Sunday, July 29, 2012

Clinched-and-Planked Shrimp

Seafood grilled on a plank is common enough, but have you tried clinching as a grilling technique? This is one of the many new ideas for cooking on the grill from Adam Perry Lang. I attended a class he taught recently at Central Market Cooking School with a media pass, and a copy of his new book Charred and Scruffed was included. He came up with the idea of clinching as a way of “closing the gap” between the burning coals and the food being grilled. By placing the food directly on the coals allowing no space between coals and meat, there’s no chance of flare ups from dripping fats. You get a very quick sear. Ordinarily, Kurt is the grill master at our house, but he wasn’t able to attend the class with me. So, I attended a class involving more red meat than I normally see in an entire year, just so I could pass all the information on to Kurt. Truth be told though, I was fascinated to learn more about cooking over direct flames and all the other great tips that were mentioned throughout the class. We were taught about “active grilling” which means the food is moved about the grill the entire time it cooks. That way, rather than worrying too much about grill marks, you can check for hot spots and be sure the food is cooking evenly. Basting was another important topic as was adding flavor at every point possible. So instead of using a silicon or natural bristle basting brush, one was made with herbs tied to the bottom of a wooden spoon. Then, the basting liquid itself and the herbs that form the brush add flavor at the same time. Throughout the active grilling time, each time meat was turned, it was immediately basted. The goals were to develop flavor while a nice crust formed as the meat cooked. One dish I probably won’t recreate at home, but maybe Kurt will, was the Rib Roast Done Like a Steak. With baseball bat in hand, Perry Lang bashed an entire rib roast of beef into a thick steak for grilling, and the class moved outside to watch the master at work in front of the grill. I’ve posted photos from the class on my Facebook page including one of the baseball bat maneuver.

In Charred and Scruffed, you’ll find all of the grilling tips and recipes for cooking every cut of beef as well as pork, chicken, lamb, duck, lobster, fish, shrimp, and game over coals. There are also brines, bastes, finishing salts, and side dishes. We tasted the Tomato Spackle, which is like an extra-thick homemade ketchup, during the cooking class, and there are recipes for an Artichoke Spackle and Hatch Chile Spackle in the book that I want to try too. First, I had to attempt something on the grill from the book. For the shrimp, layers of flavor were developed by starting with a brine. I made the basic brine which included water, salt, sugar, lemons, bay leaves, garlic cloves, thyme leaves, black peppercorns, and red pepper flakes. The brine was brought to a boil to dissolve the sugar, and then it was chilled in the refrigerator. The shrimp were cleaned, the shells were cut down the back so the shrimp could be deveined, but the shells were not removed. The shrimp spent an hour in the chilled brine before being cooked. Meanwhile, the plank was soaked in water. Another layer of flavor was developed by making a basting liquid with olive oil, butter, garlic, onion, oregano, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and lemon. After taking the shrimp out of the brine, they were tossed in the baste before being arranged on the soaked plank. The plank was placed directly on the hot coals in the bottom of the grill, and the water from the plank steamed as soon as the plank hit the coals. The lid of the grill went on, and the shrimp cooked in just a few minutes.

Despite the near-direct heat of the coals, the shrimp were well-protected by the plank and their own shells. They were probably the tenderest grilled shrimp I've ever tasted. And, there was great flavor from the brine and the baste along with the smokiness from the grill. I’ll be happy to coach Kurt when he feels like grilling red meat, and when I want to grill fish and fowl, I’ll be grabbing this book for tips.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mediterranean Zucchini, Tomato, and Bell Pepper Tian

I know that some people avoid using their ovens or spending much time near the stove during the heat of the summer. I understand the logic of this, but I’m not one of those people. I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. I remember that a few of my cooking firsts happened during a hot summer back when we lived in an apartment with not-so-great air conditioning. I baked my first banana bread on a 106 degree day, and I stood, stirring and stirring a bubbling pot of risotto for the first time on a sweltering July evening in that warm, little apartment. I guess I was more interested in trying new recipes than trying to keep the apartment cool. That way of thinking hasn’t changed for me. Besides, with our summers, it can be so hot for so long I’m not sure the heat from the stove even makes a difference. I’m hoping I can convince you to turn on your oven for this recipe I’m showing today, and it has to happen during the summer while zucchini, tomatoes, and bell peppers are in season. It’s a slowly baked dish, but it’s worth every minute of the oven being in use. I’ve made a similar tian with summer vegetables before, but this one was different and better. After tasting it, I declared it the best ever summer tian, and there are a few reasons for that. First, the zucchini and tomato slices are marinated in a balsamic and honey vinaigrette before being layered into the dish. Next, there’s a layer of chopped sun-dried tomatoes in the middle. And, last, the topping is a crispy mix of bread crumbs, pine nuts, and parmigiano reggiano. It’s from the new book The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton, and I received a review copy.

With vegetable-focused dishes for main courses, sides, pasta, eggs, pizza, soups, salads, and tarts, the book is full of food that I want to eat for each season of the year. There wasn’t a single recipe in the book that I would not want to try. This weekend, I’ll be making the Smoky Chipotle Black Bean Chili with Rice Pilaf and Summer Vegetable Salsa. I’ve marked the pages for Spicy Noodle Hot Pot with Bok Choy, Shitake Mushrooms, Ginger, Lime, and Peanuts; Baked Penne with Silky Fennel in Hot Pink Sauce; Savory Bread Pudding with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Corn, and Cilantro; and Farro with Balsamic-Rosemary-Roasted Shallots and Grapes over Roasted Portobellos. These are vegetable dishes with big flavors, great texture, and plenty of decadence. There are buttery crusts, melted cheeses, crunchy toppings, and chewy grains. And, the photos throughout the book show how beautiful the dishes are as well. I’m sure several more things from this book will be showing up around here soon.

Making the tian was simple enough after slicing and chopping all the vegetables. Onion, bell pepper, and garlic were sauteed before becoming the bottom layer in a baking dish. Chopped sun-dried tomatoes and thyme leaves were the next layer. That was followed by rows of marinated sliced tomatoes and zucchini, and the breadcrumb topping was the finishing touch. It was a really good reason to use the oven in the summer, and this makes great use of zucchini that’s always so abundant this time of year. So, I say, go for it. Turn on your oven in July.

Mediterranean Zucchini, Tomato & Bell Pepper Tian with Pine-Nut Crumb Topping
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from The Fresh and Green Table.

{Tians} It wouldn’t be possible for me to write a main-dish vegetable cookbook without including one of my layered summer vegetable dishes. Over the years, I’ve done lots of variations on these Provençal tians, and my friends tell me they make them over and over again. The secret to their flavor is letting them cook long enough for the tomato (and other vegetable) juices to reduce, caramelize, and mingle with the onions. But this particular recipe gets added flavor from sun-dried tomatoes and bell peppers on the bottom, and pine nuts in the top crust. I love to cook it in my enameled cast-iron oval gratin dish, but other 2-qt/2-L shallow baking dishes, like a 9-by-7-in/23-by-17-cm heatproof glass one, work fine, too. Take this dish to a potluck or picnic. It will be a hit, I promise. But if by chance you wind up with any leftovers, you’ll love those, too, as it tastes great the next day.

Serves 4

2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus 5 tbsp/75 ml and more for the baking dish
3 tbsp chopped toasted pine nuts
3/4 cup/115 g cup fresh bread crumbs
3/4 cup/85 g coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (I use the food processor)
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp honey
Kosher salt
1 1/2 small zucchini (about 12 oz/340 g), cut on the diagonal into thin (1/8- to 3/16-in-/3- to 5-mm-thick) slices
1 1/4 lb/570 g (about 4 or 5) small to medium red and orange ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 3/16 -in-/5-mm-thick slices (If using medium tomatoes, halve them before slicing.)
2 small onions, cut crosswise into thin slices (about 1 3/4 cups)
1 small or 1/2 large red or yellow bell pepper (about 4 oz/115 g), cored and very thinly sliced
2 tsp minced garlic
3 tbsp finely chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained

1 Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°/gas 5. Rub a shallow 2-qt/2-L baking dish with a little olive oil. In a small bowl, combine the pine nuts, bread crumbs, 2 tbsp of the Parmigiano, 1/2 tsp of the thyme, and the 2 tsp olive oil. Mix well.

2 In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, honey, 2 tbsp of the olive oil, and 1/4 tsp salt. Put the zucchini slices in one medium bowl and the tomato slices in another. Add a pinch of salt and 1 tsp thyme to each bowl, and drizzle each with half of the vinegar mixture. Toss gently. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

3 In a medium heavy nonstick skillet, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper, and 1/4 tsp salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions and bell pepper are limp and the onions are golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until softened and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer the onions and bell pepper to the prepared baking dish and spread them in an even layer. Let cool slightly. Top the veggies with the sun-dried tomatoes and the remaining 1/2 tsp thyme.

4 Starting at a narrow end of the baking dish, arrange a row of overlapping tomato slices across the dish, propping the slices up against the end of the dish at an angle as you go. Sprinkle a little Parmigiano on the row of tomatoes and then arrange a row of zucchini slices, slightly overlapping each other and slightly overlapping the row of tomatoes. Sprinkle Parmigiano on that row and continue to arrange alternating rows of tomatoes and zucchini, sprinkling each with Parmigiano, until you get to the other end of the dish. You should have just about the right amount of zucchini, but don’t worry if you have extra slices; you will definitely have extra tomato slices (and ones that you’ve chosen not to use because they’ve fallen apart!). But as you are going along, if it looks like you will have a lot of extras, gently push the rows back up toward the end of the dish where you started to make room for a few more rows.

5 Scrape any remaining seasoning and juices from the bowl with the zucchini over the veggies. (Leave the extra tomato juices behind or use them in a gazpacho!) Sprinkle any remaining Parmigiano over the veggies. Drizzle the veggies with the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil and top with the bread crumb–pine nut mixture. 6 Bake in the preheated oven until well browned and the juices have bubbled for a while and considerably reduced, about 65 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sour Lemon Scones

I might have a lemon problem. I just finished telling you about a lemon-butter sauce, and now I’m on to lemon scones. Yesterday, I made lemon gelato. I’ve been adding lemon to cold tomato soup, putting preserved lemon in all kinds of salads, and lemongrass keeps appearing in dishes I’m making lately. Guess what flavor my birthday cake was earlier this year? So, I like lemon and so does Kurt, and we both like scones as much as we like lemon. Given that track record, it’s hard to believe I hadn’t tried this recipe sooner. I picked up the Baked book the other day, looking for something interesting for weekend breakfasts, and there I found Sour Lemon Scones. If my lemon problem initially sounded crazy, then it’s about to get worse. You see, there’s an optional ingredient in these scones. Yes, I said optional. As an option, if you so choose, you could add chopped candied lemon peel to the scone dough. My first thought was that I’d call a few local stores, ask if they have candied lemon peel since I never see it when I’m shopping, and if I located it, I’d use it. If not, it was optional. After hearing multiple times that it’s not available because it’s only stocked during the holiday season, that word “optional” started getting blurry. I became convinced that it was absolutely necessary that I try these scones with the candied lemon peel included. I bought some organic lemons, peeled them, and made my own candied lemon peel. This could definitely be a lemon problem.

It’s not entirely my fault for going out of my way to make candied lemon peel. The recipe for making it is right there in the book. To quote the scones ingredient list: “1/2 cup diced candied lemon peel, optional (recipe follows)” I had to make it. I did only make enough for the scones though. I peeled a couple of lemons, and I always use organic when I’m using the peel or zest. The peels were placed in a saucepan with cold water, brought to a boil, and drained. This was repeated two more times to remove some of the bitterness. Then, the drained peels were placed in a saucepan with two cups of water and a cup of sugar, and I left it to simmer for almost an hour and then turned off the heat. The peels were left in the sugar syrup until cool enough to handle, and then they were cut into strips and returned to the syrup. You can store the strips in the syrup in the refrigerator for a few days, or after a few hours, you can removed the strips from the syrup, roll them in sugar, and leave them on a cooling rack to dry. I left them to dry overnight and made the scones the next day. The scone dough was a mix of flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, powdered ginger, butter, egg, buttermilk, and lemon zest. I used a mix of all-purpose flour and whole wheat pastry flour. After the butter was cut into the dry ingredients and the egg, buttermilk, and lemon zest were added, the chopped candied lemon peel was folded into the dough. Just before baking, the scones were brushed with buttermilk and sprinkled with turbinado sugar. And, when they were baked and cooled, I couldn’t resist drizzling them with a lemon and confectioners’ sugar glaze.

It’s possible that my brain was too busy thinking lemon, lemon, lemon, but I really barely noticed the ginger. I’m wondering if grating a little fresh ginger into the dough would be interesting next time. But mostly, I’m thinking about how deliciously lemony they were, and I’m delighted there are still a few in the freezer for another day.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wild Sockeye Salmon with Lemon-Butter Sauce

With salmon as fresh and lovely as this was, I was inclined to cook it as simply as possible. But, I still wanted to dress it up at least a little. This beautiful sockeye salmon was a second shipment I received from the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association. You can find more info about Copper River salmon, recipes, and a salmon locator on their Facebook page. Right before this salmon arrived, I had been flipping through Canal House Cooking Volume No. 4, of which I received a review copy, and the Lemon-Butter Sauce from it was something I couldn't wait to try. Hamilton and Hirsheimer refer to the sauce as "similar to hollandaise but better—fresher tasting, not so cloyingly thick." They learned this sauce from Darina Allen at Ballymaloe where she made it with Kerrygold butter which is what I used as well. It has the same ingredients as a classic hollandaise but only two egg yolks rather than three or four. Like hollandaise, the sauce is whisked together over low heat, and lots of butter is added one piece at a time. Still, it has a lighter texture than hollandaise, and the lemon flavor is front and center. It's a fantastic sauce for salmon. 

Here, the salmon was plainly poached in salted water. You'll want to check the doneness from time to time as it poaches. I portioned the salmon into pieces before poaching, and for me, the total cooking time was just under ten minutes. You'll need to cook the salmon first and let it sit for a few minutes while making the sauce, or make the sauce and keep it warm while the salmon poaches. Both steps are so quick, you can't really do them at the same time. For the sauce, two egg yolks and a tablespoon of water were whisked in a medium saucepan over low heat. Then, eight tablespoons of butter were added, one tablespoon at a time, while whisking constantly. Each bit of butter should melt completely into the sauce before adding the next. You want to be sure the sauce isn't cooking too quickly, and you can take the pan off the heat from time to time while whisking. When all of the butter has been added to the sauce, you should remove the pan from the heat and whisk in a tablespoon of lemon juice. Then, taste and season as needed. The sauce can be kept warm by placing the saucepan in a larger pan or heat-proof bowl of hot water. The salmon was served topped with sauce and chopped chives and tarragon or Mexican mint marigold leaves which is what grows easily here. 

It's such a simple, lemony, just-rich-enough sauce, I'll be making it often. And, I loved that the instructions for making it were so straightforward. It's as easy to make as it is delicious. And, even though the salmon didn't really require any embellishment, this made it even better. 

A couple of other recipes grabbed my attention in this volume of Canal House Cooking. There's a Salmon Salad and a Halibut Salad, and I really liked things about both. I flaked the leftover poached salmon, and made a salad that combined the two. First, I added finely chopped preserved lemon and chives suggested for the Salmon Salad, and then I added the green onions, celery, parsley, and mayonnaise from the Halibut Salad. I served the result as tartines with mixed salad greens. Lemon punctuated both the sauce and the salad, but the fresh, wild sockeye salmon was the star of both dishes. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cherry-Brown Butter-Creme Faiche Tart

Choosing dessert for a cherry-themed dinner was easy. I had just read about a tart in The Sugar Cube that can be made with any berries or cherries, and I couldn’t wait to try it. In the book, it’s made with raspberries that are all lined up in neat rows down the length of a rectangular tart. I wanted to do the same thing only with halved cherries instead of raspberries. It worked like a dream. The tart crust was buttery and flaky, and the cherries were juicy and sweet. But, the filling in this tart was the highlight. I thought the mixture would be a tasty middle to hold the fruit in place, but I didn’t expect the level of wow brought on by the vanilla and brown butter. Actually, the butter was melted with vanilla seeds and the pod in it and smelled incredible as it browned. When that fragrant vanilla brown butter was mixed into the filling with creme fraiche, I knew I was going to have a great tart. There is some fussiness to making this tart like making the dough, chilling it, rolling it, fitting it into a tart pan, chilling again, and that sort of thing. I can tell you though, it’s worth the effort.

I made the tart dough by hand as I usually do although the recipe recommends using a food processor. Butter was cut into flour that had been stirred with a little salt and some sugar. Cold cream and an egg yolk brought the dough together, and it was chilled for about an hour. As suggested in the book, I used a four-inch by thirteen-inch, rectangular tart pan. After placing the dough in the pan and docking the bottom, it was chilled in the freezer while the oven pre-heated. The tart shell was blind baked with pie weights for about 15 minutes, the oven temperature was reduced, the weights were removed, and it was baked another ten minutes. Meanwhile, that amazing filling was made with vanilla brown butter, sugar, salt, an egg, flour, and creme fraiche. The baked tart shell was allowed to cool a bit before the filling was added, and then halved cherries were placed in rows, cut side down in the filling. The tart went back into the oven for 25 minutes.

I mentioned before how much I’m enjoying this book, and this was one more reason why. Every recipe I’ve tried from it so far has worked perfectly and delivered delicious results. A dessert with cherries is easy for me to like, but this one topped all expectations.

Raspberry (or Cherry)-Brown Butter-Creme Fraiche Tart
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from The Sugar Cube.

Notice how raspberry is the first word in the title? That’s because this tart is all about the fruit. Yes, there’s a rich tart dough made with egg yolk and cream. And yes, it’s slathered with an amazing filling of vanilla browned butter and creme fraiche. But the filling is more of a flavorful base to support and contrast with all the bright fruit. Now, don’t skimp and use extract instead of a vanilla bean when making the filling. You won’t get the same depth of flavor as you do when you brown the seeds and pod along with the butter. You can, however, feel free to change up the fruit. You can use other berries, or even cherries that have been pitted—just cut them in half and toss with about two tablespoons of sugar.



Tart dough
1 1/4 cups plus
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 egg yolk

Brown butter filling
1/2 vanilla bean
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 heaping tablespoons creme fraiche
1 pint (abour 2 cups) fresh raspberries (or cherries)


In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and sugar and pulse a few times. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks pale yellow and sandy.

IN A SMALL BOWL, combine the cream and egg yolk. While pulsing, pour the mixture through the feed tube of the food processor. Continue pulsing until the dough forms a ball around the blade.

TURN THE DOUGH OUT onto a lightly floured surface and gather it into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disk so it’s not too thick and will be easier to roll out, wrap it in plastic, and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.

REMOVE THE DOUGH from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for a few minutes to soften a bit. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface using a lightly floured rolling pin, frequently turning it a quarter turn. (Use a bench scraper to dislodge any areas that stick to the work surface and dust the area lightly with flour.) Roll the dough out until it is 1/4 inch thick and an inch or two longer than the length and width of a 4-by-13-inch removable-bottom tart pan. Carefully transfer the dough to the pan and gently press it into the pan, including the corners. Roll the rolling pin across the top of the tart pan to cut off the excess dough. Check around the top of the pan and make sure the dough is at least flush with the top, or make it a little higher. Prick the bottom of the tart all over and chill in the freezer until firm, 15 to 20 minutes.

Split the piece of vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife. Add to a small sauté pan along with the pod and the butter. Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, until the butter darkens to a nutty brown and the solids drop to the bottom of the pan, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and discard the vanilla bean pod. Measure out 3 tablespoons of the browned butter, making sure to get as much of the vanilla bean seeds and browned bits as you can. (You can save any extra butter for another use.)

IN A SMALL MIXING BOWL, whisk together the sugar, salt, and egg until combined. Whisk in the flour, then whisk in the browned butter and crème fraîche until combined.

PREHEAT THE OVEN to 400°F. Crumple a piece of parchment paper (to increase its flexibility so that it will conform more easily to the shape of the tart shell), then flat-ten it out and fit it into the chilled shell. Fill with pie weights, dried beans, or rice. Bake until the sides of the shell look set and golden, 10 to 15 minutes, then gently lift the parchment and beans and remove them from the tart. Reduce the heat to 350°F, and continue baking until the bottom is set and lightly golden, 5 to 10 minutes longer. (If the edges start to look too dark, cover them with strips of foil.) Let cool slightly on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before filling.

SPOON THE FILLING into the prebaked tart shell, spreading it evenly over the bottom with a small offset spatula. Arrange the berries in an even layer on top. Bake on the center rack until the filling has puffed up around the fruit and is golden brown, about 25 minutes. (Again, if edges are getting too dark, cover with strips of foil.)

LET COOL before cutting tart crosswise to serve.

You can use any leftover scraps of tart dough to make mini jam tartlets. Roll it out and cut it into rounds. Drop a dollop of jam in the center of each round, and fold the dough over to make a turnover. Crimp the edges with a fork, chill until firm, and then bake until golden brown.

Taste your fruit. If it’s not very sweet, fold in 1 tablespoon melted apricot jam or seedless raspberry jam. Or use superfine sugar, which is absorbed more quickly.

You can make the filling several days in advance. Let it come to room temperature before you use it, so it will be easier to spread.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Grilled Quail with Savory Cherry-Zinfandel Compote and Kohlrabi, Fennel, and Bing Cherry Salad

Can we talk cherries? I go a little bonkers for them every year. Last year, it was Cherry Lambic Crisps and White Chocolate-Cherry Ice Cream and Cherry Sorbet Sandwiches. The year before, I couldn't get enough of Pickled Cherries. So, when Whole Foods asked if I'd like to help celebrate Cherry Fest by coming in for more fresh, lovely cherries and planning a special menu around them, it was an invitation to a kid into the proverbial candy store. Cherry Fest is taking place at all Austin Whole Foods stores this weekend, Friday through Sunday, with special events from 12pm until 5pm. On Friday, there will be a one-day sale on cherries. For a cherry-themed meal, I imagined quail would pair well with the fruit, and I set about hunting for sauce ideas. In Sunday Suppers at Lucques, there's a Savory Cherry Compote served with duck confit which I thought would work just as nicely with grilled quail. With the main dish decided, I started a search for a salad with cherries. Girl in the Kitchen had just what I'd hoped to find. It's a raw, crunchy mix of thinly sliced kohlrabi and fennel with fresh cherries, and it's made tangy and bright with chopped preserved lemon and fresh mint. 

I couldn't help making a few minor changes to the cherry sauce. Rather than making it with port, I opted for a Zinfandel on the fruitier side. Also, to keep this sauce firmly in the savory category, I added some minced shallot to the ingredients that simmered with the cherries. So first, spices and herbs were gathered in a cheesecloth bundle, and those included thyme, bay leaves, chiles de arbol, star anise, a cinnamon stick, and black peppercorns. A quarter cup of sugar was melted in one cup of water in a saucepan, that was brought to a boil, and then a half cup of Zinfandel, juice from two oranges, and the spice sachet were added. I added minced shallot at that point as well. The heat was reduced to a simmer, and one third pound of stemmed and pitted cherries was added and poached for about ten minutes. At that point, the sauce was strained into a heat-proof measuring pitcher to remove the cherries and sachet. The strained sauce was returned to the saucepan, and cooked until reduced by two-thirds. It was strained again, seasoned with salt and pepper, and just before serving, a tablespoon of butter was swirled into the sauce and the cherries were returned to the pan. I used semi-boneless quail which were cut in half, and I removed the wing tips. I marinated the halved quail in a mix of olive oil, minced garlic, sliced serrano chiles, chopped sage, oregano, and rosemary. Grilling the quail happens quickly. They only need a few minutes on each side over high heat on the grill. Then, I moved them to a cooler spot on the grill and basted them with some of the sauce. The grilled quail was served with more sauce including the cherries. The sauce is full of big, fruity, spicy flavors, but once it coated the quail, it seemed more subtle, like that was exactly where it belonged.  

The salad is a very quick preparation. Trimmed kohlrabi and fennel bulbs were cut in half lengthwise, and then thinly sliced on a mandoline. Cherries were pitted and sliced in half. Everything was combined in a large bowl, drizzled with olive oil, finely chopped preserved lemon was added, and it was seasoned with salt and pepper. You should taste before adding salt since the lemon adds a good bit of saltiness of its own. After tossing to mix well, chopped, fresh mint was sprinkled on top. It's a simple mix of well-coordinated flavors. Fruity sweetness, acidity, herbiness, and the floral anise of fennel were delightful in this cool, crisp salad. 

A dessert with cherries was easy to choose, and of course, I'm not done with cherries for this year. I've been having them for breakfast with Greek yogurt and homemade granola, and I still need to stock the freezer with a few bags after more have been pitted. And, more ideas for using cherries keep catching my eye: 

Cherry Tartlets 
Cherry Prosecco Granita 
Cherry and Rosemary Focaccia 

I received a $150 gift card from Whole Foods. I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Chocolate-Bananagasm Muffins

It is a catchy recipe title, and chocolate and banana in the same place always gets my attention anyway. So, it was a given that I’d try this. I shared a few of these muffins with some friends, told them what they’re called, and asked them to let me know if they were indeed bananagasmic. Everyone agreed that they were. Although, one friend felt it was more appropriate to wait until no males were in the room to admit it. Her reputation is safe. I won’t tell. The recipe comes from the new book The Sugar Cube by Kir Jensen, who operates a Portland food cart with the same name, and I received a review copy. It’s full of fun twists on classics and some new takes on sweets as well. I’ve been baking from it practically nonstop since reading it. The Twisted Toll House Cookies, which are thin and crisp and made with hazelnut flour and finely chopped chocolate, became an instant favorite in our house. Some recipes I haven’t gotten to yet but can’t wait to try include: the Bing Cherry Breakfast Clafoutis with an oat crumble topping; the Highway to Heaven Cupcakes which are chocolate cakes brushed with coffee syrup, filled with caramel sauce, topped with ganache, with an optional garnish of shards of potato chips; and the Black and White Sesame Brittle with pretty flecks of two kinds of sesame seeds. But, let’s get back to these muffins. They’re made with melted bittersweet chocolate, cocoa powder, cacao nibs, and of course, mashed bananas. The flavor was all kinds of chocolate fabulousness, and the texture of the muffins was perfect for days given the banana which kept them from becoming dry.

To start, chopped bittersweet chocolate, or feves which is what I used, was melted in a double-boiler. Mashed bananas were added to the melted chocolate. In a separate bowl, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt were sifted. With a stand mixer, butter and brown sugar were creamed, three eggs were added followed by vanilla extract, and then the dry ingredients, cacao nibs, and chocolate-banana mixture were added. As with many of the recipes in this book, finishing salt makes a big difference here. Fleur de sel was sprinkled on the muffins just before they went into the oven, and it works like a spotlight brightening every flavor.

With three eggs and two mashed bananas, the crumb was tender and lovely with nice contrast from the crunchy cacao nibs. There’s a suggestion to serve the muffins with nut butter, and out of journalistic integrity, I felt it necessary to test that concept. It’s a superb idea, but even plain, these muffins were deserving of their name.

Chocolate-Bananagasm Muffins
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from The Sugar Cube.

The world doesn’t need another blueberry muffin. And don’t get me started on bran. But a chocolate muffin moistened with banana purée and sprinkled with sea salt? Hell, yes! These are so moist and tender yet not too sweet, and the cacao nibs add texture and a deeper chocolate flavor. When you have a couple of death-row bananas on your hands, skip the same old banana bread and whip up a batch of these. I adapted the recipe from a great food blog called “80 Breakfasts.” Serve with salted butter or your favorite nut butter, such as fresh almond or peanut.


1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate (about 3 ounces)
2 large very ripe bananas, pureed
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt 
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
1/4 cup (1 ounce) cacao nibs 
Granulated sugar for sprinklling
Fleur de sel for sprinkling 

TIP This also can be made as a lovely dessert. This amount of batter is perfect for a 4-cup mini-Bundt pan. Generously butter the pan. Baking times will vary, so check after 30 minutes; the top should spring back when touched and a knife inserted into the center should come out clean.


PREHEAT THE OVEN to 325°F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. Put the chopped chocolate in a medium metal bowl and put the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Heat, stirring, until the chocolate is just melted. Remove the bowl from the heat and let cool. Stir in the banana purée.

SIFT TOGETHER THE FLOUR, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl.

IN THE BOWL OF A STAND MIXER fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients, cacao nibs, and chocolate-banana mixture and beat just until combined.

DIVIDE THE BATTER equally among the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the tops lightly with granulated sugar and fleur de sel and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan from front to back and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes. The tops should look crackled and slightly wet between the cracks. Let cool a bit before serving warm.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Very Green Avocado-Tahini Dip

This week is all about red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July, but why not add some green? A few days ago, I mentioned how much I’m enjoying the new book Wild About Greens, and this is another recipe from its pages. Here, the greens are arugula leaves which bring even more green color to a dip made with avocado. And, this very green dip just happens to be great for a summer party. I didn’t set a timer when I served it, but I can tell you that from the moment the bowl of dip appeared until the second I noticed that bowl was completely empty, very few minutes elapsed. It had to have been a record. The dip is sort of a cross between guacamole and hummus given the avocado and tahini, but mostly it’s a fantastic match for raw vegetables or chips.

You could use spinach or arugula here, and since I had some CSA arugula, that’s what I used. The rinsed arugula leaves were quickly wilted in a hot saute pan and then set aside. Into the food processor went a peeled and diced avocado, some tahini, the juice of a lemon, ground cumin, some cilantro, and salt and pepper followed by the cooled arugula. The mix was processed until smooth, and the dip was ready. I served it with sliced cucumber and celery to stick with the green theme and made some baked whole grain tortilla chips for dipping as well.

I knew this was going to be delicious, but I was shocked at how quickly it was consumed. The recipe below shows the quantities I used, but next time, I’ll definitely double it.

Very Green Avocado-Tahini Dip
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Wild About Greens

About 1 1⁄2 cups

A marriage of guacamole and hummus—and infused with a good amount of leafy greens—this rich dip makes its own unique statement. Serve it with tortilla chips, fresh pita, pita chips, raw veggies, or any combination that suits you.

3 to 4 ounces baby spinach or arugula, or a combination
1 large, ripe avocado, peeled and diced
1⁄3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
Juice of 1 lemon
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, cilantro, or dill
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Rinse the greens and place them in a large skillet or saucepan. With just the water clinging to the leaves, cook the greens until just wilted down. Remove from the heat.

Place all the ingredients in the container of a food processor, and process until smooth. Add 1⁄4 cup water, as needed, to achieve a medium-thick consistency. Transfer to a serving bowl. Keep covered until ready to serve.

Serve at once as suggested above. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days.

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