Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Whole Wheat Sourdough Rolls with Blueberries and Raspberries

Cinnamon rolls are one of my many weaknesses. They are excellent breakfast sweets just as they are. Lately, however, I’ve started seeing more and more varieties of rolls like sticky lemon rolls, coconut pull apart rolls, and butterscotch sticky buns. And, did you see Foodblogga’s blueberry sweet rolls last summer? Then, I just saw another version of blueberry cinnamon rolls on Health Nut a couple of weeks ago. I started getting ideas about changing things up with a slightly more wholesome sweet roll made with sourdough and whole wheat flour, and Texas-grown blueberries are everywhere I look lately. Blueberries on their own would have been great, but I thought using both blueberries and raspberries would give these some Fourth of July spirit.

I followed a recipe for sourdough cinnamon rolls using half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour. The recipe states the commercial yeast and vital wheat gluten are optional. I added the yeast but not the gluten. The dough also included sourdough starter, water, sugar, powdered milk, melted butter, and eggs. With less butter, no cream cheese, and whole wheat flour, these were virtuous sweet rolls compared to the last ones I made. I let the dough rise for a few hours, and then rolled it into a big rectangle. I spread on two tablespoons of softened butter and scattered the berries, one half pint of each, that had been tossed with a little sugar and lemon zest and a tablespoon of flour. The dough was rolled up and cut into smallish pieces. I went with shorter rolls this time in an attempt to limit the calories per roll. They were practically guilt-free. I let them sit in a baking pan, covered with plastic, in the refrigerator overnight, and baked them the next morning. Once baked and cooled, I made a simple glaze with confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice to swirl on top of each.

The pretty berries and lemony glaze made these seem more decadent than they were, and the whole wheat flour gave them some nuttiness. Veering off the cinnamon path was a good change of pace. Now that I’ve dabbled with berries in sweet rolls, the lemon, butterscotch, and coconut varieties are in my sights.

I’m submitting this to Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tomato and Watermelon “Tartare” with Goat Cheese-Pistachio Vinaigrette

I was invited to attend a class taught by Chef David Bull at the Central Market cooking school, and the topic of the class was vegetarian dishes and wine pairings. David Bull doesn’t usually focus on vegetarian cooking as you can see in his dinner menu at Bolla at the Stoneleigh Hotel in Dallas, but he’s always happy to prepare vegetarian tasting menus upon request and there is always a vegetarian option or two on his menus. During the class, Bull spoke about textural contrast in food and recognizing ingredients for inherent flavors and balancing them. He also demonstrated some interesting knife techniques like holding the handle up and the point down when slicing avocados to prevent the slices from sticking to the blade. He created seven dishes for the class: avocado mousse with sprouts jicama jalapeno and grapefruit, cucumber summer rolls with yellow curry and coconut, white gazpacho with red grapes soy milk and toasted almonds, tomato and watermelon “tartare,” watercress salad with Texas peaches and buttered brioche, daikon noodles with green beans, and potato gnocchi with oven roasted tomatoes and black olive oil. (gazpacho, peaches, summer roll, and gnocchi are shown below)

This fall, Bull will be opening two new restaurants in Austin. Congress will be a fine dining, dinner-only restaurant, and Second at Congress will be a more casual spot with patio and terrace seating serving brunch, lunch, and dinner. Connecting the two will be Bar Congress serving appetizers and cocktails. Bull mentioned he’s working with farmers to determine how much of the menus can be sourced locally. You can also find Bull’s cuisine in an interactive format. His online cookbook is called Bull’s Eye on Food, and you can search recipes by title, type, or ingredient. Once you choose a dish to prepare, you can enter the number of people you’ll be serving, and the quantities in the ingredient list will be re-calculated for that number. It will also generate shopping lists and even send the list to a smart phone. The other nice interactive feature of this book is that new recipes are added all the time. The vegetarian dishes prepared for the class were added just after being presented.

I sampled and enjoyed all of the dishes from the class, although the wine pairings didn’t uncover any new favorites for me. The white gazpacho was surprisingly good because of how well-balanced it was. I expected something a bit on the sweet side, but instead it was crisp, cool, a little tangy, only slightly sweet, and was delightful with the almonds on top. The cucumber rolls were fresh, crunchy, and light. I considered making those with some added stick-like pieces of tofu. And, the watercress salad with peaches and buttered brioche with a peach puree and red wine vinegar sauce was outstanding. That would be a beautiful brunch dish. Last, I was thrilled to watch the gnocchi being prepared as I’ve lived in fear of attempting to make it myself for so long. I think I’m almost ready to try it now. But, the dish I had to try right away to make at home was the tomato and watermelon "tartare." It was summery and brightly-flavored with hints of savoriness from shallots and red onion. The goat cheese dressing was delicious as was the pistachio vinaigrette, and when the two were swirled together with a bite of the tartare, it was excellent.

While demonstrating this recipe, Bull explained that he was including chef’s techniques and that a home version could be simplified. I chose to make a simplification or two; I admit it. I didn’t bother preparing the tomato concasse. I left it unpeeled and just seeded it. I did make the watermelon rind pickles, but my julienne on them and on the celery pieces could have been thinner. I was happy with the ring-molded shape of the salad, and pressing excess liquid from the contents of the mold, as instructed, is necessary for it to hold together well. Then, it’s very pretty on the plate with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios and the dressings drizzled here and there. The complete, chef-version of the recipe is below.

recipe re-printed with Chef's permission
Tomato and Watermelon "Tartare" with Goat Cheese-Pistachio Vinaigrette

3 heirloom tomatoes
1 1/2 c seedless watermellon, small diced, rind reserved for celery salad
1 tablespoon shallots, brunoise
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt

-prepare the tomatoes concasse by blanching them, shocking them in cold water, peeling the skins, seeding them, and then dicing them.
-in a small mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and season with salt

pickled watermelon rind:
1/2 cup watermelon rind, peeled and all red fruit removed, julienned
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/4 cup sugar

-combine the vinegar and sugar in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. reduce mixture by half and chill completely.
-pour the chilled mixture over the watermelon rind in a bowl and allow to sit for 20-30 minutes.
-remove the rind and drain the liquid. reserve the rind for the celery salad.

celery salad:

1 cup celery hearts, loosely packed
1/2 cup celery, finely julienned
1/2 cup pickled watermelon rind
1/8 cup red onion, fine julienne
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt

-in a small mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients.

goat cheese dressing:
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon sea salt

-mix all ingredients together in a small mixing bowl until completely. should be the consistency of yogurt.

pistachio vinaigrette:
1/4 cup pistachios, toasted, salted, and ground
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
lemon juice, to taste

-toast pistachios in a 350 degree F oven for about six minutes. remove from oven, season with salt, and grind them in a food processor until finely crumbled. reserve some ground pistachios for garnish.
-mix the remaining pistachios with the rest of the ingredients in a small mixing bowl until completely combined.


-place the tartare into ring molds and press with a clean kitchen towel (or paper towel) to release some of the juice. unmold the tartare onto plates.
-top tartare with celery salad and toasted, ground pistachios.
-drizzle the goat cheese dressing and pistachio vinaigrette around the plate and serve.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Brewer’s Blondies

It sounds like these should have beer in them, doesn’t it? Well, the original version from Baked bakery in Brooklyn is made with brewer’s malt blended with chocolate that’s swirled into the dough. In the book Baked, the recipe was adapted for home bakers to use malted milk powder and chocolate malted milk balls instead. These are flavor-packed blondies with chocolate chips and toasted walnuts included as well. It’s suggested that they be served warm with a scoop of ice cream, and that’s a very good idea. I chilled them to make them easier to cut, and I might have tasted a bit while cutting. It was for research purposes, though, to confirm the ideal serving temperature. Yes, room temperature or warm is better for serving than cold in this case. The chocolate and malt aren’t as rich-tasting when cold. These blondies taste like a chocolate chip cookie in bar form, but that would be a chunky, malted, rich, and very special chocolate chip cookie.

For the chocolate malted milk balls, you are instructed to coarsely chop them in a food processor. That results in some biggish pieces, tiny pieces, and some powder. Since only three quarters of a cup is used, I might quarter them by hand next time. It will be tedious, but I think the uniform chunks would be better in the blondies. To start, flour was sifted with baking powder, salt, and malted milk powder. Then, butter was creamed with brown sugar, eggs and vanilla were added, and the flour mixtures was slowly added to form the dough. The chopped malted milk balls, chocolate chips, and chopped walnuts were folded in to finish it. The dough was spread into a parchment-lined baking pan and spread evenly. It baked for 25 minutes, it cooled on a rack, and then I refrigerated it overnight.

I always fall for the flavor of malted milk, but with everything going on with these blondies they’re hard not to like. I took these cookie bars to a birthday party so they weren’t left sitting around the house tempting me. That does mean I’ll have to make them again so I can go ahead and cut them while warm from the oven to enjoy with scoops of ice cream.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kim Severson, What Are You Reading?

Since I started asking this question of different people from the food community, I have received completely varied answers with one exception. Kim Severson’s new book Spoon Fed was recommended in two responses. Kim has been writing for the New York Times for the past six years, and prior to that, she wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle. Her resume includes time as an editor and reporter at The Anchorage Daily News and writing for daily newspapers on the West Coast. She has won four James Beard awards for food writing. On her site, you can keep up with Kim’s latest work and share your own kitchen stories. I asked Kim: what are you reading?

I am reading Hog and Hominy: Soul Food From Africa to America by Frederick Douglass Opie. It’s a terrific examination of the history of soul food in America. I wrote a story for The New York Times about food in the Bronx, and one of my editors suggested it. The book starts with folk traditions and cooking in West Africa and takes you all the way through Malcolm X and bean pies and the healthy soul food revolution in the 1980s.

I am also re-reading For You, Mom, Finally by Ruth Reichl. It came out in paperback with a different title, which was Not Becoming My Mother. Ruth really hated that title. It’s a very sweet book, full of insight and angst both from a daughter’s perspective and a writer’s perspective.

Last, I have a copy of Great Recipes from The New York Times on the pile. The women who run Omnivore Books in San Francisco gave it to me recently. Raymond Sokolov, who was the food editor at the Times in the 1970s, put it together. It’s really kind of a fun, fussy history lesson, what with all those recipes for pheasant and vegetable charlotte.

Thank you for participating, Kim! 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
David Lebovitz
Rick Bayless
Tara Austen Weaver
Mollie Katzen
Deborah Madison
Soup Peddler
Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan
Robb Walsh

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Nectarine and Tomato Salad with Proscuitto and Buffalo Mozzarella

I waited and waited for perfect tomatoes and juicy, ripe nectarines to arrive and for my own basil to grow. All those things came to be last weekend, and I was able to put together this lovely, summer salad. Once again, this is from the book My Favorite Ingredients. I wasn’t kidding when I said I marked several pages. As you see in the title, this salad is intended to include prosciutto, and Kurt’s portion did indeed have some in it. I don’t eat red meat, so I left it off my plate, but Kurt commented that having a little prosciutto is never a bad thing. For the cheese, I was torn between a very nice buffalo mozzarella and burrata. In the end, I used a little of both in the salads. The tomatoes, nectarines, and cheeses were drizzled with basil oil with garlic, and then everything was dotted with aged balsamic. Just the other day, I brought home an eighteen year aged balsamic from Con’Olio which is a locally-owned olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop with incredible varieties of both, and this was a perfect use for it. This is exactly the kind of dish in which quantities and exact ingredients don’t matter so much, but the quality of each item on the plate is everything.

I’ve made basil oil before, but this version was a little different. The basil wasn’t blanched this time, and the raw leaves were pureed with chopped garlic. Once they were minced, olive oil was added. For the salad, I used nectarines and an heirloom tomato which were simply cut into wedges, and I added yellow cherry tomatoes which were cut in half. The nectarines and tomatoes were tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. The mozzarella and burrata were cut into big pieces and plated, the nectarine and tomatoes were spooned on and around the cheeses, the basil oil was spilled on top of it all, and the aged balsamic was dribbled here and there. I added a few basil leaves, and Kurt’s salad was adorned with prosciutto.

It is really just a caprese salad with added hits of sweet and salty from fruit and cured meat. But, when the ingredients are as good as they can be, it’s a salad that’s perfection. I couldn’t decide which cheese I preferred. Both were excellent with the mix of things on the plate. I did decide that this could be my dinner day in and day out for the rest of the summer.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Banana-Date Tea Cake

I had leftover dates after making tamarind-date chutney, and I started thinking about different ways to use them in baking. Date scones came to mind, and I know I have a recipe for walnut date bars somewhere, but neither of those options were quite right. I was indecisive until I saw the banana-date tea cake recipe in Tartine. This was perfect. It’s a simple quick bread with lots of banana flavor, crunchy walnuts, and sweet, chewy dates. The batter is mixed, poured into a loaf pan, topped with long slices of banana, and that’s it. When I’m making use of a leftover, I feel like what it’s going into needs to be a simple preparation, and I had all the other ingredients for this on hand.

Bananas were mashed and eggs and vanilla were added to them. Flour was sifted with cornstarch, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. Butter was creamed with sugar, the banana mixture was added, and then the flour mixture was folded into the batter. Toasted and chopped walnuts were added with pitted and chopped dates. I use kitchen shears to cut dates in half, pick out the seeds, and then cut them into chunks. It seems easier to me to cut with shears since the dates are so sticky. The finished batter was placed in a greased loaf pan, and then it was to be topped with full-length slices of banana. My banana broke in several places as I sliced it, so my slices were quartered rather than full-length. It was still pretty enough though, or so I thought. The banana slices were sprinkled with sugar, and the tea cake baked for a little over an hour until an inserted cake tester came out clean.

This was a somewhat dense but very moist and flavorful tea cake. It sliced easily, and each piece was full of walnuts and dates. I stored the cake for an entire week in the refrigerator, slicing pieces for breakfast each morning, and it was as delicious on the last day as it was on the first. In fact, Kurt dropped a few hints about how there should always be a breakfast item like this in the refrigerator, and I think he’s right about that.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pain de Campagne

I might be a bread geek, or there’s a very good chance that I’m in the process of becoming one. By bread geek, I mean that I’m fascinated with all things related to baking bread not that I have any expertise in baking it. I received a review copy of 52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust, and the author’s goal made perfect sense to me. William Alexander set out to bake a loaf of peasant bread each week for a year with the hope of figuring out how to make perfect bread. Along the way, he sought out experts in everything from baking to yeast to milling and learned about bread from every angle. I was intrigued by that information shared throughout the book. He started by questioning why most flour is enriched and learned about why the vitamins were added and that added malted barley assists yeast in feeding on sugars in the flour. Then, he moved on to questioning the chlorine in the tap water he was using. He learned about conditioning the dough, or an autolyse, which involves letting the dough and the glutens in it rest before being kneaded. And, then he learned about sourdough or levain. My sourdough starter is my hard-working buddy who has been helping with my bread baking for over a year now. So, I was geekily thrilled when he started baking with sourdough. He does go a couple of steps further than even I would when he grows his own wheat and sets out to build his own bread oven. Although, I’d love to have a bread oven if someone else built it. He explains the bread baker’s percentage which I previously didn’t know. The details and trials and tribulations are entertainingly described with plenty of self-deprecating humor. I won’t reveal the end of the story, but I will say that ultimately the journey was about more than just baking bread. It was about setting a goal, becoming immersed in it, and learning more than you ever thought you would in trying to attain it.

At the end of the book, there’s a description for how to make a levain and four bread recipes. I attempted the Pain au Levain Miche. Alexander explains that this is a very wet dough that will flatten out on the peel. For me, it not only flattened, it stuck like glue to the peel. It was a misshapen, flat, ugly dough pile by the time I got it into the oven. It’s in my freezer now, but it’s destined to become croutons or possibly just breadcrumbs. Next, I tried the Pain de Campagne, and that’s the bread pictured here. It’s made from levain, or sourdough starter, bread flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, salt, a tiny bit of commercial yeast, and water. The dough ingredients were mixed and left to autolyse for 25 minutes. I used my mixer with a dough hook to do the kneading after that. With a mixer, it was only kneaded for about three minutes. Then, the dough was left in an oiled bowl to ferment for five hours. After it had risen, the dough was set on a floured surface and shaped into a boule. I placed it in my bread proofing basket, covered it with plastic, and refrigerated it overnight. It could have just sat for another two hours before being baked. The next morning, I removed the dough from the refrigerator while the oven heated to 500 degrees F. Following the recipe instructions, I placed a cast iron skillet on the bottom of the oven. After slashing the loaf and loading it into the oven, one cup of water was poured into the skillet. Wear an oven mitt when adding the water. The hot steam rises immediately. The oven temperature was reduced to 480 degrees F, and the bread baked for 25 minutes. The oven temperature was reduced again to 425 degrees F, and the bread baked for another fifteen minutes or so. It should reach an internal temperature of 210 degrees F. Then, the oven was turned off, and the bread remained in it for a few more minutes before being cooled on a rack.

I had much better luck with the second loaf. The dough wasn’t sticky, and I had no problems sliding it onto the baking stone from the peel. It came out of the oven crunchy crusted and not too densely crumbed. The flavor was very good, and the whole wheat and rye flours gave it good character. In the past, I’ve used a spray bottle to spritz the oven for steam, but I may now be a convert to the hot skillet with water method. Reading this book was a lot of fun, and I learned things about bread baking science along the way. Now that I’ve been introduced to the bread baker’s percentage and learned more about hydration levels of doughs, I’m inspired to learn more and add to the weight of my bread bookshelf.

recipe re-printed with publisher’s permission
Peasant Bread (Pain de Campagne)
52 Loaves by William Alexander

For the levain:
130 grams all-purpose flour
130 grams water

For the dough:
260 grams levain
400 grams unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
60 grams whole wheat flour
30 grams whole rye flour
13 grams salt
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast (also called bread-machine, fast-acting, or RapidRise yeast)
292 grams water (at room temperature)

1. At least two hours before beginning (you can do this the night before), feed the levain as follows: Remove from the refrigerator and add equal parts flour and room-temperature water (I use about 130 grams each, which replenishes what I'll be using in the bread). Stir well, incorporating oxygen, and leave on the countertop with the cover slightly ajar. The starter should be bubbling and lively when you begin your bread.
2. Place a large mixing bowl on a kitchen scale and add each ingredient in turn using the Tare button to zero out the scale between additions. Mix thoroughly with a wet hand until the dough is homogenous. Cover and leave the dough to autolyse for about 25 minutes.
3. Remove the dough to an unfloured countertop and knead by hand for seven to nine minutes (or if you insist, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook for two to three minutes) until the dough is elastic and smooth. During the first minutes of kneading, a metal bench scraper is useful to scoop up te wet dough that clings to the countertop.
4. Clean out the bowl (no soap, please), mist with oil spray, and replace the dough, topping with a piece of oiled plastic wrap. Ferment at room temperature (68-72 degrees F) for four to five hours.
5. Remove the dough, which should have risen by about half, to a lightly floured countertop and gently press into a disk about one inch high. Form a boule by gathering the sides into the center, creating surface tension, then place seam side up in a colander covered with a well-floured linen napkin. Return the plastic wrap atop the dough and set aside to proof. Meanwhile, place a pizza stone in the lower third of the oven and an old cast iron skillet or pan on the bottom shelf. Preheat the oven to at least 500 degrees F.
6. After one and a half to two hours, carefully turn the loaf onto a baker's peel that has been liberally sprinkled with rice flour or cornmeal. Sprinkle the top of the loaf with rye or rice flour (not white flour, which turns brown) to get that country "dusted" look.
7. Make several symmetrical slashes (grngnes) with your lame or single-edged razor.
8. Immediately slide the loaf onto the stone and add one cup water to the skillet (wear an oven mitt), minimizing the time the oven door is open. Reduce oven temperature to 480 degrees F.
9. After 20 to 25 minutes, or when the loaf has turned dark brown, reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees F.
10. Continue baking until the loaf registers 210 degrees F in the center (about 50 to 60 minutes total) with an instant-read thermometer, or until a rap on the bottom of the loaf produces a hollow, drumlike sound. Return the bread to the oven, with the oven off, for about 15 minutes. Allow the bread to cool on a rack at least two hours before serving.

I’m submitting this to Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Robb Walsh, What Are You Reading?

Texas food writer Robb Walsh’s career has included being the restaurant critic for the Houston Press, a food columnist for Natural History Magazine, a radio commentator for National Public Radio, and a contributor to many food publications and other newspapers. Without him, we wouldn’t have our annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival which he founded in 1991. He wrote Are You Really Going to Eat That?, Legends of Texas Barbecue, and Sex, Death, and Oysters to name just a few. I’ve mentioned his book Nuevo Tex-Mex a few times in the past, and it's a favorite of mine. His new book is The Tex-Mex Grill which is a follow-up to his Tex-Mex Cookbook. He also posts interesting news and insights about Texas Eats on his blog. I recently asked, what are you reading?

I'm reading a novel titled Oyster by John Biguenet. Its about the decline of the Louisiana oyster business back in the 1950s and a proud oyster fishing family trying to stay afloat.

The book provides a lot of insight into the problems that the Gulf seafood business faces with the closing of oyster reefs and fishing grounds due to the oil spill.

Sadly there aren't a lot of oysters available to cook right now.

Thank you for participating, Robb! 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
David Lebovitz
Rick Bayless
Tara Austen Weaver
Mollie Katzen
Deborah Madison
Soup Peddler
Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pickled Cherries

Last month when I started telling you about My Favorite Ingredients, I mentioned the cherry chapter in the book and how I was looking forward to the start of the season. Well, it is upon us, and I now believe there is no quantity of cherries in my refrigerator that would be too much. Pickled cherries is the first recipe in that chapter, and I’d been thinking about them for weeks. I imagined vinegary, sweet, little bites of fruit with hints of spice served alongside a soft cheese with some personality. Also, there would have to be some bread and maybe a really good beer to accompany the cherries and cheese. As soon as I found cherries in town, I set about pickling them, let them sit all of one week as I couldn’t wait another day, I baked some bread, visited my favorite local cheese shop, and the plan became a reality. I chose Leonora cheese from Spain which is a soft-ripened, aged goat cheese, and I grabbed a bottle of Saison Dupont otherwise known as my new favorite, summer beer. It all came together as a snack that makes the word snack seem inadequate.

To pickle the cherries, they were washed and left with pits and stems intact. Sugar was dissolved in red wine vinegar and bay leaves, cloves, and peppercorns were added. The mixture was brought to a boil, simmered for ten minutes, and allowed to cool. The cooled syrup was poured over the cherries, and I stored them in the refrigerator. The longer they sit, and they can remain refrigerated for up to one year, the more wrinkly the cherries will become. Since I couldn’t wait longer than a week, mine were still mostly plump.

In the book, pickled cherries are used in a warm pheasant salad with tardivo and toasted hazelnuts. That sounds like a wonderful fall dish, but I don’t think I’ll have any cherries left by then. Maybe I can come up with something more summery for a salad with notes of bitterness for balance. Something with arugula could work or possibly grilled romaine. While I think about that, I’m ready to make the cherry cordial and the brandied cherries from the book, and then I might have to pickle some more before the season ends.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Greek Salad with Grilled Pita Crisps and Bulgur Salad with Cucumbers and Radishes

When I read cookbooks, there’s always something that sparks an idea and sends me toward the kitchen. Sometimes, though, I just really enjoy the book and don’t want to move from my chair until I’ve finished it. Eating Local falls into that very category. It's been a pleasure to read this book about using locally grown food and the stories about farmers from different parts of the US. The recipes are straightforward and familiar, but they all have an unexpected twist that makes them fresh and new. For instance, beets with goat cheese or feta is a natural combination. But here, cooked beet greens and stems are topped with whipped feta seasoned with Aleppo pepper and mint. There’s also a zucchini bread, but this one has grated carrots and minced candied ginger in it. There are grilled cauliflower steaks with tahini sauce that look great too. The many stunning photos and the little, surprising additions to the recipes kept me turning the pages to see what I’d find next. Throughout the book, there are introductions to farmers from Oregon, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Illinois, and even Austin, Texas, and the stories offer glimpses into what inspires these farmers to do what they do, their challenges, and their successes. I could go on and on, but I will just tell you one more thing about the book. It’s organized by ingredient alphabetically. You can look to the top right or left corner of each page and flip until you find the item you want to prepare. If you just received ten pounds of eggplants from your CSA, flip to the eggplant pages and you’ll get several ideas. Ok, one more thing. There are also recipes for fruits, poultry, eggs, and meat.

So, from the 40 or so pages I marked with sticky notes, I tried the Greek salad with grilled pita crisps first. I’d been thinking about panzanella lately, and this is similar to that or to fattoush. Locally grown, heirloom tomatoes are recommended for this, but what I found at our farmers’ market was just red, ripe lovelies in various sizes. The large tomatoes were cut into wedges, and the cherry tomatoes were cut in half. They were combined with cucumber, onion, and a dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, and fish sauce. I noticed in several recipes for salad dressings, fish sauce is included for a little added umami. Feta was added to the salad, and I used a locally made marinated feta. Last, grilled pita bread was broken into shards and tossed into the mix. The salad was garnished with basil and Greek olives. It was fresh defined and that tip about the fish sauce is one I’ll definitely use again.

Next, I flipped to the page with the bulgur salad with cucumbers, radishes, and green onions. This is essentially tabbouleh with the addition of radishes, dill, Anaheim chiles, and Aleppo pepper. The dill with the usual parsley and mint boosted the herb effect in the salad, and the radishes added peppery crunch. It’s recommended that this be scooped into lettuce leaves to form wraps which I did. I also used some leftover pita from the Greek salad and spooned the bulgur into pockets. These salads with little, added touches were satisfying dishes making use of several local ingredients. I know this is a book that will spend more time in the kitchen than on the shelf.

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