Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Mint Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches

I really have been trying to consume less sugar lately. When I bake sweet treats, they get quickly whisked away to be shared with lots of people leaving none behind to tempt me at home. And, I haven’t been making ice creams or sorbets this summer like I usually do. But, then I remembered these ice cream sandwiches from Joanne Chang’s Baking with Less Sugar. They’re found in the amazing chocolate chapter in which none of the recipes contain any added sugar. The only sugar in these chocolate treats comes from that found in the chocolate itself. I marked this page when I read the book, and it was time to put them to the test. The first thing to mention is that this isn’t churned ice cream in the sandwiches. It’s actually a whipped chocolate ganache that gets spread between thin cake layers and frozen. There are a few steps that require waiting, chilling, or freezing before continuing, but each part is simple to do. 

You begin by making the “ice cream,” and letting chopped mint steep in warm cream for 30 minutes. After steeping, the mint was strained from the cream, the cream was brought back up to a simmer, and then it was poured over some chopped bittersweet chocolate. The chocolate-cream mixture was whisked until smooth before it was covered and chilled overnight. Next, the thin cake was made. More bittersweet chocolate was melted in a double-boiler. Egg yolks, coffee, and salt were whisked into the melted chocolate. Egg whites were whisked in a stand mixer until firm peaks were formed. The whites were folded into the chocolate mixture in two stages, and then a scant quarter cup of flour was folded into the batter. The cake batter was spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and it was baked for about ten to twelve minutes just until dry to the touch. After the cake cooled on a rack for 30 minutes, it was wrapped with plastic wrap and left in the freezer for a minimum of 30 minutes. The cake was removed from the pan and cut in half widthwise and set aside while the chilled ganache was whipped until fluffy and it held stiff peaks. The whipped ganache, or ice cream, was spread on one half of the cake, and the second half was placed on top and pressed to make flat. The sandwiched cake was then covered again and placed back into the freezer overnight. I wasn’t kidding about lots of waiting between steps. Last but not least, the big cake sandwich was cut into portions. 

The ice cream layer and the cake were both surprisingly tasty given that there was no added sugar in either. However, because of the sugar absence, the ice cream does freeze to a very solid state. It’s a good suggestion in the book to let them sit at room temperature for a few minutes before serving. There were no issues with the cake though. It was a tender and perfect way to sandwich ice cream. And, of course, the mix of chocolate and mint was meant to be. This got a thumbs-up for a treat that wasn’t too sweet. 

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Crunchy Fermented Buckwheat Cereal with Homemade Yogurt

Other than mentioning sourdough breads, I’ve been doing lots of fermenting of food and not talking about it here. It started two years ago after I read Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation and made lacto-fermented pickles for the first time. I was hooked. I loved that the sour flavor is a little different and a little more complex than what you get when pickling with vinegar. I’ve made lacto-fermented pickles with cucumbers, okra, peppers, and green beans, and I’ve made a fermented tomato salsa. And, it’s all so easy. For vegetables like cucumbers and okra, I start with a five percent brine and add garlic, dried hot chiles, and other spices like dill seed, and then the vegetables to be pickled are placed in the brine and held below the surface with jars or ramekins. It takes about four days for the fermentation process at room temperature. I still need to invest in a proper pickling crock with a weight that fits the top. A few months ago, I read Cultured Foods for Your Kitchen, and it gave me even more ideas for fermenting. But, let’s back up for a moment. You may be wondering, why ferment food at all? Traditionally, fermentation allowed foods to be preserved, but magically, it also offers a way of getting even more nutrition from food than you would without doing so. During fermentation, good bacteria are formed with all sorts of beneficial effects ranging from better absorption of nutrients to boosting the immune system. The only thing to keep in mind regarding fermentation is that those beneficial bacteria get killed off when exposed to high heat. I keep fermented pickles in the refrigerator for a couple of months if they even last that long. If they were heat-processed for canning and long-term storage, they’d still taste great but the beneficial bacteria would be killed off. Fermented foods, however, can be frozen and the good bacteria will survive. I mention this because the fermented cereal shown here was heated to a point that destroyed the good bacteria. In this case though, all was not lost. 

This recipe is from Cultured Foods for Your Kitchen, and in the head note, the Crunchy Buckwheat Cereal is compared to Grape Nuts. I’ve always loved Grape Nuts! When I was little, I used to sprinkle Grape Nuts cereal on my ice cream. It stayed crunchy until the end of the bowl. I couldn’t wait to make a homemade version or something similar. You begin with a couple of cups of untoasted whole buckwheat groats, and they were rinsed and drained. They were placed in a large bowl, a couple of tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar were added, and the groats were covered with water. The bowl was covered with a dish towel, and it was left to ferment for two days. The buckwheat was then drained and rinsed, and I spread it on a baking sheet to dehydrate it in the oven. It took a little over two hours at 200 degrees F. Now, the reason this wasn’t such a bad thing even though the heat destroyed the beneficial bacteria produced during fermentation is because soaking grains before cooking makes them much more digestible and nutritious. Grains contain phytic acid which can block the absorption of minerals and enzyme inhibitors that can impede digestion. Soaking neutralizes phytic acid and breaks down the enzyme inhibitors. These benefits in the grain remain after cooking. There’s a side note in the book that explains this in detail and encourages you to always soak your grains before cooking even if just for a few hours. So, the soaked and fermented buckwheat groats were dried until crunchy in the oven, and then I added a teaspoon of cinnamon and stirred it through before storing the cereal. The second part of this breakfast is the yogurt which I finally succeeded at making at home. I used good, local milk; heated it to the proper temperature; let the temperature reduce; added some leftover yogurt; transferred it to a bowl and covered it; placed the bowl in the Wonderbag; and left it to ferment. Once I had homemade yogurt, I chilled it and then strained it to make a thick Greek-style yogurt. 

I will say that this homemade buckwheat cereal isn’t exactly like Grape Nuts. I wondered if adding a little salt would make it seem more similar. But, it’s delightfully crunchy and makes a fantastic yogurt topping. As you see in the photos, I added some blueberries as well. And, I’m thrilled to have finally made homemade yogurt that didn’t fail. My fermenting will turn back to pickles next. I need to get okra and peppers in some brine before their season ends. 

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Summer Vegetable Tartlets with Parmesan Cream

I received a review copy of Anne-Sophie Pic’s newest book, Scook: The Complete Cookery Course. It’s a big, beautiful cookbook that she wrote to continue the tradition of passing along kitchen experience to new cooks. The recipes are some of her favorites from her childhood as well as her professional life in the kitchen. This new book is just as stunning as her previous book, Le Livre Blanc, which was focused on her incredible restaurant creations, but these recipes are much more doable by the home cook. There are even helpful step-by-step instructions with photos for some techniques. Pic is a third generation chef in her family, and she’s a three-Michelin starred chef at her restaurant Maison Pic in Valence, DrĂ´me, France. This book is divided into categories like Entertaining, Everyday, and For Children. Some of the selections for each of these categories represent ideals that might not be quite realistic for everyone. Personally, I wouldn’t think of Foie Gras with Beetroot or Lobster and Celery with Red Fruits as “everyday” dishes, but the idea is that everything in this chapter is quick enough to prepare on an everyday basis. It’s meant as inspiration to elevate your game of go-to, quick dishes. I’m definitely inspired to try the Roman Gnocchi Revisited topped with a tomato concasse with capers and black olives. A recipe from the Entertaining chapter that I keep turning back to is for a Tuna Tartlet with Sauce Vierge. This reminds me of some tartlets I watched Dorie Greenspan make at a cooking class when she was promoting her book Around My French Table. Both Dorie’s tartlets and the ones in this book make use of the same technique for the pastry base. Puff pastry is cut into shapes and baked between two baking sheets to keep it pressed and flat. Then, the crisp, flaky pastry pieces get some delicious toppings. Tuna was used in both versions, but I’d love to try these with smoked salmon and Pic’s suggested black olive tapenade, Espelette chile powder, and basil. Tartlets continued to capture my attention, and when I saw the lovely, little Vegetable Tarts with Young Parmesan Cream I had to try a summery version. 

In the book, these golden pastry rounds are topped with incredibly perfect-looking spring vegetables and a drizzle of the parmesan cream. I wanted to summer-ize the concept by using some grilled baby eggplant and cherry tomatoes. The rich pastry dough was made with lots of butter, ground almonds, all-purpose flour, and salt. The recipe called for lavender flowers, but I didn’t have any handy. The dough was rolled thin and then covered with plastic wrap and placed in the freezer for 15 minutes. Once firm, rounds were cut, brushed with egg wash, and baked. The parmesan cream was a simple mix of grated parmesan and milk that was heated in a saucepan and blended. Mine seemed thin, so I made a roux and whisked in the mixture to thicken it. I grilled quartered, little eggplants for the main topping. They were set on the pastry rounds with halved cherry tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil, and topped with the parmesan cream. 

Anne-Sophie Pic writes that she hopes the reader becomes comfortable with these dishes and makes the recipes his/her own. Switching out the vegetables for this tart was an easy change, and the parmesan cream would be a delicious accompaniment to just about any vegetable. This is a fun book to curl up with and page through the photos. And, there’s lots to learn from it too. 

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Cherry Tomato and Goat Cheese Cobbler

I keep coming back to the book Huckleberry. I had a feeling this would happen when I first read it. I haven’t baked my way entirely through the Muffins chapter yet, but I did find out just how delicious the Chocolate Chunk Muffins are. And, I don’t know how I haven’t baked the Blueberry Brioche or made the Brown Rice Quinoa Pancakes yet but I will eventually. Lately, I’ve been flipping back through the pages of all the savory dishes for breakfast or brunch. The photos of the sandwiches cause serious cravings. The Fried Green Tomato and Spicy Slaw Tartine and the Smashed Avocado Toast with Hard-Boiled Eggs and Anchovy Dressing will need to happen soon. But then, I remembered this lovely tomato cobbler that Barbara showed on her blog back in April. Roasted cherry tomatoes were topped with biscuits made with a mix of whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and cornmeal. I had pretty, little Juliet red tomatoes, Sungold yellow cherry tomatoes, and local heirloom cornmeal, and the time was right for this cobbler. It’s pretty quick and easy to prepare, and it’s even easier if you make the biscuits in advance and leave them in the freezer. 

To start the biscuits, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt were combined. Butter was worked into the flours by hand, and this is the way I almost always make pastry, scones, or biscuits. You can really feel how well the butter is getting worked in, and you stop when the butter pieces are broken up just enough. Buttermilk was added to bring the dough together, and it was transferred to a board to knead a couple of times. The biscuits were cut, and they were placed on a baking sheet in the freezer. I made them a couple of days in advance. For the cobbler, cherry tomatoes were cooked on top of the stove, and I added some garlic and crushed red chiles. Once they were softened, I transferred them to a baking dish. The tomatoes were topped with the biscuits, and the biscuits were brushed with an egg wash. The cobbler baked for about 25 minutes, and then goat cheese was sprinkled around between the biscuits. The oven temperature was increased, and the cobbler went back in for another 10 minutes. I topped the cobbler with chopped basil before serving. 

Juicy, roasted, summer tomatoes with fresh, mild goat cheese and buttery biscuits make a lovely, leisurely meal for a weekend morning. The biscuits rise and turn golden on top while soaking up tomato juices from below for a great crisp and tender texture contrast. Looking at how many other dishes I want to try in this book, some breakfast-for-dinner nights will come in handy. 

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

S’mores Bars with Marshmallow Meringue

It had been ages since I’d done any baking, and this was a great recipe for a return to it. I saw these bars in Food and Wine magazine back in April and made a mental note that I must try them. Anything of or related to s’mores is an easy sell on me. Whether it’s fancy s’mores with homamde graham crackers and marshmallows with divine varieties of chocolate, s’mores cookies, or any other similar concoction, I’m game. I deemed the 4th of July a good occasion for all-American S’mores Bars and brought these along to a party. The recipe is from Cheryl and Griffith Day of Back in the Day Bakery fame, and it’s definitely a keeper. I had my fears going into this project. I wasn’t sure the meringue would hold up after the bars were cut. I was sure I’d have drooping, sliding meringue that wouldn’t stay where it belonged on each bar. I was also a little uncertain about the fudgy chocolate layer since it’s baked just to the point of jiggliness. Again, I imagined a possible runny mess upon cutting. And, I was wrong on all counts. The bars cut easily enough and everything stayed just where it should. It was actually a very fun recipe to make especially since I got to use one of my most favorite kitchen tools: the torch. 

There are a few steps to making the bars. First, the crust was made by pressing a mix of graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, brown sugar, and a little salt into a nine-inch baking pan lined with foil. It’s important to line the pan with foil to make it easy to remove the finished bars before cutting. The crust was baked and cooled. Next, the filling was made by melting butter and chocolate together in a double-boiler. Sugar, vanilla, and salt were whisked into the chocolate mixture followed by two eggs. Flour was folded in, and the batter was poured over the crust. This was baked for about 25 minutes until the edges were set, and it was left to cool completely. Last, the meringue was made by whisking egg whites and sugar in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water until the sugar dissolved. I used the mixer bowl and then transferred it to the stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Vanilla and cream of tartar were added, and the meringue was whipped until firm. Swooping meringue about and making curlicues is almost as much fun as pulling out the kitchen torch and browning the swirls. Once I’d had enough fun torching the meringue, I removed the whole block from the pan and cut it into bars. It helps to rinse off the knife between each cut to keep the edges slightly neater. 

As I tasted one of these glorious bars, I wondered how many tries it took for the recipe developers to arrive at the perfect balance of crust to chocolate filling to meringue topping. I wouldn’t change a single thing. I predict this will be an often-used recipe. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Spicy Squid and Shrimp Stir-Fry

In my last post, I apologized for all the salads lately. Of course, I blame this on the temporary kitchen. As long as we’re living in our temporary home waiting for our new home to be finished, I’m going to lack interest in spending time in this little kitchen that doesn’t have enough countertop space. I’ve been cooking mostly quick and simple things that don’t require much room to prepare with only a few forays into baking. Below is a photo of the current state of my new kitchen. It’s still very unfinished, but I can’t wait for the day when I can start cooking in it. 

In the meantime, here’s another dish that was simple to prepare and one that came packed with big, spicy flavors. This is from The Slanted Door book by Charles Phan, and this is a book I purchased back around the holidays. I read the book right after purchasing it and marked a lot of pages of things to try. I tried the Crab with Cellophane Noodles for my birthday in March and loved it. I’ve been meaning to try the Vegetarian Spring Rolls and Vegetarian Imperial Rolls, but sadly, they both would be easier to construct with more work space than I currently have. Other recipes marked include Vietnamese Chicken Salad, Spicy Lemongrass Soup, Seared Scallops in Vietnamese Beurre Blanc, Shrimp and Long Beans, Cashew Chicken with gingko nuts and Chinese dates, and the luscious-looking Vietnamese Chocolate Tres Leches Cake. When I get settled in my new kitchen, I plan to spend a couple of days cooking through these pages. For now, I’ll stick to simpler dishes like this stir-fry. 

In the book, it’s made with only squid, but I added shrimp as well. The squid tubes were cut into rings, and the shrimp were cleaned and deveined. I chopped a pineapple into chunks and prepped the bell pepper and jalapeno. The cooking goes very quickly, so everything should be prepped and ready. First, the squid and shrimp were cooked in batches in a hot wok over high heat. Cooking a few pieces at a time ensure the heat in the wok doesn’t drop too much as the seafood is added. Each batch of the squid and shrimp was removed after cooking for a minute or two and set aside. Next, pineapple chunks, bell pepper strips, jalapeno slices, a split serrano chile, and a couple of tablespoons of sake were added to the wok. This mixture was cooked for a couple of minutes before the seafood was returned to the wok. Thai basil leaves and fish sauce were added and stirred to combine. I served the stir-fry with steamed jasmine rice and more Thai basil. 

I’ve mentioned before my love of spicy chiles and sweet fruit with seafood, and I was delighted with it here. With the sliced jalapeno with seeds left in place, this was a dish with definite heat as it was intended. The sweet pineapple balances the heat well. This could easily become part of our regular meal rotation. Spicy stir-fry for Friday dinner works for me in any kitchen. 

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tomato Salad with Crisped Farro, Purslane, and Roasted Tomato-Miso Vinaigrette

Do you know what’s happened? Including this one, I’ve just given you five posts in a row about salads. Apparently, I don’t call it salad season for nothing. I promise to bring something else to the blog soon and maybe even bake something. But for today, here’s another really great salad for beautiful tomatoes. I received a review copy of The Broad Fork by Hugh Acheson and immediately appreciated the book’s intent. Acheson was inspired to offer ideas for cooking with several common types of produce from farmers’ markets and CSA’s, and of course his humor is injected throughout the book. There are about four recipes each for 50 different seasonal items, and they’re the kind of interesting recipes that get you thinking of new ways to use these ingredients. I’m wishing our local season for artichokes wasn’t over yet now that I see the Pickled Shrimp, Crisp Artichokes, and Butter Lettuce dish and Shaved Artichokes, Bay Scallops, and Preserved Lemon. For summer corn, there’s Perfect Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts with Creamed Corn, Lemongrass, and Crisp Shallots. And, since this year’s first appearance of purple hull peas just arrived from our CSA, I can’t wait to try the Gratin of Field Peas and Roasted Tomatoes or Fried Black-Eyed Peas. I grabbed one of the first local melons I found and tried the Sauteed Catfish with Cantaloupe, Lime, and Cilantro Salsa. I love the flavors of sweet fruit with spicy chiles in a salsa for seafood, and this was a delicious example of that combination. Next, I found myself stuck in the Tomato section on this salad with crispy farro and that lovely-sounding Roasted Tomato-Miso Vinaigrette. Those two components make this much more than a simple act of layering sliced tomatoes and salad greens. 

To begin, you need to cook, drain, and dry the farro. Once tender, I strained off the cooking water and spread the grains on a towel-lined baking sheet to let them cool and dry. The dried, cooked grains were then fried in small batches in a saucepan of oil. I can tell you the grains want to stick to a spoon both when lowering them into the oil and when removing them from the oil. It helps to have two spoons handy so one can be used for scooping up the grains and the other can be used for scraping grains from the first spoon. After frying, the grains were left to drain on paper towels and sprinkled with salt. This step can be done in advance, and the crisped farro can be left at room temperature. But I did find them a bit addictive and kept reaching back for tastes risking not having enough for the salad. The vinaigrette needs to be started in advance as well since tomato slices need to roast for 30 minutes. Once roasted and cooled, the slices were added to a blender with thyme, white miso, soy sauce, and rice vinegar to be pureed until smooth while olive oil was added. The recipe calls for purslane and arugula, and I was lucky enough to be at the Boggy Creek Farmstand on a day when they had purslane. There was no arugula though, so I used baby mustard greens instead. But, any sturdy, flavorful salad greens would work here. The salad was built by placing tomato slices on a platter and drizzling them with some vinaigrette. Next, the salad greens were tossed with vinaigrette, and they were placed on top of the tomatoes. Last, the crisped farro was sprinkled on top. 

This vinaigrette made me wonder why I’m not putting miso into every salad dressing I make. With the roasted tomato, the big flavors were a great match for salad greens with character. Thankfully, I didn’t snack on every last bit of crisped farro before finishing the salad because the grains added a tasty contrast in texture. This book is for everyone who needs fresh new ideas for all those farmers’ market vegetables. It even has me looking forward to turnip season, and I don’t think I’ve ever said that before. 

Tomato Salad with Crisped Farro, Purslane, Arugula, and Roasted Tomato-Miso Vinaigrette 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Broad Fork by Hugh Acheson, published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers. 

Great tomatoes sprinkled with kosher salt are enough to make me giddy, but when you add an awesome vinaigrette, some wonderfully fresh greens, and the crisp texture of fried farro, then I am over the moon. This is summer. Bring on the front-porch dinners. 

Serves 4 

Kosher salt 
1⁄2 cup farro 
2 cups peanut oil 
2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, cored, halved, and sliced into half-moons 
1⁄3 cup Roasted Tomato–Miso Vinaigrette (recipe follows) 
2 cups fresh purslane 
2 cups arugula leaves 
Freshly ground black pepper 

1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan, and add 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt and the farro. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook the farro until it is tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Strain the farro. Spread it out on a large platter lined with paper towels to steam off and drain off as much of the water as possible. 
2. In a large saucepan, heat the peanut oil to 350°F. Add the farro, in batches, and fry until crisp, 1 to 11⁄2 minutes. You want the grains to be crisp but not like little rocks. Remove from the oil and drain on the platter, lined with fresh paper towels. Season with kosher salt to taste. 
3. Arrange the sliced tomatoes on a large platter and season them with kosher salt. Drizzle half of the vinaigrette over the tomatoes. In a large bowl, combine the purslane and the arugula. Dress the greens with the remaining vinaigrette and toss well. Place the greens in the center of the platter. Garnish with the crisp farro and season with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Eat, and eat well. 

Roasted Tomato-Miso Vinaigrette 
Makes about 1 1⁄2 cups 

1 large heirloom tomato 
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt 
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves 
1 tablespoon white miso paste 
1 teaspoon Japanese soy sauce 
2 tablespoons rice vinegar 
1⁄3 cup olive oil 

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. 
2. Core the tomato and cut it into thick rounds. Season the tomato slices with the kosher salt and arrange them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes, until the tomato slices are concentrated and very soft. 
3. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and let them cool to room temperature. When they have cooled, place them in a blender and add the thyme, miso, soy sauce, and vinegar. Puree until smooth, and then, with the motor still running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. The dressing will keep for a week in a jar in the fridge. 

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