Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Braised Spring Vegetables with a Parchment Lid - IHCC Picture Perfect

What makes a dish picture perfect? Spring vegetables, such as carrots and asparagus, with their brilliance and vibrancy have all the visual appeal I'm looking for. You can make a simple salad to bring out the best these spring vegetables have to offer. Or you can take a few extra steps to transform the raw crunchy vegetables into a warm dish of braised and tender vegetables. This dish is the definition of picture perfect, as well as pitch perfect!

My favorite approach in braising vegetables is to use a technique I learnt a while back when I took a fine-dining course in the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Frequently, I find myself using the parchment lid technique, or à l' étuvée, (not only for vegetables, and for fruits too), to preserve the vibrancy and flavor of vegetables. It's a slightly more labor-intensive approach, like the majority of techniques in French cooking. Invariably, you are rewarded by the clean and unadulterated flavor of delicate vegetables with a little extra effort and attention in preparing them à l' étuvée.

When I am all alone in the kitchen, slow braising vegetables with a parchment lid, put me in a meditative mode that connects my senses to the food. I can hear the barely audible sizzling sound of food cooking in the pan and see steam gently escaping around the lid. In the end, the food is not only picture perfect, it comes fully alive. It sings.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cauliflower Cake - IHCC

I learned that Yotam Ottolenghi's upcoming book is going to be about desserts. Among all the delectable Ottolenghi's recipes I've made, there are quite a long list of them, the most unforgettable and surprising ones are in the dessert category. Guess what, there is another big surprise! Early this month, Ottolenghi started writing for the weekly Food Section in the New York Times. His inaugural piece, titled "It's not sugar, it's the thrill," among all things, highlighted a rich dessert: pastry nests with poached pears and feta and saffron cream. He has inspired me to cook, to bake and to bake some more.

I'm thrilled making these delicious dishes and cakes. Still, there are much catching up to do. At the rate he has been producing them, I might never taste and test out all these wonderful recipes.

This week, I chose to bake a vegetable cake from Plenty More for a light supper.

There are always a twist that tickles your imagination, some special ingredients make you scratch your head and an unusual technique involved in most Ottolenghi's recipes. The cauliflower cake is no exception.

The cake is baked in a 9 1/2-inch springform pan. There is no need to make a crust, unlike a quiche. A plus for a light meal during the week. (That gets me thinking about adapting some quiche recipes into springform-pan cakes.) At room temperature after cooling, the cake readily came off the pan, and can be easily cut and served on a plate.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lemon Sole with Burnt Butter, Nori and Fried Capers - IHCC PotLuck

Lemon sole is a misnomer since the fish is neither a true sole, nor does it have the taste of lemon. Why do we favor lemon sole in the early months of the year? it's in season. It's a good time to enjoy fishes, such as cods and soles in February, according to the seasonality guide from the Marine Conservation Society. The key to sustainability is, by and large, to avoid consuming fishes during the spawning season. Can't go wrong buying and eating what's seasonal.

Lemon sole is a delicate flat fish that I don't often buy or cook. I'm least comfortable working with lemon or Dover sole. The thinness of the flesh makes it easy to overcook. After reading the recipe several times, I believe that it is as good as any, in terms of the cooking technique, the ingredients, and the flavor profile that'd bring out the best in lemon sole.

The recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi's NOPI. There is a whole chapter on fish in the book that I've always found appealing. Yet I haven't cooked any. Meanwhile, we love fish and all kinds of seafood; I'd love to see more fishes showing up on the family table.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Merveilleux Two Ways: Egg & Aquafaba Meringues

Merveilleux is a sandwich of two light meringues welded with whipped cream, and then coated with whipped cream all around and dusted with chocolate shavings. I have not tasted or made them before.

In some ways, they are similar to macacrons. I have always been intrigued with macarons. In fact, macacrons were the first cookies I learned how to bake, starting with taking a class in Paris. I did not know I was in over my head at the time; I had never baked cookies before. But once I've mastered making macarons, everything else comes easy.

The challenge now is how to make a healthier version of them. I have been experimenting with aquafaba or chickpea liquid to make whipped cream. This recipe gives me another foray in exploring and comparing the taste and technique of using aquafaba, the vegan version of the eggs-based meringue cookies.

The picture on the upper left are merveilleux using egg whites to make the meringues, following David Liebovitz's recipe. The picture on the upper right are merveilleux made with meringue cookies, highlighted in a pink coloring, using liquid from a can of chickpea. Knowing the many uses of the chickpea liquid, I no longer pour it down the drain. (See the cheat sheet below for details.) Two different ingredients and recipes, both whipped to stiff peaks and baked in a similar fashion (in a 250°F oven, no convection, for an hour to an hour and a half). I can't say I whipped up the two batters to the same degree of stiffness -- due to the very subjective nature of look and feel of stiff peaks. The chickpea liquid certainly took longer to whip to a stiff peak.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Healthful Double Chocolate Cookies - IHCC Food We Love

Talking about food we love is not an easy conversation. It's complicated. The matter of the heart is never straightforward. Admitting what you love is somehow like admitting some fundamental weaknesses or worse, something illicit.

I have a sweet tooth; I loathe sugar. I like the taste of a sweet dessert at the end of a meal or a cookie with a cup of coffee or tea. At the same time, my head is complaining that sweets are not good for my body. You have to take a stand against sugar these days considering all the talks and public health concerns about sugar consumption.

Part of my solution is to bake everything from scratch, quick breads and all manner of desserts, which gives me the freedom to substitute table sugar with something more healthful. My pantry is filled with all sorts of natural sugar alternatives: from organic cane sugar, palm sugar, coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, dates to apple sauce. I have used them all in my baking. Thank goodness, there are suitable sugar substitutes out there and they work.

The latest one I've found is this cookie recipe from Heidi Swanson. Not only that it uses ripe banana as a sugar substitute and a binding agent, my first using banana in this capacity, there is more. There is no sugar, no butter, no eggs and these cookies are gluten free. I'm truly impressed that you can make these cookies and eat them too. Wow!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce - IHCC Stuffed or Filled Dishes

This dish occupies the cover of Ottolenghi's Plenty. The jewel-like ruby-red pomegranate seeds spread over the buttermilk sauce on the eggplant halves grabbed my attention; I bought Plenty as a result. I must have the book for at least over a year and I finally made the dish. If I've known this dish is so easy to put together, I'd have probably made it many times over. The prettiness of the dish gives the impression that this plate is a labor of love, not so much of an everyday dish. How wrong I was. Well, it helps to think twice before making snap judgement and check out the facts and details of the recipe.

Nothing is as simple as cutting the whole eggplant in halves, straight through the stalk, which is part of the look. Make a cross-hatch pattern on the flesh with a sharp paring knife. Season and roast the eggplants in a 400°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Valentine's Day Share-a-Heart - TWD #cookiesandkindness

It's a beautiful thing you can make a bunch of these chocolate heart-shape cookies and give them to people you know or strangers you don't. These delicious cookies from Dorie Greenspan are the perfect medium for sharing. Thanks Dorie for the phenomenal idea of a share-a-heart cookie. You can find her recipe here.

These are shortbread cookies made mostly with all-purpose flour and confectioners' sugar. Cocoa powder gives them the chocolate flavor. Put all the dry ingredients in the food processor until the mixture are evenly blended. Then cut in cold pieces of butter until the mixture turns grainy, followed by an egg yolk and small amount of water. The batter comes together quickly after a few pulses. The hardest and time-consuming part of making the cookies is rolling out the dough and cutting them in heart shapes between sheets of parchment paper. But that's also the fun and creative part of it. I had to resort to series of chilling and rolling before I finally finished with all the cookie dough.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Coq au Vin - Cook-the-Book-Fridays

This is David Lebovitz's version in My Paris Kitchen of the classic coq au vin. Its rich dark sauce is made and thickened with chocolate. Yes, chocolate. Instead of blood, the slurry of cocoa powder is used. Forget about blood, it is not something accessible in the US, for better or for worst.

The common ingredients in the traditional coq au vin are red wine, bacon, mushrooms and pearl onions, this recipe has all these basic elements. However, I can't help but to digress. I wanted to see how Julia Child cooked her coq au vin. Sorry, David, it's hard to ignore the elephant in the room. Afterall, it was Julia Child who popularized the iconic boeuf bourguignon (beef stew in red wine, with bacon, onions and mushrooms), the beef version of coq au vin, and brought it to the dining tables throughout America.

I made the coq au vin following closely David's recipe and then reviewed that of Julia's; I learned a few things from this exercise. These are my observations. They are outlined in the cheat sheet below, comparing the two recipes side by side: