Tuesday, May 22, 2018


Of course, I love trying new baking recipes especially when I get to play with nonstandard ingredients. And, I really love it when I get to try making treats that are sweetened with things other than refined sugar. I bake fewer sweet things than I used to, and I mostly avoid refined sugar except on special occasions. I’ve had some mixed results with this type of baking. A honey-sweetened carrot cake and some maple syrup-sweetened cookies that I baked were really far better on the first day than the second. And, a vegan, date-sweetened caramel I tried didn’t deliver the thrill of traditional caramel. So, I was cautiously excited to try the recipes in the new book Sweet Laurel by Laurel Gallucci and Claire Thomas of which I received a review copy. I wanted to love the flavors, and I really wanted the recipes to work well. After being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune digestive disorder, Laurel Gallucci became committed to creating delicious baked good with no grains, gluten, dairy, or refined sugar. She and her friend Claire opened the bakery Sweet Laurel to showcase these creations. They offer “indulgent yet healthful” treats made with the simplest ingredients. No gums, fillers, or soy is used in the recipes. In fact, all the ingredient lists are surprisingly short. The chapters cover quick breads and breakfast treats, cookies and bars, pies and tarts, layer cakes, fillings and icings, and decorating techniques. I quickly zeroed in on the doughnuts with various glazes. They’re baked doughnuts made with almond flour, coconut oil, eggs, and maple syrup, and the glaze options include chocolate, strawberry, turmeric lemon, and coconut butter icing. Then, there are Classic Snickerdoodles, and the only reason I haven’t baked them yet is because I would eat every one of them. The Zesty Lime Pie and the Caramel Chocolate Banana Cream Pie are both strongly tempting me as well. Among the cakes, there are classics like the The Chocolate Cake That Changed Everything that inspired the friends to open the bakery and an old-school Pineapple Upside-Down Cake with pieces of blood orange standing in for the usual maraschino cherries. I couldn’t wait to get baking, and my first recipe from the book was the Alfajores that happen to be vegan as well as grain-free and free of refined sugar. 

There are three parts to this recipe, and each can be made in advance to make the final assembly a bit quicker. First, I made the Shredded Coconut “Powdered Sugar” topping. Rather than sifting actual powdered sugar over the cookies, these are topped with pulverized, unsweetened coconut that looks like powdered sugar. The coconut was blitzed in a food processor until fine. Next, I made the Vegan Caramel filling. I opted to puree the ingredients in a blender for the smoothest possible texture, but a food processor could also be used. Almond butter, maple syrup, coconut oil, dates, vanilla, and a pinch of salt were pureed until smooth. It seemed like a nice, thick mixture for filing the cookies, but next time I will take the suggestion of adding two more dates to make it a bit thicker. The cookies couldn’t have been easier. The dough was a quick mix of almond flour, a little salt, melted coconut oil, and maple syrup. That’s it. The dough was placed between two big sheets of parchment paper and was rolled out to about an eighth of an inch thickness. Small rounds were cut and baked. While cooling, the cookies were dusted with powdered coconut. Once cool, half of them were flipped and topped with vegan caramel before being sandwiched. 

Above, I mentioned some other lackluster, vegan caramel I had tried in the past. This was not that. This vegan caramel had all of the yummy factor I expect from caramel. I could have sat down with the bowl of it and a spoon. Next time, I will make it a little thicker so the cookies can withstand more filling without sliding apart. And, the deliciousness remained for these cookies the second day and the day after that. I can’t wait to bake more things from this book.

Reprinted from Sweet Laurel: Recipes for Whole Food, Grain-Free Desserts. Copyright © 2018 by Laurel Gallucci and Claire Thomas. Photography by Claire Thomas. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC. 

Our favorite coffee shop is just blocks from where we grew up, and one of its featured treats is the alfajore, a melt-in-your-mouth Argentinian sandwich cookie. Traditionally made with shortbread, dulce de leche, and an abundance of powdered sugar, it’s the perfect cookie to pair with a cup of strong South American coffee. In our version, we switch out the dulce de leche for our vegan caramel, and coat the cookies in our coconut powdered sugar. Don’t forget to brew a pot of coffee! 

2 cups almond flour 
1⁄8 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt 
1⁄4 cup coconut oil, melted 
1⁄4 cup maple syrup 
Shredded Coconut “Powdered Sugar” for topping 
Vegan Caramel, for filling 

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a small bowl, combine the coconut oil and maple syrup. A little at a time, add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring until a dough comes together. 
3. Place the dough between two pieces of parchment paper and roll it about 1⁄8 inch thick. Remove the top piece of paper and, using a 1 1⁄2-inch round cookie cutter, cut the dough into circles and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, until the edges begin turning golden brown. Transfer the cookies to a rack, dust heavily with “powdered sugar,” and cool completely while you prepare the vegan caramel. 
4. Gently spread 1 to 2 teaspoons of vegan caramel onto a cooled cookie, then sandwich together with another cookie. Repeat with the remaining cookies and serve. Store in a sealed container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or in the freezer indefinitely. 

Vegan Caramel 
We believe our early success has a lot to do with this recipe. There have been vegan caramel super fans since day one (seriously, one guy has a weekly order), and once you try it, you’ll know why. You’ll see it pop up in a few recipes in this cookbook, but we won’t judge if you eat this straight out of the jar with a spoon! Our favorite way of serving it is on top of sliced bananas, or with a piece of dark chocolate. You can buy ours at sweetlaurel.com, but here’s our secret recipe. 

1⁄4 cup almond or cashew butter or puree, storebought or homemade 
1⁄4 cup maple syrup 
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted 
1 or 2 fresh dates, pitted 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract Pinch of Himalayan pink salt 

1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. 2. Transfer the caramel to a glass jar and place in the refrigerator to chill. The caramel will stiffen up in the refrigerator, so if your recipe calls for it to be spreadable, let the caramel sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour, and give it a good stir before using. The caramel will keep for about 1 month, refrigerated. 

Shredded Coconut “Powdered Sugar” 
Makes 1/4 cup 

1⁄4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut 
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder 

1. In a food processor, blend the coconut and arrowroot until a fine powder forms. 
2. Sift the mixture over the doughnuts, generously dusting each, then serve.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Strawberry Sorbet

I know what you’re thinking: strawberry sorbet, so what? But wait, this is an exciting strawberry sorbet. There’s a whole lemon in it. And, I don’t mean the juice of a whole lemon, I mean a whole lemon plus more juice. When I read that in the recipe, I knew I had to try it. But before I get into specifics about the sorbet, I have to tell you about the book where the recipe is found. It’s from River Cafe London: Thirty Years of Recipes and the Story of a Much-Loved Restaurant: A Cookbook, and I received a review copy. I love the story of River Cafe, and congratulations to them on their 30th anniversary. This new book offers a fresh look at their classic recipes and how they’ve been refined over the years along with several new dishes. Regarding the look of the book itself, I fell for it immediately with the pretty, bright pink pages, page edges, and interior jacket color. Artists were asked to draw or paint on a menu, and those works are included in the book. As a fan of Ruth Rogers’ architect husband Richard, I was fascinated to read about the original restaurant space which fit all of nine tables but had large windows that overlooked the Thames and outdoor space for a garden. Richard Rogers created the plans for the space, and Rose Gray’s husband, David MacIlwaine, designed the restaurant logo. They’ve gone through lots of changes over the years and expanded the space, but they still operate as a family business. From the beginning, the intention was to create the “kind of food you eat in Italian homes,’ although neither Rogers nor Gray began as trained cooks. They offered what they knew and liked based on seasonal availability of ingredients. The chapters of the book include Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Contori, and Dolci with lots of interspersed photos of the food, the restaurant, and menu art. Every dish looks like a plate of comfort welcoming you to stay a while. I could spend a long lunch enjoying the Zucchini Soup, the Pappa al Pomodoro, or the Summer Minestrone with some wine. The Spaghetti with Lemon and Basil sounds perfect for summer as does the Linguine with Fresh and Dried Oregano with lots of chopped cherry tomatoes. There are risotto, polenta, fish, and meat dishes and simply delicious vegetable recipes like Tuscan Roasted Potatoes with Artichokes. But, I got completely distracted by the desserts. There are very short but interesting ingredient lists. The famous Chocolate Nemesis Cake has exactly four ingredients in the cake itself. The Lemon Sorbet is made with bananas which is intriguing, and the Campari Sorbet with lemon and orange is another one I want to try. Up first, though, was the Strawberry Sorbet while I could get lovely, ripe, local strawberries. 

The recipe as written makes a lot of sorbet. I cut the quantities in half, and it completely filled my ice cream maker. (The recipe below is as it is written in the book.) So, as mentioned, I stared with one whole lemon, and I decided to use a Meyer lemon. It was cut into small pieces, and the seeds were removed. The chopped lemon went into the food processor with sugar and was chopped until combined well with the sugar. Hulled strawberries were added next and pureed followed by the addition of lemon juice. Next time, I would opt to use a blender rather than a food processor because the mixture becomes very thin and seeps out of the food processor. The mixture was chilled and then churned in an ice cream maker. After churning, the sorbet was left to firm up in the freezer for several hours. 

I love lemon desserts and strawberry desserts, and having the two flavors together was ideal. After tasting this sorbet, I wanted to flip back to the start of the sweets chapter and try everything in it. This, like all the recipes here, was a perfect example of how simple can be spectacular. 

Strawberry  Sorbet 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from River Cafe London: Thirty Years of Recipes and the Story of a Much-Loved Restaurant

Serves 10 
2 unwaxed lemons, roughly chopped 
2 pounds (900g) granulated sugar 
4 pounds (1.8kg) strawberries, hulled 
juice of 2 lemons 

Put the lemon pieces into a food processor with the sugar and pulse-chop until the lemon and sugar are combined. Add the strawberries and purée. Add about half of the lemon juice and stir to mix. Taste and add more lemon juice, if necessary—the flavor of the lemon should be intense but should not overpower the strawberries. 

Pour into an ice-cream machine and churn until frozen. 

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Vegan Queso and Bob Armstrong Dip

I spend a good amount of time talking about the food in Austin, but I can’t think of a simple way to describe it. I can tell you that whenever I’m out of town for a few days, I always look forward to getting home so I can grab a breakfast taco with spicy salsa. It’s been exciting to see the changes in our local food world since moving here over two decades ago. There are so many new flavors and cultural influences in our restaurant offerings now than there were then. And, there’s a full spectrum of quick and easy food from food trucks and casual spots to the creative dishes at fine dining places. I couldn’t wait to read how our city’s food was described and which recipes were included in the new book The Austin Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from Deep in the Heart of Texas by Paula Forbes. Of course, there’s barbecue and tacos and Tex-Mex, and there’s so much more. The recipes are mostly from restaurants both old and new, and a few are from the author. Brisket and carnitas make prominent appearances. But this is Austin, so there are also Tacos de Hongos made with a mix of mushrooms and poblano strips and Butternut and Goat Cheese Chile Relleno topped with pistachio cream and pomegranate arils. The Texas Standards chapter moves from The Broken Spoke’s Chicken Fried Steak with Cream Gravy to Contigo’s Okra with Walnuts. One of the New Austin Classics recipes I want to try is the Grilled Quail with Green Mole from Lenoir. There’s a chapter for Breakfast and Brunch that includes a breakfast taco primer with plenty of information for making your own. At home, I tend to start with corn tortillas and fill them with scrambled local farm eggs and whatever vegetables are in season, but they’re extremely customizable. It’s no surprise to see margaritas and the Mexican Martini in the Drinks chapter, but I was also delighted to find one of my favorite Juiceland orders there as well, the Wundershowzen Smoothie made with spinach, natural peanut butter, and hemp protein powder. There are also salsas and baked goods, and happily the Banana Pudding is a made-from-scratch version from Daniel Vaughn at Texas Monthly. As I was deciding what to cook first, I kept coming back to the Bob Armstrong Dip from Matt’s El Rancho. It’s a classic Tex-Mex restaurant, and queso finds its way to almost every diner’s table. Bob Armstrong, a former Texas land commissioner, was a regular at the restaurant and requested something new and different on one occasion. Queso topped with guacamole and beef taco filling was the new creation served just for him, and now it’s on the menu with his name on it. In the recipe head note, there’s a suggestion for making a vegetarian version with pinto beans instead of beef taco filing. I had just cooked some pinto beans that were stored in my freezer so I liked that vegetarian direction, and then I took it one step further and made a vegan version of queso as well. 

The day I made this, I posted a photo to Instagram and asked if this was an Austin-sacrilege or quintessential-Austin? My defense is that the processed cheese-like product often used to make queso isn’t really cheese anyway, so why not make something completely from plants instead? I did a little searching and found a couple of vegan queso recipes (here and here) to use as starting points. The primary ingredients were soaked cashews and grated potato. My biggest worry was that I was going to end up with an unappetizing color. I added ancho powder and a pinch of turmeric to bring out the reddish-yellowish look of it. To start, unroasted cashews were soaked in water for several hours. A medium potato was peeled and grated. Olive oil was warmed in a saucepan, and diced onion and minced garlic were added. After cooking for a few minutes, the grated potato was added and stirred to prevent sticking. Cumin, ancho powder, granulated garlic, a pinch of turmeric, and a chopped chipotle in adobo were added. Last, the drained cashews were added. Once the vegetables were cooked through and tender, the mixture was transferred to a blender, and a little apple cider vinegar and some water were added before blending to a smooth puree. I let the blender run an extra minute to get it as smooth as possible. The queso was returned to the saucepan to sit over a low simmer to stay warm. Diced red bell pepper, diced roasted poblano, and diced seeded tomato were added. To serve, the queso was poured into a bowl and topped with a scoop of guacamole, seasoned pinto beans, sliced jalapeno, and chopped cilantro.

It’s a happy day in my kitchen when the smells of roasting poblanos, chopped garlic, fresh from the garden cilantro, and sliced jalapeno are mingling in the air. It automatically makes me thirsty for tequila with lime juice. This loaded queso was a meal in itself with lots of chips for dipping. The texture matched that of regular queso, and the flavors hit all the right notes. And, those are just some of the flavors I love in Austin restaurant food and at home. 

Vegan Queso 
Note: The queso recipe in the book includes all the dip components with instructions for the beef taco filling and guacamole. The queso itself, in the book, is made with shredded American cheese. The following recipe is the Vegan Queso I chose to make for a plant-based version of Bob Armstrong Dip. 

3 tablespoons olive oil 
1/4 cup diced onion 
1 cup peeled and grated potato 
3 cloves garlic, minced 
1/2 teaspoon cumin 
1 teaspoon ancho powder 
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic powder 
pinch turmeric powder 
1 cup soaked, unroasted cashews (soak cashews in advance for several hours) 
1 chipotle in adobo, chopped 
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar 
1 cup water 
salt and pepper to taste 
3 tablespoons diced red bell pepper 
3 tablespoons diced roasted poblano 
3 tablespoons diced, seeded tomato 

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes. Stir in the grated potato and garlic, and cook while stirring to prevent the potato from sticking to the pan. Continue to stir and cook until the vegetables become tender. Add the spices, drained cashews, and chipotle and stir to combine. Cook for another two minutes. Transfer mixture to a blender, and add vinegar and water. Puree in the blender until completely smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. 

Transfer the queso mixture from the blender back to the saucepan, and add the diced bell pepper, poblano, and tomato. Heat over a low simmer just to keep warm until serving. For vegetarian Bob Armstrong Dip, serve topped with guacamole, seasoned pinto beans, sliced jalapeno, and cilantro and with tortilla chips for dipping.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Udon Noodles with Snow Peas and West African Peanut Sauce

It’s always so interesting to learn how cuisines have been influenced by different cultures and distant places. Cross-cultural effects on food is the focus of Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day of which I received a review copy. These recipes are from two Harlem restaurants where Alexander Smalls and JJ Johnson created menus with an Afro-Asian-American flavor profile. Because of forced migration, peoples of Africa brought seeds and farming and cooking techniques to many parts of the world. This book explains culinary connections between faraway places such as the mix of cumin, coriander, and pink peppercorns from Ghana that was taken to Puerto Rico and then to the US. And, there’s Roti flatbread found in Trinidad, Suriname, South Africa, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. The book also offers a very modern collection of recipes with bold, fabulous flavors and lots of dishes I want to taste. For instance, the Roti with Black-Eyed Pea Hummus, Eggplant Puree, and Carrot Curry Puree would be a flavorful and colorful snack platter with cocktails. I have to quote a statement about collard greens that I particularly enjoyed: “’Are Collard Greens the New Kale?’ No. Collards have worked harder than kale ever will. Collards are out there digging ditches and roofing houses while kale goes to spin class and leaves early for brunch.” Love that. And, the recipe for Collard Green Salad with Coconut Dressing made with ginger, lime juice, and chipotles sounds fantastic. Another collard greens recipe I want to try is the Collard Green Salsa Verde served with Salt-Crusted Salmon. A perfect example of a melting pot type of dish is the Afro-Asian-American Gumbo. The roux is made with dried shrimp which is also done in Senegal, okra was of course first grown in Africa and brought to North America by slaves, and the rice is added in a South Carolina style. I got completely distracted by the recipe for Tofu Gnocchi with Black Garlic Crema and Scallions since I’d never before encountered tofu gnocchi. The Beer-Battered Long Beans also got my attention. And, the Cocktails chapter continued the book's excitement with a West African Peanut Punch made with a smooth puree of peanuts, bourbon, and chile honey. My first trip to the kitchen with this book was to try the Udon Noodles and West African Peanut Sauce. The inspiration for this dish came from a mix of African and Japanese populations in Brazil. 

In the book, the dish is made with edamame. I couldn’t help making a local and seasonal adjustment. I had just brought home snow peas from Boggy Creek Farm and opted to use them here instead of edamame. This dish is all about the sauce, and this Mother Africa Peanut Sauce begins with a mirepoix and then some. First, cumin seeds were toasted in olive oil. Then, diced onion, carrots, tomatoes, celery, garlic, bay leaf, cilantro, bird’s eye chile, salt, and lemon juice were added. Next, tomato paste and peanut butter were added followed by vegetable stock. The sauce was stirred well and left to simmer for about 45 minutes. The bay leaf was removed before the sauce was pureed with an immersion blender. For the noodles, carrots were julienned and stir fried before being added to cooked udon along with chopped green onion and snow peas in my case, cilantro, Thai Basil, and the peanut sauce. 

There’s a lot of history that accounts for the combinations of flavors in these dishes, but the recipes are fresh and contemporary. There are big flavors, lots of spices and bright herbs, and a generous use of vegetables throughout the book. It’s going to be fun to continue tasting my way through the pages.

Udon Noodles with Edamame and West African Peanut Sauce 
Excerpted from Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls. Copyright © 2018 by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Beatriz da Costa. 

In Brazil, there is an African population and a Japanese population that live really close together, and both grew up on udon West African peanut sauce is the mother sauce: peanut butter, tomato paste, tomatoes, French mirepoix, and our special mirepoix In the end it’s like a pad thai with more frequent flyer mileage in its account. There’s nothing like eating noodles and pasta when the sauce is really right. West African peanut sauce provides the perfect creamy coating for the Japanese udon noodles. 

6 to 8 servings 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 cup julienned carrot 
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion 
2 cups Mother Africa Peanut Sauce, warmed 
kosher salt for pasta water 
1 pound udon noodles 
1 cup shelled edamame, boiled in salted water for 5 minutes 
1/2 cup cilantro leaves 
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves 

Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Stir fry the carrot and the onion for 1 minute. Add the peanut sauce and stir to coat. In an 8-quart pot, bring water to a boil, salt it, and cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain and add the noodles directly to the peanut sauce mixture, tossing to coat. Plate the noodles and top with edamame, cilantro, and Thai basil leaves. 

The Mother Africa Sauce 
Makes about 4 cups 

1 tablespoon olive oil 
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds 
1/2 white onion, diced 
1/2 cup coarsely chopped carrots (1 medium carrot) 
1 plum tomato, chopped 
1/4 cup finely diced celery (1 rib) 
1 clove garlic, minced (1 teaspoon) 
1 bay leaf 
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro 
1 bird’s-eye chile, seeded and minced (1 teaspoon) 
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste 
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon) 
2 tablespoons tomato paste 
1 cup unsweetened, creamy peanut butter 
4 cups vegetable stock 

Heat the oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat, add the cumin, and fry for 1 minute, stirring constantly. The cumin will become very aromatic and a few shades darker. Add the onion, carrots, tomato, celery, garlic, bay leaf, cilantro, chile, salt, and lemon juice, stirring to coat the vegetables in the toasted cumin oil. Sauté until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Once the tomato paste is incorporated, add the peanut butter, working it into the vegetables with a little stock, if needed. Cook until the oil separates from the peanut butter, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and stir, making sure to bring up all of the tomato paste and peanut butter from the bottom of the pot so it is well blended. Increase the heat to medium high to bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook, stirring, for 45 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce in the pot until smooth. Season with salt to taste. 

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Tostones with Mango Avocado Salad

When I received a review copy of Cuban Flavor: Exploring the Island's Unique Places, People, and Cuisine by Liza Gersham, the photos immediately began to tell the story. My first reaction to the book was that it was going to make me want to travel. I wanted to see the sights and taste the food in Cuba. But, as I started reading and becoming more informed about current life there, I realized that tourism brings as many problems as solutions. Food scarcity among Cubans is common, and ration books for food tend to last for only part of a given month. A lot of the food supply is taken by restaurants serving the tourist trade where higher prices are paid. So, I began to wonder if visiting is a good idea. I found an article that describes both sides of the conundrum, and it does a good job of pointing out ethical ways of traveling. Staying in a home via a service like Airbnb and visiting paladares, or restaurants created in homes, can more directly benefit families. Also, bringing supplies to share with locals is a good way to help slightly alleviate needs. Being mindful of the local situation helps in making the best choices you can as a visitor. And, without even leaving home this book transports you to the island with recipes and stories about their origin. There are recipes for beef although it’s pointed out that access to beef is a rarity. The Carne con Papas stew is a dish from a feast served at the Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso. There’s a chapter just for chicken and another for fish. The Shrimp Tamales and Empanadas Decameron both got my attention. In the Vegetariano chapter, it was interesting to read that organic farming in Cuba is common because it’s a necessity. The farmers don’t have access to pesticides and are coming to realize the benefits of growing food without chemicals. Among the desserts, the Chocolate Rum Ice Cream and Guava Sugar Cookies both sound delicious. And, several of the cocktails would be fun to sample. It had been ages since I’d made tostones, though, and I had an idea to use them as bases topped with salad to serve as little appetizers. 

Making tostones is a fun process. The hardest part is peeling the green plantains. Once they’re peeled, you slice the plantains into thick chunks and fry them for a few minutes on each side. After the first frying, the plantain pieces are drained on paper towels and mashed while still warm with a spatula. They crush easily and smoosh down to about a third of their original height. Then, each piece is fried again for just about 30 seconds per side. After draining on paper towels a second time, the tostones are sprinkled with salt and are ready to serve. I also made the Mango and Avocado Salad from the book. The dressing was a mix of olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, ground achiote, minced garlic, and salt. A red bell pepper, a mango, and an avocado were diced and tossed with minced onion and more cilantro before the dressing was added. I cut all the salad ingredients small so they would fit better on top of the tostones.  

I felt more than a little guilt having read that avocados in Cuba can cost almost as much as a laborer’s day’s wage when they can be found at all. Avocados are enjoyed and shared when available. I kept that in mind and enjoyed every bit of this salad on the crunchy tostones. They made a great pairing, and I learned to appreciate the ingredients that are often taken for granted. 

Tostones Chatino Plantains 
Recipes reprinted with publisher’s permission from Cuban Flavor: Exploring the Island's Unique Places, People, and Cuisine

Tostones are a ubiquitous starter in Cuban restaurants. Known throughout Latin America as tachino, chatino, or plátano a puñetazo, this savory twice-fried plantain can be very filling and tasty. There are two types of plátanos that offer significantly different flavors—one variety looks more like a banana and is sweet, while the other is starchy and bigger. You can make chips with it, or you can boil it, mash it, and fry it to make the well-loved tostones. 

2 green plantains 
Vegetable oil, for frying 
Salt, to taste 
Dollop of sour cream (optional) 

Peel the plantains, removing the ends. Cut them in rounds that are 1–1½ inches in thickness to make the shape of a chip. 

Carefully place the plantains in a pan with hot oil for approximately 7 minutes. When crisp, remove, drain, and press the plantains with a spatula to flatten until they are approximately 1/2 inch thick. 

Raise the temperature of the oil and add the flattened plantains again. Cook for approximately 80 additional seconds. Sprinkle with salt and serve with sofrito salsa. Add a side of sour cream if you like. 

Mango Avocado Salad 
Unlike Mexico’s abundance of avocados, avocados in Cuba are a rarity. Difficult to find in local markets, avocados typically cost almost as much as a laborer’s day’s wage. Therefore, when an avocado comes your way in Cuba, you covet it and share with friends. 

1/4 cup olive oil 
3 limes, juiced (about 1/4 cup) 
Sprig of cilantro 
1 Tbsp achiote 
2 cloves garlic 
2 Tbsp salt 
1 red bell pepper 
1/2 large sweet red onion, sliced 
2 ripe avocados, sliced 
Sea salt, to taste 
1/2 fresh mango, cubed 
Fresh cilantro, chopped 

Prepare the dressing. Whisk olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, achiote, garlic, and salt. Blanch the bell pepper, and then dice into pieces. Place in a bowl and let cool. Add the dressing to the cooled bell pepper. Arrange red onion slices on a plate, and top with sliced avocados and a touch of sea salt. Pour dressing over, and top with mango cubes and fresh cilantro. 

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Brie-Filled Mini Seaweed Scones

I’m trying to recall how I was first introduced to the cooking of Chef Michel Roux. I’ve owned his book Eggs for over ten years, and I believe it came to my attention by way of a Martha Stewart tv show. I remember learning of a lot of cookbooks from her shows. I’ve always loved that book for the attention to detail with each of the classic egg recipes, and the care taken with the techniques is evident in the photos of the finished dishes. Needless to say, I was excited to read a review copy of Michel Roux’s latest book Cheese: The essential guide to cooking with cheese, over 100 recipes. Once again, there are classic dishes that are beautifully presented, and a few intriguing recipes as well. The chapters include Canapes, Soups, Starters and Snacks, Salads, Fish and Shellfish, Meat Poultry and Game, Rice Pasta and Bread, Vegetables, Great Classics, and Desserts, and before getting into the recipes some basic information on types of cheeses and classifications is listed. I was glad to learn about Crique which is a crisp, layered shredded potato cake with Picodon goat cheese in the middle and on top. And, I’d never seen a Pain d’Epices and Cheese Millefeuille. The pain d’epice is sliced horizontally into several very thin slices, and each is spread with a Fourme d’Ambert and butter mixture before the slices are reassembled layer by layer. Here, a fabulous take on Caesar Salad is served with anchovy fillets wrapped around toasted bread batons, and smoked duck breast takes the place of more typical grilled chicken. The Filo Tart with Mediterranean Vegetables and Goat’s Cheese looks like the flakiest, loveliest vegetable tart ever made, and the Parmesan and Fontina Flan would be an incredible accompaniment to ripe, summer tomatoes. But when I came upon the Brie-Filled Mini Seaweed Scones, I had to start there. I’m an admitted scone-aholic, and when I see something new and different in the form of a scone I have to try it. 

So, no, I had never made scones with seaweed in them, and I’d never made mini scones that were sliced open and filled with brie. The making of the scone dough itself was the same process as usual. Flour was mixed with baking powder and salt, and butter was worked into the flour mixture before cream was added. But this time, rinsed and chopped dulse was added with the cream. The dough was patted into a thick disk before being cut into mini, round scones. The scones were brushed with egg wash, and I sprinkled the tops with salt and pepper before baking. After cooling, they were cut about three-quarters of the way through and filled with pieces of brie. My choice for the cheese was a goat brie. 

With this new book, I continue to be a fan of Michel Roux and the depth of experience that comes through in his recipes. These little scones were as fun as they were rich and delicious. They went well alongside a plate of salad. Next, I’d like to spend some time in the Desserts chapter with a certain Coffee and Mascarpone Creme Brulee. 

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Homemade Baked Potato Tots

When I read cookbooks, I keep my eye out for ideas both big and small. Sometimes, it’s the little things that can really change your cooking or spark inspiration. And, some books deliver on both fronts. That was the case with Valerie's Home Cooking: More than 100 Delicious Recipes to Share with Friends and Family of which I received a review copy. Valerie Bertinelli gives you the recipes she cooks at home and recipes she learned from her mother and grandmother, and talks you through the why’s and how’s in a friendly, down-to-earth fashion. This is a book of crowd-pleasing food and drinks with a few healthier options, some decadent dishes, and a lot of good ideas for every meal of the day. Egg in a hole is a classic, but I’d never thought of trying it with a bagel and then topping it with Neufchatel cheese mixed with sriracha. The nostalgic Snack Mix in the Happy Hour chapter, made with wasabi peas and broken ramen noodles, inspired me to seek out new and different ingredients for a gluten-free mix to make for gifts. And, speaking of nostalgia, there’s also a homemade Hamburger Helpa and Tuna Noodle Casserole with Potato Chip Topping. Two dishes that got me looking forward to summer produce were the Roasted Eggplant Pesto Pasta and Vegetarian Minestrone. And among the desserts, the Neapolitan Tacos convinced me I need to get my hands on a pizelle maker. Here, pizelles are draped over the handle of wooden spoon so they set in the shape of a taco shell before they’re filled with vanilla ice cream and chopped strawberries. Why have I never made a dessert taco? The ideas shown here started with the Giardiniera Aioli shown in the book with a beef sandwich. I thought it would also be fantastic on an avocado sandwich or as a dip for baked fries. Next, I re-read the head note for the Homemade Baked Potato Tots recipe. In it, there’s a mention of grating cauliflower in with the potato for a slightly lighter take on the concept. I decided to go one step further and mix sweet potato, russet potato, and cauliflower to make the baked tots and then dip them in giardinera aioli. 

I had a stash of lacto-fermented giardinera that I made weeks ago with local cauliflower, garlic, and chiles and wanted a really good way to use the last bit of it. This was it. The vegetables were drained from the brine, chopped small, and then mixed into a homemade aioli. For the tots, you begin by cooking the potato or in my case the two kinds of potato and cauliflower. The vegetables were boiled until tender and then drained and allowed to cool completely. Once cool, they were each grated with a box grater. An egg, some flour, and cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, and salt were added and mixed into the grated vegetables. The mixture was formed into little cylinders, and it helps to moisten your hands. Every so often, I stopped and washed my hands and left them a bit wet before continuing to form the cylinders. I had drizzled some olive oil on a baking sheet, and as each cylinder was formed, I rolled it through the oil and placed it on the sheet. The tots baked for about 25 minutes and were turned halfway through baking. 

The giardiniera aioli was a revelation. I want that on every sandwich, and I want to dip everything into it now. And, the homemade, lightened-up tots were a lot of fun. They are tender due to baking as opposed to frying, but they did hold up well for dipping. I could also see them going in all sorts of other flavor directions with added chopped herbs or different spices. Being inspired to try new and different things and imagining all the possible variations is my favorite part of home cooking.

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