Monday, August 30, 2010

Israeli Couscous with Saffron, Olives, and Summer Vegetables

The problem with ignoring my ever-growing stack of new recipes to try is that eventually some of those recipes fall out of season. I can either wait until next year, or I can convert the dish into whatever works right now. This couscous dish is from the April issue of Vegetarian Times, and it was originally called Israeli couscous with saffron, olives, and spring vegetables. A simple swapping of eggplant and zucchini for the suggested peas and fennel made it all about late summer. The great flavor in the dish comes from finely chopped leek, wine, and saffron. This was a rare occasion in which I found myself with pasta and no cheese in sight, but I realized that’s perfectly fine when saffron is involved. The kalamata olives and fresh basil garnish gave it an added boost that also kept me from missing any cheese. Although I definitely didn’t serve the leftovers in stacks formed by a ring mold, I copied that presentation from the magazine photo for our first meal with this dish.

Once all the vegetables are chopped, this dish comes together very easily. While chopping, the water can be coming to a boil for the couscous. Leek, eggplant, zucchini, and garlic were sauteed in a large skillet as the couscous boiled. White wine was added followed by the cooked and drained couscous, diced fresh tomatoes, and saffron. Last, arugula leaves were added, seasoning was adjusted, and it was covered and left to sit for a few minutes. I formed stacks, but it could have been served in bowls, and it was topped with halved olives, basil chiffonade, and a drizzle of olive oil.

The saffron perfumed the dish well, and the fresh, seasonal vegetables were at their best. The chewy couscous was just a tad smaller than the diced pieces of vegetables, and the wilted arugula wound its way throughout the pasta. The olives were a great touch on top, and you should use your favorite kind here, and that goes for the olive oil that’s drizzled at the end too. Simple but fresh and flavorful, this is a dish I’ll keep modifying from one season to the next.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gnocchi with Pesto

There are some things that I am completely afraid to attempt to cook, but as of last week, there is one less of those things. Since forever, I was terrified of gnocchi, and it had nothing to do with the process of making the dough and cutting the pieces. I was afraid of the result. I remember an episode of Top Chef in which someone, and now I can’t remember who it was, made gnocchi. One of the judges, can’t remember which judge either, held one little dumpling on a fork above his plate and let it drop. It thudded to the plate like a heavy ball of paste. That’s what frightened me. If I was going to cook potatoes, rice them, make dough, cut it into little pieces, boil them, and make some kind of sauce for them, I wanted them to be light and pillowy and delicious. So, for my first foray into gnocchidom, I gathered several sources of information and learned that every cook seems to have a different opinion about what makes perfect gnocchi. Marcella, in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, recommends boiling potatoes, and she boils them, skins them, and purees them in a food mill. Mario, in Malto Italiano, uses russet potatoes instead, but he also boils them, skins them, and purees them in a food mill. Anne Burrell, who calls her recipe "Light as a Cloud Gnocchi," uses russet potatoes, bakes them, skins them, and purees them in a food mill. Last, I had the good fortune to watch David Bull make gnocchi right in front of me at a Central Market cooking class that I attended earlier this summer, and his potato choice and cooking method were the same as Anne Burrell’s. So, three of them used russet potatoes, and it was split two to two for boiling vs baking. I nervously looked from one recipe to the next, comparing notes, biting my nails, and finally jumped in and made my first batch of gnocchi.

It killed me a little to ignore Marcella’s advice, but russet potatoes seemed like the fluffier choice, so that’s what I used. And, again, since baking seems to produce a fluffier cooked potato than boiling, I ignored Marcella and Mario and baked rather than boiled. I don’t own a food mill, so I used a ricer to smoosh the cooked potatoes. Then there are the eggs, if you’re adding eggs that is. Marcella recommends that you don’t, but everyone else was for eggs. Marcella explains that gnocchi from the Veneto are cloud-light and are made with no eggs. She goes on to say that gnocchi dough with eggs is easier to handle but can easily become rubbery. For my first time with this, I felt like I needed eggs if this was going to become a dough, so to the four big, riced potatoes, I added two eggs. David Bull used semolina flour while everyone else added all-purpose flour. I used all-purpose. You should start with half the suggested flour and work in the rest as needed. Two other last ingredients were parmigiano which Anne Burell added and I didn't and chopped chives which David Bull added to his dough and so did I. Everyone says to knead the dough gently and don’t over mix it. Anne Burrell leaves all the ingredients on a board and folds in the eggs and flour with a bench scraper. That seemed like a good idea, so I did that. Last, when you have a cohesive dough, you break off pieces, roll them into ropes, and cut the ropes into gnocchi. You can leave them like that or roll them on the back of a fork or along a cute gnocchi board to make grooves in them. You press with your finger as you roll so each piece has a dent one side and ridges on the other. I have to explain that I bought the cute gnocchi board months ago as a way of convincing myself to make gnocchi. It worked eventually. Once you have your finished gnocchi, you can cook them immediately or freeze them. I left mine in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before boiling, draining, and adding sauce.

For the sauce, I went back to Marcella and followed her instructions precisely for basil pesto. It’s pretty much what you would expect for pesto except that she adds three tablespoons of softened butter after she stirs in the cheese. It was a lovely pesto. She recommends it as one of the best sauces for potato gnocchi, and I’m a believer now too. In an attempt at balancing the meal, I sauteed some sliced summer squash and mixed that with the boiled gnocchi before topping it all with pesto. After all of that, was there a thud when a piece was dropped onto a plate? No, believe it or not, they were truly tender and delicate although not quite perfectly formed. I actually wondered if I didn’t knead the dough quite enough. I’ll work on that next time, since there will definitely be a next time, and I might even try boiling the potatoes and not adding eggs.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gorditas with Roasted Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa

I would like to know why no one ever told me how easy it is to make gorditas. Had I known this, these would always have been part of our regular week-night meal rotation. These little masa cakes get a dent in their tops to hold whatever you wish from refried beans and sour cream to shredded grilled chicken and salsa. Hot off the stove, they’re slightly crisp on the surface and delicate on the inside with great corn flavor. I kept this recipe from last November’s issue of Food and Wine and followed it precisely for total quantity and size of each gordita. As soon as I realized how easy the dough is to make and how simple each gordita is to form, I started planning to make mini versions for parties and off my mind wondered to all the possible toppings for them. For this first batch ever, I had a salsa in mind to pair with them. A few weeks ago, Kurt and I had dinner at La Condesa here in Austin, and we quite enjoyed the duck with mole negro sauce. We also enjoyed the chips and salsa as usual, but what you get at La Condesa is organic chips and four different fresh, house-made salsas. I dutifully and carefully tasted each salsa in an attempt to choose a favorite and then asked our server for the recipe of the one I picked. I was sure he would tell me no, but instead he went straight to the kitchen and came back with an ingredient list. I had to figure out exact quantities for myself, which was easy enough, and that’s the salsa shown here. I’ll include my version of the recipe below.

To make delicious, homemade gorditas, all you have to do is combine masa harina, water, and vegetable oil and stir it together to form a dough. Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap and shape it into a log about ten inches long. This doesn’t need to be perfect at all because you will cut disks that are then formed into cakes. You cut ten disks from the log of dough and press each into a three inch biscuit cutter to mold round cakes. The cakes can be refrigerated overnight in an airtight container if you want to prep them in advance. When you’re ready to cook them, heat a griddle or cast iron skillet over high heat. Cook the gorditas for two minutes on each side to brown them in spots, and then remove them to a baking sheet and press an indentation in each with the back of a spoon. Last, you heat some oil in a skillet and fry the gorditas for two minutes per side to crisp them. Drain on paper towels, and then top them as you wish.

Our toppings included refried black beans, sour cream, shredded queso quesadilla, sliced jalapenos, shredded chicken, chopped tomatoes, diced avocado, and roasted tomatillo chipotle salsa. We didn’t really talk during this meal, but we smiled and nodded a lot. The salsa was smoky and velvety smooth since it was pureed with olive oil, and the gorditas were crisp, tender, perfect vehicles for the toppings. I don’t know why I didn’t learn sooner, but now that I know about these, I’ll be making a lot of them.

Roasted Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa
inspired by La Condesa
2-3 chipotles in adobo depending on size and how spicy you want your salsa to be, plus 2 tablespoons adobo sauce from can
1 large red onion
12 tomatillos, husks removed and washed
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for roasting
Salt and pepper to taste

-Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. Chop onion into wedges and place on a baking sheet with tomatillos, and drizzle with olive and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and browned.

-Transfer roasted vegetables to a food processor and add chipotles and adobo sauce. Puree until smooth and then slowly add olive oil while the machine is running. Taste for salt and add more if needed.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bloody Marys

In deciding what to bring to a brunch party, my first thought was bloody marys. I actually have a thing for bloody marys served with deviled eggs. I love those two things together, but when I mention that to other people, I always get a mixed response. Some people are in complete agreement about what a great combination that is, and the rest aren’t so sure. To play it safe, I instead brought bagels with these bloody marys to a potluck brunch party. This just happens to be my favorite way to make bloody marys, and I’ve been making them this way for about ten years. The original recipe is from Living magazine and it was also shown in a tv segment. The only change I’ve made from the original is that I add one half teaspoon of celery seed to the pitcher with the other seasonings. I also like pressing celery salt onto the rims of the glasses for these cocktails, but I skipped that this time. A celery stick garnish is a must, and I think the more the merrier when it comes to garnishing a bloody mary, so I add a lime wedge and a jalapeno-stuffed olive too.

Since this brunch was a baby shower, I made a pitcher of virgin marys and brought a bottle of vodka to be added to individual servings as desired. For one pitcher, four cups of tomato juice is combined with the juice of two lemons, Worcestershire sauce, prepared horseradish, fresh garlic passed through a press, freshly ground black pepper, pepper sauce like Tabasco or Crystal, and I add celery seed. I prefer to mix everything in a large measuring pitcher, and I whisk the ingredients together to be sure the horseradish and garlic are well mixed into the tomato juice. Then, you can either add vodka to taste before pouring the mixture into a serving pitcher, or leave the vodka bottle next to the pitcher as I did.

I think the secret ingredient here is the lemon juice. It really brightens the tomato flavor which sometimes seems dull on its own. The garlic and horseradish give it fresh, savory punch, and the hot pepper sauce can take it to whatever level of spiciness you prefer. These bloody marys were perfectly fine with onion bagels, but I’m also looking forward to the next occasion when I’ll have them with deviled eggs again. What do you think of that combination?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Whole Grain Sourdough Onion Bagels with Vegetable Cream Cheese

I know, I know, I’m repeating myself. I’ve posted bagels before. But, those were the first bagels I had ever made. Since then, I’ve made lots of bagels, and I’ve been messing around with the types of flours and grains that I use in the dough, and that’s how I arrived at the version you see here. Last weekend, the Austin food bloggers gathered for a potluck brunch/baby shower celebrating the soon arrival of Addie’s second child. I got inspired to make bagels for the brunch when I saw the Barefoot Contessa making vegetable cream cheese for bagels on a re-run episode. Rather than having to bring sliced cucumber, tomato, onion, and whatever else, this was an easy way to add flavor and crunch to a bagel topping without needing to tote a million separate things to the party. For the bagels, I still follow the steps from the Breads from the La Brea Bakery book with changes to the type and amount of flour. In that book, there is a recipe for onion bagels, and I’ve tried it. Minced, fresh onions are sauteed and then patted dry before being coated onto the bagels. When I tried it, the onions didn’t stick, so I decided to use dehydrated onion flakes instead which work great.

I have the La Brea book open as I write this, and I just noticed the bagel page has poppy seeds and amaranth seeds stuck in the crease of the binding. I like evidence of a cookbook being used. Now that I’m familiar with the process, bagel making seems very easy. My whole grain version of the dough is made from starter, water, fresh yeast, white bread flour, wheat germ, oats, amaranth seeds, whole wheat flour, barley malt syrup, milk powder, sugar, and salt. The mixed dough is divided into 14-18 pieces, left to rest for a bit, and then those pieces are formed into bagels. The bagels are placed on a baking sheet, covered with a towel, and left to slowly rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, they are briefly boiled and then pressed into the coating of choice before being baked. I’ll include the recipe below since I’ve changed it from the original.

The chunky, vegetable-packed cream cheese was made with finely diced celery, carrots, and radishes, and sliced green onions. I added some thyme from my garden as well. The vegetables were mixed with room temperature cream cheese. It’s a good idea to use the cream cheese within a few days because as it sits, the vegetables begin to lose their crunch.

Looking back at my previous bagel post, I realize that I’ve since figured out how to form the bagel shape with an appropriate-sized hole in the middle. I’ve even gotten confident enough to make bigger bagels by dividing the dough into 14 rather than 18 pieces. I still tinker with the flours and grains each time I make a batch, but the formula I list below has worked well a few times. Maybe the surface coating is the place to get creative next.

Whole Grain Sourdough Onion Bagels
adapted from Breads from the La Brea Bakery

12 ounces water
1 cake packed fresh yeast
13.5 ounces sourdough starter
15 ounces white bread flour
12 ounces whole wheat flour
2 ounces raw wheat germ
2 ounces oats
1 ounce amaranth
2 ounces sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons barley malt syrup
6 tablespoons milk powder
semolina flour for dusting
1 cup dehydrated onion flakes plus 1 teaspoon salt for coating
(I have also used a combination of white and black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, fennel seeds, and salt.)

-Place water, yeast, starter, flours, wheat germ, oats, amaranth, sugar, salt, malt syrup, and milk powder in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook and mix on low speed to combine. Increase speed to medium and mix until dough is smooth about four minutes. Turn the dough out onto a flour-free, that’s right no flour, surface and knead it for a few minutes by hand. Cover the dough with a cloth and let sit for ten minutes.

-Cut the dough into 14-18 pieces depending on how many bagels you want and how large you want them to be. When divided into 18 pieces, they’re a little smaller than what I usually see at bagel shops. Turn and tuck each piece of dough and leave the balls covered with a cloth to rest for 15 minutes.

-Take one piece of dough at a time and roll each into a nine to ten inch rope. Wrap the rope around your hand to form the bagel and pinch to seal the open ends. With the rope of dough around your hand, roll the dough up and back where the ends meet so as to seal. Place each bagel on a parchment-lined baking sheet that has been dusted with semolina flour and cover with a cloth as you continue forming bagels. This will require two baking sheets to fit all bagels. When all bagels are formed and covered, place baking sheets in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.

-Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees F. Bring at least four inches of water to a boil in a wide stockpot, and remove bagels from the refrigerator to let them come to room temperature while the oven heats and the water comes to a boil. On a wide plate or tray, scatter the dehydrated onions and mix in the salt. As bagels are removed from the parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkle the parchment with more semolina flour. When the water is boiling rapidly, drop three bagels at a time into it. Press them lightly with a wooden spoon to hold them below the surface for ten seconds. Turn them and let them cook for ten seconds more. Then, remove the bagels and place them rounded side down in the dehydrated onions. Turn and press to apply the coating and then place bagels back on the semolina-dusted, parchment-lined baking sheet. When one sheet is full of boiled and coated bagels, place it in the middle of the oven, reduce oven temperature to 400 degree F, and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Rotate the baking sheet after 10 minutes. After removing the first baking sheet, turn the temperature back up to 450 degrees F, and repeat baking process with second sheet of bagels.

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

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mocha Sherbet Freeze

I spotted this sherbet on the other day, and it seemed like a very good antidote to our unrelenting August heat. I was ogling the frothy, icy, chocolaty beverage and wishing I had a glass of it in my hand when Cowgirl Chef all but dared me to go ahead and make it. So, I did. The recipe is also found in The Perfect Scoop, and since it’s a sherbet, it’s not terribly decadent. It’s made with espresso, cocoa powder, and milk. Once the sherbet has been churned in an ice cream maker and then left in the freezer to firm up, it’s then blended into a slurpingly good mocha freeze and topped with whipped cream making it a little more decadent than how it started. I made one change to the blended beverage by adding some Kahlua, and it did help alleviate the hot weather at least until my glass was empty.

I have to tell you a little more about the whipped cream garnish. I received a creative whip from iSi North America which makes whipping cream a very fast operation. I added a couple of teaspoons of sugar to a small container of cream, closed the top and shook the container to dissolve the sugar, and then poured the cream into the creative whip which is charged with nitrous oxide. You shake the creative whip canister a few times, and then pull the trigger for thick, whipped cream. That was so much easier than whisking for several minutes or pulling out the mixer. Obviously, you could use this tool for all kinds of creative foams or meringues, but I was thrilled to simply have effortless whipped cream on my mocha freeze. As I mentioned, I added some Kahlua. To make the freeze, you combine scoops of the sherbet with ice cubes and more espresso in a blender pitcher. I used half the suggested amount of espresso and half Kahlua. It was blended until smooth, whipped cream was piped onto it, and chopped chocolate-covered espresso beans were sprinkled on top.

Coffee and chocolate are great year-round, and in a frozen format, this fit perfectly with my criteria for summer desserts. It was cold, not heavy, and flavorful without being too sweet. Scoops of the sherbet all by itself were delicious too, but the blended beverage was a special treat.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Warm Tomato Dressing with Roasted Fennel

I’ve been eating a lot of delicious, fresh, raw tomatoes this summer. I joked that I could eat caprese salad every day, and then have pretty much done just that. I keep bringing home fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes and plucking leaves off my basil plants. It’s a perfect combination, but I finally decided to change it up and do something else with tomatoes. I had this recipe for warm tomato dressing from Living magazine from last year, and it’s a versatile sauce. It can be made in advance and then re-warmed for serving. In the magazine, it was shown as a topping for roasted fennel, and that’s how I served it. It would also be great with chicken or over polenta or with other roasted or grilled vegetables. I used some pretty, little pear tomatoes but any kind of cherry-type tomatoes will work great. They’re cooked with wine and balsamic vinegar and take on a sweet and tangy flavor.

I have to confess that I didn’t read the recipe very carefully when I was writing up a shopping list. I skipped right over the word ‘red’ next to wine in the ingredient list. When I started cooking, I realized we had no red wine in the house, and I had to use white wine instead. As you can see in the photos, the dressing still became a deep, red color from the balsamic vinegar. So, to make the dressing, the tomatoes were cooked in a skillet with a little olive oil for a few minutes, and then garlic, wine, and balsamic vinegar were added and cooked until the liquid was reduced by half. A little splash of red wine vinegar and salt were added at the end, and sugar was to have been added as well but I skipped it since I thought the sauce was sweet enough. To serve, I spooned the warm dressing over wedges of roasted fennel.

The mellow, roasted fennel was a well-matched vehicle for the tomato dressing, and the reduced and intensified balsamic and wine gave the dressing a nice, agrodolce kind of flavor. Of course, I’m always looking for ways to add spiciness, and I think some crushed red pepper would be an interesting addition here. I’m glad I tried something new because those heirloom tomatoes won’t be around much longer, and I needed to start kicking my caprese habit. And, this kind of cooked dressing could even be made with canned tomatoes later in the year.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Blueberry Pop-Tarts

Homemade pop-tarts had become just like sugar cookie bars. They were everywhere, calling out to me, insisting that I try making them. There are several different recipes, and really, you can make any pie pasty and cut it into rectangles and fill them however you’d like. I decided to follow the Bon Appetit recipe from last April’s issue. It’s a simple enough process, but you do need to make sure your rectangles are pretty similar in size so they can be sandwiched and crimped together easily. This particular dough is a sticky one, so if you make this one, refrigerate or freeze the pieces for a few minutes between steps to make them more manageable. For a filling, I had just what I needed in the freezer. Last month, there were Texas blueberries in our CSA delivery, and I had cooked them with some lemon juice and cornstarch thinking they would eventually become a tart filling of some kind. You could also use your favorite jam or preserves from a jar for a filling. Then, you can wake up on a Saturday morning and have pop-tarts for breakfast while watching tv. I watched Anne Burrell on the FoodNetwork instead of the Smurfs, and these pop-tarts were on another level compared to ones from the box that I remember, but it was still a nostalgic Saturday morning.

So, I mentioned this dough was sticky. I actually rolled it between pieces of parchment paper. I left the parchment in place and cut it into big rectangles and let that chill for a bit. Then, I measured and cut the final, smaller rectangles and removed the parchment as I filled each tart. For pastry rectangles that were about five inches by three inches, you should use a tablespoon and a half of filling. Pressing the edges with a fork worked better on tarts that had been chilled first, but dipping the fork in flour helped it not to stick to the dough as well. Last, each tart was pierced with a skewer a few times to allow steam to escape while baking. The formed tarts should be placed in the freezer for at least two hours before baking, and they go straight to the oven from the freezer.

The Bon Appetit version shows the pop-tarts dusted with confectioner’s sugar. That’s one option. I also considered going all the way with a white frosting and sprinkles. In the end, I just brushed on an egg wash and sprinkled sanding sugar over the tarts before baking. The pastry was rich and flaky and the filling was fruity and just sweet enough. This could become a Saturday morning habit all over again.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nyona-Style Spiced Fried Chicken, Long Beans in Coconut Milk, and Celebration Rice

Fried chicken, stewed green beans, and rice could have just as easily been a typical Sunday dinner menu from the American south. Instead, those were the first three dishes I tried from the book Cradle of Flavor, by James Oseland, which explores the cuisine of the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. This chicken was marinated in coconut milk with lots of spices and shallots before being fried. The green beans were long beans that I had received from our CSA, and they were stewed in coconut milk with red chiles, tomatoes, garlic, and shallots, and the rice was turmeric-seasoned jasmine rice steamed with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. I had just finished reading this book which is a great source of information on the variety of spices and vegetables, the cooking styles, and the way of life of the islands mentioned, and I couldn’t wait to get cooking.

It will be an ongoing challenge to locate some of the ingredients as I cook dishes from this book, but it will be worth it to learn about this cuisine and experience at least most of the intended flavors. One challenge that I had right away was finding kaffir lime leaves. A few years ago, I could never find them, then they suddenly appeared with the packaged fresh herbs at Central Market, but last week they were gone. I asked if they would be back soon and learned that due to a pest problem on the trees in California, they’re not able to ship the leaves out of state right now. Maybe we’ll eventually get some again, or maybe I’ll have to grow my own kaffir lime tree. As for daun pandan leaves, which I learned impart a vanilla-like flavor, and daun salam leaves that have a subtle spicy woodsy flavor, I haven’t seen them yet, but I might get lucky and find them in a freezer case one of these days. Both of those are always listed as optional in the recipes in this book, and most of the other ingredients are findable in well-stocked grocery stores or Asian markets. I should point out that throughout the recipes, there are menu suggestions for what to pair with what and how to build a meal. There are also photos of some of the spices, herbs, and vegetables, and a few of the finished dishes.

So, I had those fresh, local, long beans, and decided to cut them into short lengths to use them in the green beans with coconut milk recipe. Shallots, garlic, and chiles were cooked in oil in a medium saucepan, and if I had found daun salam leaves, they would have been added. The cut beans along with tomato wedges were added and cooked briefly before coconut milk and water were poured over the vegetables. This was left to simmer for about 20 minutes until the beans were thoroughly cooked but not mushy. In the menu suggestions for this recipe, celebration rice is mentioned, so that’s where I turned next. Turmeric was stirred into a mixture of coconut milk and water, and that was poured over rinsed and drained rice. Lemongrass, salt, and kaffir lime leaves, of sorts, were added. Daun pandan and daun salam leaves would have been added if I had them. Regarding the kaffir lime leaves, since I had no chance of finding fresh ones, I resorted to the pre-chopped, jarred variety. The flavor was ok, but I hope we get the fresh leaves here again soon. The rice was cooked and then left to steam off the heat for a bit.

Then came the fried chicken, and who can resist fried chicken of any kind? In this case, the first step was making a spice blend from cinnamon sticks, dried red chiles, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, ground turmeric, sugar, and salt. One option is to use a mortar and pestle, and another is to use a food processor. Even if I owned a mortar and pestle, that would not have been my choice, and happily Oseland agrees and suggests a food processor for efficiency’s sake. My little mini prep didn’t seem to enjoy the seeds and cinnamon sticks, and I ended up transferring the spices to my coffee grinder that I use just for spices. It took a lot of shaking and rearranging of the seeds and sticks, but it was eventually ground into a paste. Then, chopped shallots were added. That mixture was stirred into coconut milk in a wide bowl, and the chicken pieces were placed in it to marinate for several hours. Just before frying, the chicken was patted dry with paper towels so that it didn’t sputter in the oil. It was served with a dipping sauce made with Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, and sliced red chiles.

The beans in coconut milk is a straightforward dish, but the mix of garlic, shallots, and chiles added great flavor. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed leftover green beans as much as I did these. And, the rice was no simplistic starch on the side. Of course, I’m wondering what I’m missing by not having located all of the ingredients, but with the ones I was able to include, the rice was fragrant and lovely. I would tell you all about the layers of flavor and how the marinade left the chicken tender and the frying crisped it well, but I think I devoured it too quickly to give it much thought. I haven’t decided what I’ll cook from the book next, but it might be a satay, a fish curry, or maybe a potato rendang unless I jump to the sweets chapter for the Indonesian spice cake.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tamarind-Glazed Black Cod with Habanero-Orange Salsa

When I saw this glazed black cod recipe in the June issue of Bon Appetit, the title alone convinced me to try it. There’s a glaze that’s basted onto the fish while it broils, and then the fish is topped with a spicy, fruity salsa before serving. I do so enjoy a spicy, fruity salsa with fish, and a glaze involving tamarind was intriguing as well. Happily, black cod, also called sablefish, is a best choice on Seafood Watch. It’s a mild, white-fleshed fish, and halibut would also have worked here, and now that I’ve tasted the glaze and salsa, I think I’d like to try them with salmon too. The glaze is thick like barbecue sauce, and the tamarind adds a sour, tangy side to the mix of smoky, earthy, and sweet flavors.

Ancho chiles were rehydrated and then pureed with orange juice, honey, garlic, tamarind concentrate, red wine vinegar, and olive oil. The puree was strained into a saucepan and then simmered until thickened. The glaze and the salsa can be made in advance making this a very quick dish to prepare at the last minute. The salsa included a seeded and finely chopped habanero, orange segments, cilantro, red onion, and red wine vinegar and olive oil. The fish was broiled for a few minutes on each side before the glaze was basted onto the top. It went back under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the glaze was bubbly hot.

I like a quick and easy fish preparation using the broiler, but this would also be delicious, if slightly more time-consuming, cooked on the grill. The salsa was perfect for topping fish, and mango in place of orange would be another route to take with it. But, the tamarind glaze was the key element here. I’ll be using that again and again for fish, and it would be great brushed onto tofu or used as a sauce for barbecue chicken.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Celebration Cake

Back in January, I learned about an organization that provides birthday cakes for kids who might not otherwise receive one. Free Cakes for Kids has chapters in various cities, and I’m sure each one operates a little differently. The Austin chapter invites volunteer home bakers to deliver cakes for birthdays as well as other client agency celebrations so that those agencies’ funds can be directed to the needs of the children they assist rather than to cakes. I’ve volunteered a couple of times now to bake and deliver cakes, and it’s been a pleasure to contribute to the good work being done by this organization. Last week, I volunteered to deliver a cake for a going away party at one of the client agencies. The cake flavor was up to me to choose, so I went with what I hoped would be a universally well-like combination. I baked a yellow cake and topped it with chocolate fudge frosting. I knew I could count on any of the cakes from The Modern Baker, and that’s where I found the recipes I used here.

There’s a note in the intro to the recipe regarding the simplified technique that results in such a nice texture for the cake. Rather than separating eggs, beating the whites, and folding them into the batter, whole eggs were mixed into butter, sugar, and vanilla. Half the dry ingredients were added and briefly mixed, the mixer bowl was scraped, and buttermilk was added and mixed. Then, the remaining dry ingredients were added, and the batter was mixed continuously for three minutes. Malgieri claims that last bit of mixing is critical, and I’ll take his word for it since the cake was light as can be. For the frosting, semisweet chocolate was melted, and a combination of warmed cream and corn syrup was added to it. It was whisked until smooth, and then butter was incorporated. The frosting needed to be chilled for a bit to thicken to a good spreading consistency. I left it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before frosting the cake. It was thick and glossy and very easy to swoop about on top and smooth onto the sides of the cake.

Knowing that the cake was to be delivered and therefore I wouldn’t be able to cut into it myself, I made some extra batter and frosting so I could bake a few cupcakes to keep at home. That was out of a sense of duty, I assure you. I wanted all of you to be able to see the inside of this tender-crumbed and delicious yellow cake. Although, I usually like to experiment with new and different cake flavors, fillings, and frostings, sometimes a reliable, basic cake is exactly what you need. The yellow, vanilla layers could be paired with all sorts of different frostings, but the chocolate ganache would be hard to beat. The frosting was rich and fudgy and not too sweet or heavy. This is a classic that I know I’ll turn to for many more celebrations to come.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Orzo, Sun-dried Tomato, and Walnut Salad with Feta

I finally picked Poor Girl Gourmet out of my to-read stack. I received a review copy a while ago and had been hearing good things about it. The book is by Amy McCoy, and her blog is also called Poor Girl Gourmet. What we have here is a food lover who had become accustomed to spending a lot on groceries each week. When the economy hit a snag, she needed to scale back her grocery budget but wasn’t willing to compromise on quality. By sticking to a list, not splurging on expensive items, and reducing the amount of meat purchased, McCoy was able to cut her food bill in half. This book includes recipes for dishes that fit her new approach to shopping and cooking, and the good news is that it’s not all boiled bulgur wheat dinners. The book is full of really good, fresh, and flavorful meals that are all under $15 and serve four. In the soups and salads chapter in addition to the salad I’m showing here, there’s a summer romaine and corn salad with chicken and lime corn cream dressing. In entrees, you’ll find kale lasagne with walnut pesto, chicken in cider gravy, and roasted chicken with spicy orange sauce. There are also vegetables and sides, bakery and desserts, and a chapter called splurges for special occasions. There’s a simplicity to the recipes in that fewer ingredients make for less expensive dishes, but that also allows you to appreciate each item that is used. For instance, I decided to make the orzo salad with sun-dried tomatoes and walnuts, and as I read the recipe, I thought about adding basil or a little garlic or maybe some fresh tomatoes too. I think adding any of those things would have muddied the nice balance of what was already there.

To make the salad, orzo was cooked and drained and then transferred to a serving bowl. Olive oil, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, the dry kind not in oil, chopped toasted walnuts, crumbled feta, and chopped fresh oregano were added. I have lots of oregano in my herb garden, so that ingredient was free for me. The pasta salad was to be served on top of a bed of lettuce, but I’ve shown it in a bowl by itself in these photos. In the back of the book, there’s a chapter on wines which includes information about finding value buys in less well-known varietals. I learned about negroamaro, which is from Puglia, and I brought home a bottle of a rose version of it to enjoy with this meal. It was dark as far as roses go, not sweet, and a nice, chilled wine for summer.

Sun-dried tomatoes do their umami magic in this salad, and with the oregano, a happy blend of flavors happens. The crunchy walnuts were just right, and the feta brought some salty bite. This was a great dish, and I’m already eyeing a few more to try from the book. I liked that this book presented how to cook with fresh ingredients in an economical way that wasn’t about giving up on any of what you enjoy most in your meals. It’s about finding an affordable mix of good, basic ingredients, stretching gourmet items, and growing what you can or buying seasonal produce locally. That’s a great plan for any budget.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Orange Sorbet

This dessert started with eggplant. That is, if it weren’t for the eggplant, I never would have made orange sorbet. I had a couple of varieties of eggplant to use, and I started craving a Thai eggplant curry. I knew I had seen an eggplant curry in The Kitchen Diaries which I read several months ago but don’t think I’ve mentioned here before. In that book, which is a year-long food diary about enjoying the right food in the right place at the right time, Nigel Slater mentions a meal involving a curry of eggplant, tomatoes, and lemongrass. He explains that he likes to follow a "stinging-hot principal dish" with a "sharp citrus dessert." The thought of a spicy dish with complex flavors followed by an icy, fruity, sorbet appealed to me very much. The curry in the book is made with a homemade paste involving shrimp paste which would have sent me on a day-long ingredient hunt, so I started asking around about eggplant curry recipes. Leela from She Simmers shared with me an informative post of hers about purchased curry pastes vs ones made from scratch, and her post also includes a link to an easy green curry recipe from Kasma Loha-unchit. That’s the version that I made only with mushrooms instead of pork. Then, it was back to the book for the dessert. So, yes, eggplant brought me along a winding path that led to orange sorbet.

Making the sorbet couldn’t have been easier. A simple syrup was made, and orange zest was added. Since the juice of a lemon was going to be added later, I zested some of said lemon and added it to the simple syrup as well. Once the syrup was cool, fresh orange juice and the juice of the lemon were added. I left that mixture in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly for a few hours before churning it in an ice cream maker. For garnish, I topped servings with a little lime zest.

The eggplant curry with coconut milk, Thai chiles, Thai basil, and green curry paste was spicy and lovely and the eggplant chunks took on all the flavors nicely. And, as suggested, following that with a cooling, citrusy, orange sorbet was refreshing and delicious. With no prompting, questioning, or fishing for a response, Kurt said he liked it. Even though he rarely dislikes a dessert, he doesn’t come right out and say he likes one very often, and then we both wanted seconds of this, so I know for sure it was really good.

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