Thursday, April 16, 2015

Semolina Cavatelli with Rabbit Ragu

I have to warn you, I’m going to gush a bit here. A new book has come along that’s not only about one of my most favorite food topics but is also full of interesting information I’d never read before on the subject. The book is Pasta by Hand by Jenn Louis, and I received a review copy. Even Mario Batali, who wrote the foreword, hadn’t tasted or heard of several of the recipes in this book. Now to explain, the “pasta” in the title refers to traditional handmade dumplings or variations on gnocchi from different regions in Italy. Jenn Louis researched the topic at her home in Portland and then traveled from region to region in Italy to learn everything she could about dumpling making. In Italy, these handmade morsels of dough are always called gnocchi with some regionally specific names for certain shapes. For Italians, the word dumpling is thought of only in terms of Chinese-style stuffed dough shapes. However, gnocchi translated to English is dumplings. Whether it’s pasta, gnocchi, dumplings, or any other name, they all look delicious and fun to make. I didn’t actually flag any pages in this book as I usually do to quickly flip back to recipes I want to make. That’s because I will eventually make every type of pasta or dumpling described. I truly love working with pasta doughs of all kinds and figuring out how to form the desired shapes. A yeasted dough is used to make Cecamariti which comes from Lazio, and the dumplings are shaped like little green beans with pointy tips. Orecchiette, from Puglia, is a shape I’ve never tried making but have wanted to for the longest time. It’s traditionally made with semolina or regular wheat flour, buckwheat flour, or burned wheat from fields that were burned after harvesting. There are potato gnocchi versions as well as ricotta ones; two versions with beets; some have chestnut flour; one has winter squash puree in the dough; and the Gnocchi Alla Bismark dough includes finely chopped prosciutto, cinnamon, and nutmeg. For each type of dumpling, there are suggestions for best sauces to pair with it. And, there’s a chapter for sauces at the back of the book. I decided to make Semolina Cavatelli for Easter, and since I have a curious habit of eating rabbit at Easter-time, I paired the cavatelli with the Rabbit Ragu. 

It all started a few years ago when I was out for dinner with my family on the night before Easter. I ordered the rabbit. I ate the Easter bunny on the night before Easter. Two years ago, my birthday fell on the day before Easter. When we went out for dinner that night, I did it again. What can I say? I can’t resist a theme. So, rabbit was on the menu for our Easter dinner this year. The only problem was that the recipe calls for ground rabbit, and after too many phone calls to count to butcher shops and meat counters around town, I learned that I can’t get ground rabbit in Austin. I bought a whole rabbit from Countryside Farms at the farmers’ market, removed the bones, and chopped the meat myself. But first, I started by making the cavatelli a couple of days in advance. It was easier than I expected and really, really fun. Boiling water was mixed into semolina flour with salt and olive oil in a stand mixer. The dough was then kneaded by hand briefly and then left to rest for 30 minutes. With small pieces of dough at a time, long ropes were rolled by hand and cut into half-inch lengths. Those half-inch bits of dough were rolled off the thumb on a ridged gnocchi board. The dough is just stiff enough to curl up around your thumb and form a little curved shape. It was like the dough just knew what to do all by itself. I stored some of the cavatelli in the refrigerator that was going to be used that weekend, and the rest was placed on a sheet pan and set in the freezer. Once firmly frozen, the cavatelli can be transferred to a bag to store in the freezer. Making the rabbit ragu was simple once I had the rabbit meat prepped and ready. I did skip the pancetta in the recipe and started by cooking the onion, fennel, rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes. Pureed, canned tomatoes were added and left to simmer before red wine and chicken stock were added and simmered until reduced. The chopped rabbit cooks quickly and was added at the end and only cooked for 10 minutes. To serve, enough ragu for each serving was heated in a saute pan with some added butter. Cooked cavatelli were added to the sauce to finish cooking and become coated. Parmiggiano-Reggiano was sprinkled on each serving. 

The semolina cavatelli are sturdy but tender at the same time. They hold their shape well but take on a nice texture after being cooked. The only thing better than making the pasta, was eating it. The ridges and curled shapes held the ragu well, and I was delighted with the rabbit in the sauce. I still have more cavatelli in the freezer that might get paired with a simpler tomato sauce next time. And then, I’ll be coming back to the book to try all the other dumpling shapes. 

Semolina Cavatelli 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Pasta by Hand.

Serves 10 

This recipe, featuring semolina, makes a sturdy dumpling. The texture is firmer and more toothsome than ricotta cavatelli, similar to malloreddus, which are also made from semolina, though the cavatelli are a little denser and made without any saffron. Semolina cavatelli pair well with sauces rooted in southern Italian staples, such as tomato, lamb, beef, and seafood. 

400 G/1 3/4 CUPS WATER 
865 G/5 CUPS SEMOLINA FLOUR, PLUS MORE FOR DUSTING 
2 TSP KOSHER SALT 
1 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL 

Bring the water to a boil over high heat. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine the semolina flour, boiling water, salt, and olive oil. Knead with your hands or on medium speed for 10 minutes, until fully combined and the dough is mostly smooth. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. 

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and dust with semolina. Cut off a chunk of dough about the width of two fingers and leave the rest covered with plastic wrap. On a work surface very lightly dusted with semolina, use your hands to roll the chunk into a log about ½ in (12 mm) in diameter. Do not incorporate too much more semolina into the dough, adding just enough so the dough does not stick to the surface. Cut the log into ½- to 1-in (12-mm to 2.5-cm) pieces. With the side of your thumb, gently push each piece against a gnocchi board or the back of the tines of a fork, rolling and flicking the dough to make a curled shape with an indentation on one side and a ridged surface on the other. Put the cavatelli on the prepared baking sheets and shape the remaining dough. Make sure that the cavatelli don’t touch or they will stick together. 

(To store, refrigerate on the baking sheets, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 days, or freeze on the baking sheets and transfer to an airtight container. Use within 1 month. Do not thaw before cooking.) 

Bring a large pot filled with generously salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the cavatelli and simmer until they float to the surface, 1 to 3 minutes. Simmer for 1 to 2 minutes more, until al dente. Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and finish with your choice of sauce. Serve right away. 

SAUCE PAIRINGS: Traditionally, semolina cavatelli are paired with Tomato Sauce, Rabbit Ragu, Lamb Ragu, or Beef Ragu. 

Rabbit Ragu 

Makes 3 cups (720 ml) 

Rabbit is as common in Italy as chicken is in the United States. At Lincoln, this ragu is a staple. We buy whole rabbits and use every part: the bones are made into stock, the fore- and hindquarters are used for an entree, and the loins and bellies are ground for ragu. Often we also use the livers, heart, and kidneys when making ragù; they add great richness and flavor. If finding ground rabbit meat is challenging, check with a local farm, Italian market, or specialty butcher, and ask specifically for medium-large grind (if the rabbit is finely ground, it will cook too quickly and toughen). This sauce is well worth the effort. 

3 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL 
2 OZ (60 G) PANCETTA, PROSCIUTTO, OR BACON, FINELY CHOPPED 
1/4 CUP (40 G) FINELY DICED YELLOW ONION 
1/4 CUP (45 G) FINELY DICED FENNEL BULB 
1 SPRIG FRESH ROSEMARY 
3 FRESH SAGE LEAVES 
2 SPRIGS FRESH THYME 
2 BAY LEAVES 
1 TSP RED PEPPER FLAKES 
1/4 CUP (50 G) CANNED WHOLE PEELED TOMATOES, PUREED AND STRAINED 
1/2 CUP (120 ML) RED WINE 
4 CUPS (960 ML) CHICKEN STOCK 
1 LB (455 G) GROUND RABBIT LOIN AND BELLY, MEDIUM-LARGE GRIND 
KOSHER SALT AND FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER 
UNSALTED BUTTER FOR SERVING 
DUMPLINGS OF YOUR CHOICE, JUST COOKED 
GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO CHEESE FOR SERVING 

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until the fat renders and the pancetta barely begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the onion, fennel, rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes and cook until the onion and pancetta are soft and slightly caramelized, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. 

Turn the heat to low and cook until the tomato thickens and begins to caramelize, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the red wine, raise the heat to medium-low, and cook until the wine is almost completely evaporated, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock and simmer very gently until the sauce is reduced to about one-third, about 20 minutes. 

Add the rabbit to the sauce, stirring to break up any lumps, and simmer just until the meat is soft, tender, and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Rabbit is lean, so it does not require much cooking time.

Season the sauce with salt and pepper and discard the herb sprigs and bay leaves. 

(To store, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month. To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight or until fully thawed.) 

To finish dumplings with the ragu, for each serving, warm 1/2 cup (120 ml) of ragu in a saute pan over medium heat and add 1½ tsp to 1 Tbsp butter per serving, depending on how naughty you feel. Gently simmer about 4 minutes, until the bubbles get large and the sauce is not watery along the edges of the pan. Add the cooked dumplings and simmer for 1 minute to let the dumplings absorb the flavor of the sauce. Spoon into serving bowls and top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Serve right away. 

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Starry Starry Nights Cookies

These days it’s becoming more and more likely that when you bring baked goods to a party or other event, you’ll encounter several guests who need to know what ingredients were used and if they need to avoid the item in question. I’ve been trying to bring optional offerings to events when possible like gluten free, dairy free, vegan, etc. The latest book from Gesine Bullock-Prado will make this much easier. Let Them Eat Cake is another treat-filled, fun book just like all her others, but this time, every single recipe also has three additional variations to make it vegan, gluten free, or healthier. I received a review copy. Vegan versions, obviously, replace all animal products with plant-based ingredients. So, eggs are replaced with flaxseed meal or a vegan egg replacer product, honey is replaced with agave syrup, and butter is replaced with a vegan butter substitute. Gluten free versions swap out wheat flour for other varieties, and the liquid quantities may change. For the healthier options, the primary changes include using some whole wheat pastry flour in place of all purpose, using organic coconut palm sugar instead of granulated, and in some cases, using some pureed fruit in place of some of the fat. It’s so convenient to have all these options in one place for each recipe. The recipes themselves are classics like we’ve come to expect from Gesine. There’s a checkerboard Battenberg cake covered in marzipan; a Key Lime Double Rainbow Cake with six shades of yellow and orange among the layers; and a Lemon Chiffon Strawberry Cake with mint and almond pastry cream, strawberry coulis, and cake layers. There are also cookies, quickbreads, pies, ice creams, and candies. The little pop tarts on sticks are too cute to resist, and I need to make the Killer Coffee Cake soon. But first, I had to make some cookies. The Starry Starry Nights are described as a chocolate truffle in cookie-form, and they’re already gluten free in the original recipe. 

This is a simple-enough cookie to make, but the process does require planning for chilling at two different stages. It’s made with almond flour and no other flour, so there’s no change for an option with no gluten. To start, eggs, coconut palm sugar, and honey were combined in a stand mixer. Chopped 70% cacao chocolate was melted with some butter in a double boiler and left to cool. Almond flour, cocoa powder, and salt were combined in a separate bowl. The melted chocolate was added to the almond flour mixture and stirred to combine. The whipped egg mixture was added in parts to the chocolate mixture. The first quarter of the egg mixture lightened the chocolate mixture, and the remaining egg mixture was gently folded in. Once mixed, this was covered and refrigerated for at least two hours. The mixture needs to be firm enough to scoop just like making truffles. When the batter was chilled and firm, small balls were scooped and then rolled in sugar before being placed on a parchment lined baking sheet. The scooped cookies can be placed close together here since they’ll be chilled in the freezer before baking. When all the cookies were formed, the sheet pan was covered with plastic and placed in the freezer for a couple of hours. They went almost straight from the freezer to the oven with a short stop for a second coating of sugar before being spaced farther apart on a baking sheet. They baked for about 10-12 minutes. 

For the second coating of sugar on the cookies, I used demerara sugar for the big, crunchy crystals. That also made my Starry Starry Nights have more of an amber-hued twinkle, but they were still glittery. Calling these baked truffles is exactly right. This is the perfect cookie for chocolate lovers, and each one packs a lot of flavor into its small size. Now, when I need to offer multiple options for baked goods or if I ever need to make a vegan caramel sauce, I know where to look. 

Starry Starry Nights 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Let Them Eat Cake

You know what I love about these cookies? They are the most delicious and chocolaty treats you’ll ever eat. And they’re gluten free from the get-go. When I first created them in 2004, it wasn’t my intention to make a gluten-free cookie; I just wanted to get as close to a “baked truffle” as I could muster. I wanted a cookie that you could keep around for your chocolate fix but that wouldn’t melt like a chocolate truffle. You can freeze them for up to a month after baking and just pop one in your mouth when you need a fix! 

{ MAKES 50 SMALL COOKIES } 

2 large eggs 
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar 
1 tablespoon honey 
10 ounces (280 g) bittersweet chocolate (like Lindt 70%), finely chopped 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1 cup (100 g) almond flour or very finely ground blanched slivered almonds 
2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder (like Cacao Barry Extra Brute) 
1/2 teaspoon salt 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the eggs, 1/4 cup (50 g) of the sugar, and the honey. Mix on high speed until the mixture ribbons thickly. 

Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water (to make a double boiler) until melted. Let cool slightly. 

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the almond flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Add the melted chocolate and stir well. Add one quarter of the egg mixture to the chocolate to lighten it, stirring with a wooden spoon until no egg streaks are visible. Add the remaining egg mixture and gently fold with a large rubber spatula until completely incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm, 2 hours to overnight. It is imperative that the mixture is incredibly firm. 

Put the remaining 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar in a small bowl. Fill a heatproof mug with very hot water. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. 

Using a teaspoon cookie scoop or a melon baller, first dip the scoop in the hot water and then scoop out a round of batter. Roll the ball in the sugar, then place it on the prepared pan (you can space them very close together to freeze; you will use another sheet pan to bake off). Continue to scoop and coat the balls. Cover the sheet pan with plastic wrap and freeze for 1 to 2 hours. 

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). 

Line another sheet pan with parchment, remove the cookie-filled sheet pan from the freezer, re-dip each cookie in sugar, and place the cookies 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on the new sheet pan, placing any cookies that didn’t fit onto the sheet pan back in the freezer until their turn in the oven comes. Immediately bake for 10 minutes, turning the sheet pan after 5 minutes. The cookies will look slightly cracked but the sugar will not be browned when they are done baking. 

Healthier
Replace the sugar with 3/4 cup (130 g) organic granulated palm sugar or 3/4 cup (110 g) Sucanat. 

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rice Noodles with Green Onions and Edamame

What happens when one of my most favorite cookbooks is given a part two to accompany it? I go through many, many Post-it flags marking pages. I’ve been reading and marking pages in Plenty More and looking forward to various vegetables coming into season. I can’t wait for summer to try Dakos made with ripe tomatoes, Corn Slaw, and Eggplant with Black Garlic. After my first glance at this new book, I was worried that this was just the collection of dishes that weren’t quite good enough for the original Plenty. And, I still don’t think that first book can be surpassed, but the more time I spend with Plenty More the more I find to love about it. The Urad Dal with freshly grated coconut, the Polenta Chips with Avocado and Yogurt dipping sauce, and the Taleggio and Spinach Roulade are all competing for the top spot on my list of what to make next. Every dish combines flavors, textures, and colors that are hard to resist. For spring, the Fava Bean Spread with Roasted Garlic Ricotta; the Sprout Salad Part Two with radishes, kohlrabi, carrot, and avocados; and the Rice Noodles with Green Onions and Edamame are bursting with bright, fresh tastes. I can never turn away from a noodle salad especially one that’s this easy to make. 

I learned a trick from Dorie Greenspan for cooking rice noodles in advance and letting them stand until time to serve. You just rinse and drain them after cooking and then toss them with a little oil to prevent sticking. That same technique is employed here. The cooked, rinsed, drained, and oil-tossed noodles are set aside and covered to keep them warm. Next, sliced green onions and serranos were stir fried in a wok, and blanched, frozen edamame were added. The noodles were added to the wok along with sesame oil, black and white sesame seeds, rice vinegar, and chopped cilantro. The dish was served garnished with lime zest and more sesame seeds with lime wedges on the side. 

This was intended to be served warm from the wok which I did, but the cold leftovers from the refrigerator the next day were delicious too. The lime and chiles work their way through the few other ingredients to brighten the whole dish. This book is going on the shelf next its older sibling for now, but neither of them will be left sitting for long. 

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cornmeal with Rosemary and Parmigiano Biscotti

There’s a lot to love about biscotti. You can go a very traditional route with them or veer off into all sorts of creative directions. For Christmas this past year, I got creative by baking big, mocha latte biscotti with chocolate chips in them that got drizzled with a white chocolate-espresso glaze. I’ve also made a peanut butter version and some that were fully dipped in chocolate. But, I’m also a big fan of the more proper, Italian almond cantucci that are subtly sweet, nutty, and all about the crunch. When visiting our friends who had just returned from a trip to Florence, they served us almond cantucci with Vin Santo for an after dinner treat. That combination proves that sometimes simple is most definitely better. And, the wonderful thing about Ciao Biscotti, the new book from Domenica Marchetti, is that it covers the full spectrum of biscotti making. I received a review copy of the book. The recipes begin with more traditional, nutty versions and one that even has Vin Santo in the dough. And, then there is a series of chocolate options including one that it is half lemon and half chocolate. There are dried fruit-filled flavors and suggestions for glazing and topping the cookies. Among the Fantasy Flavors, there’s even a Green Tea with White Chocolate Glaze. Next, you’ll find the chapter for The Savory Side. I’ve baked a lot of different kinds of biscotti, but I had never tried a savory one. I couldn’t wait. Mountain Gorgonzola with Walnuts, Pepper Jack and Green Peppercorn, and Sun-Dried Tomato and Fennel all sounded delicious, but I stopped everything to bake the Cornmeal with Rosemary and Parmigiano. The first few times I ever made biscotti, I had anxiety about cutting the slender cookies and how long to bake them for the second bake. I now realize that the issue was that I was following recipes that weren’t well-conceived. The instructions in this book are clear; there are clues for what to look for at each stage; and the baking times are specific for the type of biscotti being made. 

For these crunchy, savory cookies, you begin by combining flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a mixer. I used a local, heirloom variety of cornmeal from Richardson Farms. The dry ingredients were mixed briefly to combine. Next, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, sliced toasted almonds, and chopped rosemary were added and mixed. Small chunks of butter, beaten eggs, and milk were added last, and the dough was turned out onto a board. It was divided into two pieces that were each formed into a long loaf shape. The goal is to end up with small biscotti, so the dough loaves were stretched long and kept narrow. The dough was brushed with egg before it was baked at 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes. After the first bake, the loaves were left to cool for about 20 minutes before being cut into pieces. For this recipe, the cookies were cut to a thickness of about one-third inch. For the second bake, you can place the cookies cut-side-down and bake for 20 minutes, turn them over, and bake for another 20 minutes. Or, another tip I learned from Alice Medrich is to stand the biscotti on edge so both cut sides are exposed to the heat of the oven, and bake for the full 35 – 40 minutes rotating the baking sheet at the halfway point. If you want to check the crunchiness of the biscotti to decide if they should bake longer, you’ll need to remove one and let it cool before tasting. They get crunchier as they cool. 

The parmesan and rosemary smelled fantastic as the biscotti baked. I imagined several ways to use them like for dipping into a bowl of minestrone or topping a salad with them. But, the suggestion in the book for serving them with Chianti Classico was a perfect pre-dinner nibble with wine. I’m delighted to see the world of biscotti get a little bigger with the addition of a savory side. 

Cornmeal with Rosemary and Parmigiano 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Ciao Biscotti

1 Tbsp vegetable oil 
1 1⁄2 cups/185 g unbleached all-purpose flour 
1⁄2 cup/70 g fine cornmeal 
1 tsp baking powder 
1⁄4 tsp fine sea salt 
1 cup/80 g grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 
1 cup/100 g sliced almonds, toasted 
1 Tbsp finely minced fresh rosemary
6 Tbsp/85 g unsalted butter, cut into 1⁄2-in/12-mm pieces, at cool room temperature 
2 large eggs, lightly beaten 
2 to 4 Tbsp half-and-half or milk 

Makes about 50 biscotti 

Fine-ground cornmeal adds a delicate crunch and pretty golden hue to these rosemary-infused biscotti. Slice these thinly and serve them with a nice runny cheese.  

Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Lightly coat an 11-by-17-in/28-by-43-cm rimmed baking sheet with the oil. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix briefly on low speed. Add the cheese, almonds, and rosemary and mix to combine. Add the butter in pieces and mix on medium-low speed until the mixture looks like damp sand. Set aside 1 Tbsp of the beaten eggs. Combine the remaining eggs with 2 Tbsp half-and-half and pour into the mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed until a soft, slightly sticky dough has formed. Add the remaining half-and-half if necessary to make the dough come together. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a disk. Divide it in half. Lightly moisten your hands with water and gently roll one portion of dough into a rough oval. Place it lengthwise on one half of the baking sheet and use your hands and fingers to stretch and pat the dough into a log about 2 1/2 in/6 cm wide and 12 in/30 cm long. Shape the second piece of dough in the same way, moistening your hands as necessary. Press down on the logs to flatten them out a bit and make the tops even. Brush the reserved egg over the tops of the logs. 

Bake the logs for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and just set—they should be springy to the touch and there should be cracks on the surface.
Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack. Gently slide an offset spatula under each log to loosen it from the baking sheet. Let the logs cool for 5 minutes, and then transfer them to the rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F/150°C. 

Transfer the cooled logs to a cutting board and, using a Santoku knife or a serrated bread knife, cut them on the diagonal into 1/3-in-/8-mm-thick slices. Arrange the slices, cut-side up, on the baking sheet (in batches if necessary) and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until they are crisp and golden. Transfer the slices to the rack to cool completely. The biscotti will keep for up to 10 days in an airtight container stored at room temperature. 

What to drink: Chianti Classico. 

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Southern Hummus

How do you change the direction of 100 years of family cooking while honoring the traditions? That’s what Alice Randall and her daughter Caroline Randall Williams set out to do. They chronicled their family history and their desire to change their eating habits for the better in their new book Soul Food Love, and I received a review copy. The book begins with stories about three generations and five different kitchens and the types of cooking in each. The goal for mother and daughter was to keep the flavors from the past while fine-tuning approaches to arrive at healthy dishes for celebrations and every day. They’ve written of the historical complexity of the kitchen for many African-American families. “(The kitchen) has been a place of servitude and scarcity, and sometimes violence, as well as a place of solace, shelter, creativity, commerce, and communion.” When excess appeared in the kitchen, foods began causing illness rather than nourishing families. The authors want to change that pattern by offering dishes that are easy to make part of your home-cooking routine and are free of guilt. The Soups chapter begins with a few homemade broths, and one of them is Sweet Potato Broth. It’s a puree of cooked sweet potatoes in water with onion, celery, and carrot, and it sounds like a delicious base for lots of soups. It’s used in the Sweet Potato, Kale, and Black-Eyed Pea Soup and the Peanut Chicken Stew. There are several fresh and light salads like Savory Avocado Salad with Corn, Peppers, and Cilantro and New-School “Fruit” Salad with watermelon, cherry tomatoes, avocados, and feta. There are also updates to dishes made with practical ingredients like canned fish. The story behind the Salmon Croquettes with Dill Sauce brought back memories of the mackerel cakes my Mom used to make that I loved. Likewise, there’s a story about how eating sardines used to be thought of as a hardship, but now we know that they’re a healthy and sustainable choice. The recipes nicely weave together the best of the past with a health-conscious look forward. 

I was intrigued by the Southern Hummus recipe because as many times as I’ve made hummus, I’d never thought of using peanut butter in place of the tahini. Since I usually have some natural peanut butter on hand but not always tahini, this means I can make hummus even more often. It’s an easy puree in the food processor of natural peanut butter, lemon juice, and chopped fresh garlic. Next, rinsed and drained canned chickpeas, warm water, ground cumin, salt and pepper, and olive oil were added and pureed. I suspect there’s a typo in the book. The ingredient quantities seem to be meant for two cans of chickpeas. So, if using one can, the other ingredients should be reduced by half. Later in the book, there’s a recipe for a Moorish Pizza which is pita topped with hummus, baba ghanoush, and chopped parsley. I couldn’t resist going that route with this hummus even though I didn't have any baba ghanoush on had. I warmed a fresh, whole wheat pita over the flame of a burner until toasted and crisp. Then, I spread some hummus on top and sprinkled on chopped parsley. I gave it a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and cut it into wedges. 

This is going to be my new way of making hummus. I liked the flavor of the peanut butter in it even more than the usual flavor of tahini. And, the pita pizza made my day. It would be perfect with cocktails too. This book got me thinking about family food traditions and how to preserve them to make sure they’re not forgotten and update them as needed. I’m sure there are lots of dishes just waiting for a fresh take. 

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Buttered Buckwheat with Fenugreek Kale and Spicy Yellow Split Peas

Can cookbooks read minds? I’m pretty sure that’s what this new book from Molly Watson did. The book is Greens + Grains, and it is full of dishes made exactly the way I like to cook. When I started reading my review copy, I was sure this book was made just for me. There’s farro, quinoa, wild rice, spelt, barley, and polenta paired with chard, kale, arugula, beet greens, collards, and escarole. I mix and match those ingredients pretty regularly depending on which greens are in season. And, beyond those basic pairings, there are specifics about the recipes that are just what I’d want to do with the dishes too. For instance, the Corn Cilantro and Farro Salad with Chile Dressing is made spicy with jalapeno and is served on top of arugula leaves. The Wild Rice Salad with Kale, Pecans, and Blueberries nicely combines bitter, sweet, nutty, savory, and sweet. I’ve made similar salads with kale but never added blueberries. I can’t wait to try it. The Red Beans and Collard Greens with Brown Rice dish is spookily similar to something I make almost every week. Yes, I felt at home with this book. Although the style of cooking was very familiar, there were some new-to-me recipes too like the Fava Greens Quiche. I’ve never tried fava greens and now will have to find some or grow them myself. The Green Whole-Wheat Flatbread is like paratha made with pureed collard greens leaves mixed into the dough. And, I really have to make the grilled Collard Greens-Wrapped Feta. The first dish I cooked from the book was also something new to me since I’d never before used buckwheat groats. They cook surprisingly quickly, actually faster than the split peas, for Buttered Buckwheat with Fenugreek Kale and Spicy Yellow Split Peas. 

Because the split peas take the longest to cook, they should be started first. They were simmered with sliced ginger and turmeric. I used grated, fresh turmeric for this part of the recipe. Next, the kale was cleaned and chopped into ribbons. Butter was melted in a large saute pan, and ground fenugreek was added followed by minced onion, garlic, serrano chiles, grated ginger, and salt. After a couple of minutes, the kale ribbons were added and cooked until very tender. The buckwheat groats were cooked separately, and they only require about 15 minutes. The last element of the dish was the spiced butter. Butter was melted in a saucepan, and hot paprika, red chile flakes, ground cumin, ground cardamom, ground coriander, ground fenugreek seeds, black pepper, ground ginger, ground turmeric, allspice, and cinnamon were added. To serve, the buckwheat, kale and yellow split peas were plated next to each other and drizzled with the spiced butter. 

This was one of those times when I was uncertain what Kurt’s reaction to the meal would be considering I had gone full-vegetarian with it. I needn’t have worried. The serrranos and spices in the kale, the ginger and turmeric in the split peas, and that flavor-packed butter drizzle brought so much interest to the plate. The buckwheat was a chewy, mild backdrop for everything else happening with the dish. I like being on the same wavelength with a cookbook. I bet we’re going to spend a lot of time together. 

Buttered Buckwheat with Fenugreek Kale and Spicy Yellow Split Peas 
Recipe reprinted with publishes permission from Greens + Grains

SERVES 6 

Yes, this does seem like a lot of paprika. Don’t worry about that; the heat comes from the dried chile in the spiced butter. Feel free to use less of that, if you’d like. And yes, the spiced butter uses lots of different spices. While the spices do work together in a balanced and delicious way, you can feel free to use whatever combination you can cobble together. The key is the paprika; whatever else you can or can’t add to the mix, the spiced butter will still add plenty of pizzazz. 

SPLIT PEAS 
1 cup/200 g yellow split peas or chana dal (hulled and split chickpeas) 
5 thin slices peeled fresh ginger 
1 tsp turmeric 
1 tsp fine sea salt 

KALE 
20 oz/560 g kale 
1 tbsp butter 
1/4 tsp ground fenugreek 
1 yellow onion, minced 
4 garlic cloves, minced 
2 serranos or other small hot chiles, seeded and minced 
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger 
1/2 tsp fine sea salt 
Champagne vinegar for sprinkling (optional) 

BUCKWHEAT 
2 cups/340 g toasted buckwheat groats 
1/2 tsp fine sea salt 

SPICED BUTTER 
4 tbsp butter 
1 tbsp hot paprika 
1 tsp crumbled dried red chile or red chile flakes 
1/2 tsp ground cumin 
1/4 tsp ground cardamom 
1/4 tsp ground coriander 
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds or ground fenugreek 
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper 
1/4 tsp ground ginger 
1/4 tsp turmeric 
1/8 tsp ground allspice or ground cloves 
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon 

TO MAKE THE SPLIT PEAS: Rinse the split peas and put them in a medium pot with 4 cups/960 ml water, the ginger, and turmeric. Bring to a boil, skim the surface of any foam, and simmer, partially covered, until the split peas are tender, about 30 minutes. Add more water, if needed, to keep from getting too thick or sticking to the bottom of the pot. Stir in the salt. Set aside. 

TO MAKE THE KALE: Trim off and discard the tough ends of the kale stems, chop the remaining stems and leaves all together; bite-size pieces are good, thin ribbons are even better. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan or wide, shallow pot over high heat. Add the fenugreek and cook, stirring as it sizzles, about 30 seconds. Add the onion, garlic, chiles, ginger, and salt. Cook, stirring frequently as the aromatics soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in the kale. Add 1/2 cup/120 ml water, cover, and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring now and again, until the kale is very tender, about 40 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking to let any excess water evaporate, about 5 minutes. Lightly sprinkle the kale with vinegar, if you like. Set aside. 

TO MAKE THE BUCKWHEAT: Bring 4 cups/960 ml water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the buckwheat groats and salt. Cover, turn heat to low, and cook, maintaining a steady simmer, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. If the directions on the package for the buckwheat groats you have are much different from the ones here, follow the package directions; different varieties of buckwheat can cook up quite differently. Set aside. 

TO MAKE THE SPICED BUTTER: When everything else is ready to serve, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add all the spices at once and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat. Spoon the split peas, kale, and buckwheat alongside one another into six shallow pasta bowls. Drizzle the spiced butter over the split peas before serving. If some butter spills over to the kale and buckwheat, so be it. 

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Carrot Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Since Kurt’s birthday is just a few days before Valentine’s Day, there have been years when there was an overload of sweet treats during that second week of February. This year, it was a little different since Kurt was traveling for work on his birthday. We waited and celebrated both occasions on the 14th. Of course, I questioned him in advance regarding what kind of cake he wanted this year. In early December, I read Alice Medrich’s latest book, Flavor Flours, in which she suggested the New Classic Boston Cream Pie made with corn flour chiffon layers with a rice flour-thickened pastry cream is better than the original wheat flour version. I was sure this was going to be Kurt’s birthday cake because he lives for Boston Cream Pie. Instead, he shocked me by requesting a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I was surprised but delighted to make a carrot cake. My go-to carrot cake recipe has always been the one from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. It includes walnuts, shredded coconut, and crushed pineapple, and the cream cheese frosting has a little lemon juice in it which I love. I’ve been making that recipe for years and never felt I needed a different approach to carrot cake. But, I decided to try something new this time. Also in Flavor Flours, there’s a Carrot Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting made with rice flour and oat flour that’s touted as being a better-than-ever and gluten-free take on a classic. Now, let me explain, neither of us has any sort of gluten sensitivity, but I do love experimenting with different types of flour to discover new tastes and textures. This carrot cake is completely gluten-free, but, more importantly for me, it’s completely delicious with a delicate crumb. It seems impossible since carrot cake is usually somewhat dense, but even with the walnuts this was a light and crumbly cake. 

It’s very similar to my standard carrot cake recipe in that it’s made with vegetable oil rather than butter, and that’s mixed with sugar and eggs. Rice flour and oat flour were combined with baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt. The dry ingredients were mixed into the wet, and then grated carrots and toasted, chopped walnuts were added. Thanks to perfect timing, I had just received a bunch of fresh carrots from our CSA that I shredded for the cake. I baked the cakes in eight-inch round pans and let them cool. For a layer cake, one and a half times the recipe for frosting is needed. The frosting recipe here includes cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla, and I added lemon juice because I can’t give up that detail of my usual carrot cake approach. One thing to keep in mind with this cake is that because it is especially crumbly, it definitely requires a crumb coat of frosting. I scooped some of the frosting from the big bowl in which it was mixed into a smaller bowl to use for the crumb coat. That way, any crumbs from the spatula will only get mixed into the crumb coat frosting and not into the entire batch. Chilling the cake after applying the crumb coat is a good idea since the frosting will set more firmly. Then, the pretty final coat of frosting can be applied.

This version didn’t have the shredded coconut or crushed pineapple that I’ve become used to in a carrot cake, but I liked that leaving them out eliminated some sweetness. Mostly, I really liked the tender, crumbly texture and the flavor from the spices and nutty oat flour. It really was amazingly the opposite of dense given that it was a carrot cake. Kurt was very pleased with his choice as well, and I now have two favorite carrot cake recipes. 

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