Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fried Salt Cod with Garlic Sauce and Artichoke Soup from Vefa’s Kitchen

I don’t know why I didn’t cook Greek food more often in the past. I’ve always really liked Greek food, but I felt like I didn’t know enough about it. That excuse is about to become a thing of the past. I received a review copy of Vefa's Kitchen, and this is a comprehensive guide to all types of food from every region of Greece. Central Greece has a rich history of cheese production because sheep and goats spend winters in mountain pastures full of green grass. Messinia, in the Peloponnese, is the country’s leading olive producer, and the mountains of Arkadia are where the best feta is made. Venetian influence on the Ionian Islands is apparent in Italian-sounding dishes like pastitsada, but the cuisine has taken on a character of its own. And, we have the island of Cyprus to thank for lovely, lovely halloumi cheese. There’s a simplicity to a lot of the cooking in that it’s the freshness of ingredients that brings great flavor. Grilled fish with just olive oil and lemon and maybe parsley or oregano is as good as it is because of the fish itself. That being said, there are plenty of complex dishes involving pastry or pasta, but there’s always a clear link to seasonality. I could have focused on the salad chapter alone for days with options like potato salad with octopus, broiled zucchini halloumi and lettuce salad, and grape and lettuce salad with kefalotiri. First, I had to try the fried salt cod with garlic sauce and artichoke soup.

I was thrilled when I finally found some salt cod locally since I’d wanted to try cooking with it for ages. I had imagined it would have some aroma as it soaked in water to remove the salt. I let it soak for 24 hours, and changed the water four times keeping it tightly covered with plastic wrap as it sat in the refrigerator. Happily, it didn’t have a strong smell at all, and 24 hours was plenty of time to remove excess salt from this particular piece. After rinsing and drying the cod, which had already been skinned and de-boned, it was cut into chunks. A batter was made from flour, olive oil, beer, and salt and pepper, and that was set aside for one hour. Just before frying, whipped egg whites were folded into the batter before the cod chunks were coated. The crispy, golden fish pieces were served with a garlic sauce made from, obviously, garlic, but also cooked potatoes, bread crumbs, red wine vinegar, water, olive oil, and salt and pepper. I was thrilled with the crunchy, fried cod and the garlic sauce was a nice, although somewhat thick, accompaniment.

Next, I used some spring artichokes in a simple, pureed, and chilled soup. This was a lot like vichyssoise with the addition of artichokes. Big, green, globe artichokes were cleaned and peeled to the heart and stem and then sauteed with onion and leeks in olive oil. Speaking of Greek artichokes, there was a great story about them with a slideshow on The Atlantic site the other day. Once the vegetables had softened, stock was added along with some chopped potatoes, parsley, and lemon juice. That all simmered for about 20 minutes, was allowed to cool, and was then pureed in a blender. The soup was poured through a strainer and then refrigerated for a few hours. Just before serving, I tasted it and thought it was missing something. That something was the Greek yogurt that was to be whisked in at the last moment. The yogurt’s acidity gave the soup just the zip it needed. The chilled soup was velvety smooth, and the vegetable flavor was spring in a cup.

I haven’t even finished reading the book yet, and I already have several pages marked of more things I want to try. Stuffed pastas, chicken pilaf wrapped in phyllo, baked giant beans, and kataifi and cheese rolls are just a few. I’m also really looking forward to using summer’s stars, zucchini and eggplant, in several Greek specialties. I hope to visit Greece some day, and while I’m daydreaming about that, I can learn more about the country through its food.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

David Lebovitz, What Are You Reading?

After working as a pastry chef at several restaurants in San Francisco, including almost thirteen years at Chez Panisse, David Lebovitz now lives in Paris where he leads culinary tours and writes books that we all know and love. A couple of the latest of those books are The Perfect Scoop, which is a favorite of mine, and The Sweet Life in Paris, which is a great read with great recipes like dulce de leche brownies. His brand new book is Ready for Dessert, and this one brings together the best of his desserts with new photos and additional recipes. On David’s blog, there’s always something entertaining, delicious, or informative and probably a combination of all three. I had to ask him, what are you reading?

Right now I'm reading The Belly of Paris, a new translation, and what I'm particularly enjoying about it is that it brings the city of Paris from a whole different era back to life. The giant market, Les Halles, must've been amazing and the descriptions of the piles of food and the people who worked there are so vivid and make me a bit sad that the market was torn down in the name of "progress."

I recently read Kitchen Chinese, by Ann Mah, a novel about a young woman moving back to China and rediscovering her identity by becoming a food writer.

I also enjoyed The Tenth Muse by Judith Jones. A lot of people don't realize how important she's been to modern cooking; she discovered and was responsible for getting everyone from Julia Child to Marcella Hazan published. She lived in Paris, too, which made the book a nice reminiscence of a time when French cooking was still loaded with cream-soaked gratins and bustling bistros.

Am looking forward to baking my way through Farmers' Market Desserts, by Jennie Schacht. It's filled with things like cobblers and pies, using all those wonderful fruits that are starting to appear at my market this month.

On deck, is The Butcher and the Vegetarian by Tara Austen Weaver. Am looking forward to diving into her story about her conversion from vegetarian to meat eater. She's a great writer and when I pull myself out of the kitchen, I'm devouring this book next.

Thank you for participating, David! Check back to see who answers the question next time and what other books are recommended.

Previous WAYR posts:
Jaden Hair
Michael Ruhlman
Monica Bhide
Michael Natkin
Sara Roahen
Andrea Nguyen

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pinto Bean and Poblano Rice Collard Greens Rolls with Ancho Sauce

Last week, I visited the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas with several other Austin food bloggers. We’re all participating in a week-long project to bring awareness to hunger in Central Texas. Our local food bank works with 355 partner agencies which distribute food to people in need. Since one year ago, our local food bank saw a 60% increase in needs. Currently, over 48,000 people rely on this food bank each week. The goal of the CAFB is to assist anyone with food hardship problems and to provide a positive way for people to take care of their health with nourishing food. Families or individuals are able to visit a food pantry once per month, and we were given a list of what is typically received:
2 cans spaghetti sauce
4 cans veggies (choice of green beans and/or corn)
4 cans fruit (choice of sliced pears and/or mixed fruit)
1 meat selection: whole chicken, beef roast, pork chops, or possibly pig trotters or ham
3 drink items: choice of large bottle of cranberry apple juice and/or powdered milk (shelf stable milk) boxes and/or apple juice boxes
1 bag spaghetti or bag of egg noodles
1 bag of pinto beans or white navy beans
1 bag of white rice
1 package of pickled jalapeno slices
1 ready-made dinner (hamburger helper)
1 bag/container of rolled oats
1 bag of cheerios
5 lb bag of potatoes

Additionally, many people also participate in food stamp programs. Several of our Austin famers’ markets can now accept debit cards and food stamps from the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) or food stamp (Lone Star: SNAP) programs. We learned that applying for food stamps is time consuming and challenging with a 22-page application that needs to be re-submitted every three months. A maximum benefit is about $200 per month. By blogging about the CAFB, we’re hoping to raise Hunger Awareness and encourage donations of food, money, or time to local food banks. On Saturday May 8 in central Texas, the US Postal Service will be collecting food donations for Stamp Out Hunger, and all of the food collected here is used locally.

Each of the local bloggers involved has taken a different approach to this project, and everyone involved is listed on the CAFB blog. I wanted to cook a big, healthy meal with some ingredients that would be part of a monthly food pantry pick-up and some that could be easily found at a farmers’ market. The items from the list above that immediately jumped out at me were the beans, rice, and pickled jalapenos. At the risk of heading straight for the dreaded, hippie-food territory, the fact is that 'beans and rice' is comfort food for me. I wanted to include a healthy green vegetable as well and make a meal that would produce lots of leftovers. I’m not sure if these are collards-enchiladas or southwest-cabbage rolls. I’ve made cabbage rolls a lot of different ways using standard green cabbage, napa cabbage, and leaves from different greens like chard, broccoli greens, and collards. I like using collards because the leaves are usually big and somewhat round. I’ve made more traditional rolls with tomato, lemon, and dill sauce. I’ve made them with ground turkey, I’ve used brown rice, and I’ve made them before with the same filling used here. Cooked pinto beans, rice, and shredded monterey jack cheese were on the inside, and the sauce was a puree of simmered anchos, onion, and tomato.

Admittedly, I made this more complicated than it needed to be, but let’s pretend that was just to show the possibilities. It's somewhat labor-intensive, but a few steps can be prepared a day or two in advance. Also, while I did make a sauce from scratch, a prepared enchilada sauce would work just as well. I cooked the pinto beans a day in advance, and I added half of a large, sweet, Texas onion and a few dried chipotles to the water as the beans cooked. The chipotles gave the beans a hint of smokiness and a little spice. The rice could have been made a day or two early as well. I roasted poblano chiles to add to the rice, and I stirred in some chopped cilantro from my garden, but it could have been left plain. For the ancho sauce, I sauteed the other half of that sweet onion, chopped of course, and then added seeded and chopped dried anchos and two chopped tomatoes. After that simmered with water long enough for the chiles to re-hydrate, I pureed the mixture until smooth and added lime juice.

I served the rolls with pickled jalapeno and pickled carrots on top with a little extra finely grated cheese. From three cups of cooked beans, one cup of rice, and one half pound of cheese, I made 20 rolls and still had some leftover rice. Not only did we have a healthy dinner full of spicy flavors and melty cheese, we also have several lunches covered for this week and a few rolls in the freezer for another time.

Pinto Bean and Poblano Rice Collard Greens Rolls with Ancho Sauce

3 c cooked pinto beans
1 c white or brown rice
3 poblano chiles, roasted, cleaned, seeded, and chopped
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for baking dishes
4 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
2 fresh tomatoes, cored and chopped
1/2 large, sweet onion, roughly chopped
1 lime
1/2 pound Monterey jack cheese, grated
20 large collard greens leaves
Pickled jalapenos
Salt and pepper to taste

- In a small saucepan, bring two cups water to a boil, add rice, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let rice sit for 10 minutes. Place rice in a large bowl and fold in chopped, roasted poblanos and cilantro. Set aside.
- For the sauce, heat vegetable oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and cook until tender and just starting to brown. Season with salt and pepper. Add chopped anchos, tomatoes, and one cup water. Reduce heat to low, cover pan, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until anchos are tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Transfer mixture to a blender, add juice of one lime, and puree until very smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
-Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.
-Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Place collard greens leaves, a few at a time, into the boiling water. You can hold them by the stem and leave the stem sticking up out of the water. Let the leaves boil for about one minute until softened. Transfer to a sheet pan and repeat with all leaves. Let the leaves sit on the sheet pan until cool enough to handle.
- Coat two baking dishes with vegetable oil. Pour half of the ancho sauce into each baking dish.
- Place a collard leaf on a cutting board and cut away the thick part of the stem. The stems can be chopped and cooked for another dish, but they’re not needed here. Place a big spoonful of rice in the center of the widest part of the leaf. Top the rice with a big spoonful of beans, and then add some grated cheese. Fold in the leaf on each side and roll into a bundle and set the rolled bundle into the sauce in a baking dish. Repeat with all leaves. The pans I used fit 10 rolls each.
- Cover the baking dishes with foil, and bake until warmed through, about 20 to 30 minutes. Serve with sauce from the pan, a little more grated cheese, and pickled jalapenos.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Strawberry-Rhubard Sorbet and Vanilla Ice Cream with Rhubarb-Red Wine Compote

It’s time for dessert. After tapas and paella, dessert was, well, not exactly Spanish. I wanted to make use of spring-time strawberries and rhubarb and turning them into something frozen seemed right. Since a frozen dessert would be made well in advance, that meant I could put together a few components and nothing would require last-minute attention. When I read The Perfect Scoop, I was inspired by the suggested pairings of sorbets or granitas with ice creams and sauces. I dreamt up a vision of fruity strawberry-rhubarb sorbet served next to a sinfully rich scoop of vanilla ice cream, and I found those recipes in that book. Following the strawberry-rhubarb sorbet recipe, there’s a note about serving it with a red wine-poached rhubarb compote which sounded perfect. Sorbet, ice cream, and compote was a good start, but I thought a nutty, crunchy item would make it complete. For that, I turned to Martha Stewart's Cookies and chose the lacy nut cookie. I had a plan, but I had no idea how to best present those items on a dessert plate. I should probably read a book on plating and presentation.

Each part of this dessert was very easy to prepare. For the sorbet, rhubarb was chopped and cooked with sugar and water until tender. That was pureed with strawberries, chilled, and churned into sorbet in my ice cream maker. The next day, I made the custard for ice cream with whole milk, sugar, cream, a vanilla bean, six egg yolks, and vanilla extract. I’ve tried a few different recipes for vanilla ice cream, and I can now gauge how delicious the result will be based on the number of egg yolks used. Six is a lovely number of egg yolks for vanilla ice cream, and it was very delicious. The compote was a simple mix of chopped rhubarb, red wine, sugar, honey, a cinnamon stick, and ground cloves. That combination was simmered until the rhubarb was cooked and the sauce reduced, and then I stored it in the refrigerator. Before serving, I brought the compote back to room temperature. The last item was the cookie. The dough was made from mostly butter but also confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, bread flour, and chopped pecans. Once mixed, it was rolled into a log, wrapped in parchment paper, and chilled. Pieces were sliced from the dough log and baked on silpat-lined sheet pans. I quickly learned that these cookies spread even more than you would think. The dough log I created was a little big, and I ended up cutting each slice in half before baking. The shape of the dough doesn’t matter so much because it spreads into a circle regardless while baking. The cookies baked into lacy and somewhat fragile wafers of buttery crunch.

I ended up with just what I wanted for flavors, textures, fruit, and nuts, but I had no idea how to make it look nice on a plate. Should I have put the compote on the bottom, drizzled it on top, or placed it to the side? What about the cookie? I couldn’t decide how to position it either. It could have been the platform on which everything else sat, or it could have rested on top like a lacy veil over the frozen scoops, or it could have sat in a more vertical pose. I played with the plating and snapped the photos seen here well before dinner time. Then, when it was time for dessert, my final plating decision was to set out a buffet of sorts and invite everyone to help themselves. Problem solved.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chiringuito Seafood Paella with Saffron Allioli

I started the story of a dinner party the other day, and here it continues with two more parts of the meal including an asparagus salad and seafood paella. I thought I knew paella, but I learned so much more from The New Spanish Table. For authentic Paella Valenciana, you must use the proper rice and cook it in a wide, flat paella pan outdoors over a fire of burning vine branches or orange tree shoots. It contains chicken, rabbit, possibly duck, and occasionally vaquetes, which are land snails, but never seafood or chorizo. Traditionally, the only allowable additional garnishes were flat green beans, artichokes, and butter beans. The focus of the dish is always the rice. There’s also a suggestion that paella is only for lunch and never for dinner, and any dish that includes those other ingredients like seafood should be called something other than paella. To be named Valenciana, it has to be exactly right. Clearly, I didn’t really know paella at all. The good news is that there are also recipes in the book for ‘paellas’ which make no attempt at being by-the-book, traditional Paella Valenciana. I decided to make one of those, chiringuito seafood paella, which Von Bremzen describes as ‘a minimalist affair, with few other ingredients besides seafood and rice.’ The one important garnish, which I almost completely forgot to serve, was the saffron allioli.

Before I get into the specifics of making the paella, I also wanted to show a simple asparagus salad I served while the rice simmered. This is called asparagus on asparagus, and it’s another playful and easy dish from Happy in the Kitchen. You start with a bunch of peeled asparagus and set four spears aside and then cook the rest until tender. Those were left whole and chilled. The four reserved spears were chopped and added to a saucepan with a little water and olive oil. They were simmered until very tender and then pureed with dijon mustard, lemon juice, and salt. What results is a thick asparagus sauce which was served in cups for dunking the whole, chilled spears.

So, back to the seafood paella. I prepared a shrimp stock and cleaned and cut the seafood in advance. The stock was warmed with some saffron while the paella prep began. Olive oil was heated in a large saute pan because I don’t yet own a proper paella pan, but now I really want one. The recipe suggested using monkfish, but that’s not a sustainable choice and is on the avoid list right now. I used true cod instead. Cod, cut into one-inch pieces, was added to the olive oil and seared for about a minute. It was removed from the pan, and squid tubes cut into rings were added. The squid was seared and then pushed to the outside of the pan. More olive oil was added to the pan, and minced garlic was cooked until fragrant. Tomatoes that had been grated on a box grater were added followed by some paprika. Then, the rice was added. In the book, there’s a thorough explanation of types of rices to consider for paella. The most reliable and easiest to locate is Italian Arborio rice, and that’s what I used. The rice was stirred in the pan until well coated, and then the warmed shrimp and saffron stock was added. From that point on, the rice was no longer stirred. The pan was shaken to distribute the stock throughout the rice, but otherwise, the rice was left to cook undisturbed. Chopped parsley was added, and after about five minutes, the cod was returned to the pan along with some littleneck clams. Once the stock had absorbed down almost to the surface of the rice, the pan went into a 425 degree F oven for 15 minutes. The pan was then removed from the oven, covered, and left to sit for five minutes. The lid was removed, and it was left to sit for another five minutes. The sitting improves the rice. While it sat, shrimp were sauteed in a separate pan with some minced garlic.

The paella was served in the pan with the sauteed shrimp on top with no garnishes other than some lemon wedges. I wasn’t sure I had seasoned the rice carefully enough during the cooking time, but the seafood, and particularly the clams, added such a nice taste of the sea that it worked out fine. Just as everyone was taking their last bites, I realized I had completely forgotten the saffron allioli which was to have been served with the paella. Our guests, and this is truly a sign of the best kind of dinner guests, said ‘go get it, let’s have a taste!’ So we all piled one more scoop of paella onto our plates and topped it with the allioli. The garlicky, saffron-scented, thick sauce added a lovely something extra, but the plain paella wasn’t bad at all on its own. Up next, I’ll show dessert.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Andrea Nguyen, What Are You Reading?

Andrea Nguyen is an author, freelance writer, and cooking teacher. She is a contributing editor to Saveur and has written for the Los Angeles Times and San Jose Mercury News. Her first cookbook was Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, and Andrea’s site Viet World Kitchen is where you can learn about Vietnamese cuisine as well as other Asian culinary traditions. Last year, her book Asian Dumplings was published, and the site Asian Dumpling Tips was created as a place to share information about dumpling making. I’ve been enjoying the book Asian Dumplings since grabbing a copy as soon as it appeared. The book taught me how to make dumpling wrappers which were very fun to flatten, fill, and shape. I was sure Andrea would have an interesting list to share, so I asked her, what are you reading?

1. When I have spare moments these days, I leaf through David Thompson's Thai Street Food. It was released last year abroad and will be available in the U.S. come September. It's a giant book, weighing over eight pounds. Thompson and I were both invited speakers at the Sydney International Food Festival last October and the book had just been released. Few copies were available and he let me walk away with one of them.

The extra luggage weight was worth it! The book is full of amazing location photography and it also contains recipes that work. There is a dearth of good Thai cookbooks in English and Thompson knows his stuff. I learn new techniques and ingredient combination from his works all the time.

2. Michael Pollan's Food Rules is another book that I find myself leafing through now and again too. It's the opposite of Thompson's book in its small format, light weight, and single color print. It's not graphically sexy. However, Food Rules distills many ideas down for the American eating public. And though I'm one of the long-converted, I read Pollan's work and ponder ways of how I can communicate those eating and lifestyle parameters in what I do to explore and promote Asian foodways.

3. I also read the newspaper, food magazines such as
Saveur, Sunset, and Bon Appetit and BusinessWeek, Wired, and GQ. A crazy mix of information but it works for me!

Thank you for participating, Andrea! Check back to see who answers the question next time and what other books are recommended.

Previous WAYR posts:
Jaden Hair
Michael Ruhlman
Monica Bhide
Michael Natkin
Sara Roahen

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Scallops with Blood Orange and Campari Granita

I love it when I have an opportunity to plan a dinner party. Choosing each course and beverages, deciding on a dessert, and figuring out how much can be prepared in advance is a fun challenge. Last week, friends who now live in Dublin were in Austin for a visit, and we were excited to invite them for dinner one evening. When your dinner guests happen to do a lot of traveling and happen to know food, it makes menu planning a little more stressful, but I knew we’d have a fun time regardless of the meal. Since I’ve been so interested in The New Spanish Table lately, I chose several things from that book for our menu. First was a sangria made with tempranillo, brandy, and my favorite liqueur Paula’s Texas Orange. Along with tapas of olives, nuts, and Spanish cheeses, I wanted to serve something a little different which was an idea that actually came from the dessert chapter in the book. There is a suggestion to use a blood orange and campari granita with shrimp or scallops, and I was intrigued. There’s a small amount of sugar in the granita, but the blood orange juice and campari made it more tart and fruity than sweet. The idea of a frozen, brightly colored topping on a scallop was something I had to try.

Making the granita was straightforward. I juiced some blood oranges after zesting one of them. The juice and zest were added to one quarter cup of sugar in a saucepan, and the mixture was warmed until the sugar dissolved. It was left to reduce for a few minutes, and then allowed to cool. Once cool, about one-third cup of campari was added. Freezing a granita is easiest in a wide, shallow pie dish. The juice mixture was poured into the dish and placed in the freezer for about an hour before being stirred and scraped. Then, every 30 minutes for the next couple of hours it was scraped and flaked. It takes a little longer to freeze a mixture with alcohol in it, but soon enough it became grainy and icy as it should. Then, I seared large sea scallops and allowed them to cool to room temperature so that the granita topping wouldn’t melt instantly. I topped each scallop with a little scoop of granita and some chopped cilantro.

The bitterness of blood orange and campari balanced the sweetness well and mingled nicely with the mild flavor of scallops. Next time, I might sear the scallops earlier and even chill them a bit before topping them with granita since it did melt more quickly than I would have liked. The bright orange color of the frozen granules was as pretty as can be, and it was a fun play on sweet and savory expectations. There was more to come after the tapas, and I’ll show the rest of the meal in upcoming posts.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hot and Crunchy Shrimp at Stone House Vineyard Luncheon

We took a nice drive west of Austin yesterday to attend a vineyard luncheon as part of the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival. The luncheon was held at Stone House Vineyard in Spicewood, Texas. The bluebonnets were putting on a show as they do at this time of year, and there was even some rain throughout the day to keep the flowers happy. The luncheon featured Stone House wines, and each course was prepared by a different local chef. At the Stone House property, Norton grapes are grown and are used in their Claros wine. It’s a dry, medium-bodied red with a little earthiness that I liked. It was served with our second course which included a fantastic truffle polenta, but the dish that was our favorite of the meal was the shrimp from the first course. The hot and crunchy shrimp was prepared by the chef from Hudson’s on the Bend. The crispy, plump shrimp were plated with a tomatillo and jicama salad and were topped with a zingy mango and jalapeño aioli. It was served with a Viognier that had a little sweetness and paired well with the jalapeño heat.

There’s more to the story of the hot and crunchy shrimp. The recent popularity of food trailers continues in Austin, and on South Congress Avenue, you’ll find The Mighty Cone which was created by chefs from Hudson’s on the Bend. Their famous hot and crunchy coating from the restaurant menu has been adapted and used on chicken and avocado in addition to shrimp. The crunchy items of choice are used in wraps with mango slaw which are served in snow-cone cups, and the recipe appeared in the January issue of Food and Wine. The cone version is a lot of fun and delivers the same mix of bold flavors, but the nicely plated hot and crunchy shrimp eaten with a fork and knife and served with chilled wine were delicious in their own refined way and far less messy to eat.

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