added fresh finely chopped chives, one of my favorite herbs to use with eggs. Seasoned the egg mixture with salt and pepper. So far so good.

I messed up the next step: pour in the eggs into the sizzling hot pan coated with butter over moderately high heat. The butter never sizzled, it turned golden brown. So the resulting omelet was golden-browned and overcooked. (I used European-style butter, which has higher fat and lower water content, which can be attributed to the lack of sizzling under heat.) Well, I had to start all over again. To avoid making the same mistake, I poured in the eggs as soon as the butter started to foam. The resulting omelet was much better the second time around.

The rest was smooth sailing after I gained some experience on the optimal time to pour in the egg mixture given the ingredients, skillet and the gas stove I used. Another crucial technique to master in making a good omelet: tilt the pan as the eggs start to set on the edges to allow the uncooked eggs from the center to flow underneath. The next step is to sprinkle the cheese over the mid line when the omelet is completely set. Lastly, fold the omelet in half and plate it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

World Peace Cookies - Tuesdays with Dorie

To me, there is no bigger wish for the New Year than world peace. The original recipe of these cookies comes from the French renowned pastry chef Pierre Hermé. Dorie Greenspan popularizes them by naming them world peace cookies. As the story goes: Dorie's neighbor told her that a daily dose of these cookies was all we need to ensure lasting world peace. We're hopeful for enduring peace. One cookie at a time; one day at a time.

These cookies differ from most by using two kinds of sugar: mainly light brown and about 27% granulated sugar (of the total amount of sugar used). Brown sugar, as Dorie explains, gives the cookies the chewiness. The amount of sugar tops any other ingredients, including flour or butter. That seems unusual! A good amount of "best-quality" bittersweet chocolate, as well as a sprinkling of salt, go into the mix. In the end, I get cookies that are crispy rather than chewy. More like a sable cookie that breaks easily on contact. That could be attributed to the use of turbinado (less processed than brown sugar made from the first pressing of sugar cane) rather than the regular brown sugar, which has more moisture in it.