Sunday, August 20, 2017

Yellow Coconut Rice Cakes with Scallions and Black Sesame Seeds

I’m an admitted tree hugger and have been for ages. And, my interest in protecting the environment has a direct effect on my food choices. It all started on the campus of the University of Illinois during my first year. There was an Earth Day event at which I learned about how much land around the world was being used for cattle ranching for beef and how much water is used to raise cattle for beef and how negatively the environment is affected by the growing demand for beef. That was the day I made the choice to not eat red meat. Today, there are more food sourcing options. Local, pastured, grass-fed, humanely-raised animals for meat are a much better option than factory-farmed, standard, grocery store fare. Still, growing vegetables is far easier on the earth than raising animals. I continue to not eat red meat, but when I buy it to serve to others, I go with the local, pastured variety. Since I’ve been thinking this way for so long, I was delighted to see a new book about taking some simple steps to reduce our meat intake and improve our health and the planet at the same time. The Reducetarian Solution: How the Surprisingly Simple Act of Reducing the Amount of Meat in Your Diet Can Transform Your Health and the Planet, of which I received a review copy, takes a gentle approach. It doesn’t hit the reader over the head with demands for an end to meat eating. Instead, through a collection of several short essays, the idea of finding easy ways to cut back are presented. My favorite essay was by environmentalist and co-founder of, Bill McKibben, in which he writes: “reducing factory farming of animals would help a lot in the fight against global warming. The Reducetarian movement meets most people on our planet more or less at their level—they enjoy the taste of meat and yet also worry about our planet’s future.” He goes on to explain how reducing rather than eliminating meat could be very effective. Currently, about 0.5 percent of the American population is vegan. It would be very difficult to convince a significant percent of the population to convert to eating only plants. But, if a third or more Americans would cut their meat intake by a third or half, it would make an undeniable difference in the amount of meat being purchased and in many peoples’ quality of health. After reading the book, I’ve been cooking even more vegetarian meals than usual and cutting our dairy more often as well. This has been easy with books like In My Kitchen because I've already placed flags on several pages for meatless recipes to try.

One of the pages I marked was for the Yellow Coconut Rice with Scallions and Black Sesame Seeds recipe. Deborah Madison offered a couple of great suggestions for what to serve with this rice, and I couldn’t wait to try it with the braised sweet peppers. You have options with this rice. It can be served warm right from the saucepan, or it can be pressed into a pan, chilled, cut into shapes, and browned in oil. It’s also pointed out that long grain rice won’t form solid cakes after being pressed into a pan. Short or medium grain rice is needed. The rice was cooked in a mixture of coconut milk and water with saffron and turmeric. Once cooked, thinly sliced green onions were tossed with the rice. The rice was pressed into a small pan that I lined with parchment paper, and black sesame seeds were sprinkled on top. The pan was refrigerated until set. I went with the diamond shape suggested for the rice cakes and browned them in coconut oil. For the braised peppers, I had a few different varieties from local farms in addition to some hot chiles. They were cooked in coconut oil with minced onion, garlic, and ginger plus cumin and more turmeric. A little coconut milk was added after sauteeing. I topped the browned rice cakes with the braised peppers and garnished with a chiffonade of papalo leaves. 

This rice is so delicious and could be used in so many ways, I predict I’ll be making it repeatedly. Leftover rice cakes can be reheated in the oven, or they can be broken apart and heated in a skillet like fried rice. I enjoyed lunches of leftovers both ways. Choosing plants instead of meat a little more often isn’t difficult at all with great ideas this like for flavorful dishes with always changing seasonal vegetables.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Cucumber Umeboshi Salad with Cashew Crunch

I love the idea of collaborating with artists to create food. Everything about cooking is part of a creative process from choosing what to make to gathering the ingredients to the actual preparation and, of course, the presentation. Julia Sherman has been making salads with artists and chronicling the results on her blog Salad for President, and now she has a book of the same name. I received a review copy. In addition to cooking with creative professionals, she also planted the MoMA PS1 Salad Garden on the rooftop of the museum in Queens which became an ideal location for shared meals, performances, and talks. Sherman writes: “An artist reinvents the things you already know. They reframe the details of life and prod us to pay closer attention.” She suggests home cooks do the same by experimenting with ingredients and flavors and finding new ways to compose a meal. And, salads are perfect for experimentation and new composition. In some cases, the concept of a salad is extended to include brothier expressions like soup or cooked combinations like charoset. There’s even a chapter for “Other Abuses of the Format” including cocktails and desserts. But mostly, the book is full of interesting salads both simple and complex. There are also interviews with artists and other well-known personalities, and each one ends with a recipe from the interviewee. Alice Waters was interviewed, and she included her now classic recipe for Baked Goat Cheese with Garden Lettuces. Some other salads that caught my eye include the Tatsoi, Macadamia Nuts, and Shaved Coconut with Yuzu Kosho Dressing; Potato Salad with Sprouted Mung Beans, Yogurt, and Fried Black Mustard Seeds; and Pulled Chicken Salad with Napa Cabbage and Red Curry Puffed Rice. And, the Cucumber Umeboshi Salad with Cashew Crunch sent me off to find umeboshi right away. 

I found umeboshi, or salted plums, at a nearby Japanese market, and they’re often made with MSG. Luckily, I found a brand without it. You need to remove the pits, and then for this recipe, they were minced. I had two different types of locally-grown cucumbers, and they were partially peeled in stripes and chopped into chunks. For the cashew crunch, cashews were chopped and combined with sesame seeds. Nori was cut into skinny shreds and added to the cashews with a paste made from black garlic, fish sauce, and a minced habanero. After stirring, the nut mixture was spread on a baking sheet and toasted in the oven until browned. Once cool, it became a crunchy crumble topping. The minced plums were added to the cucumber chunks and tossed with rice vinegar. To serve, the cucumber mixture was topped with the cashew crunch. 

I loved the flavor of the salted plums with the cucumber. And, the cashew crunch could easily become a daily snack. The crunchy, umami-packed topping will be making frequent appearances in my kitchen. If you’re looking for salad inspiration or just ideas for using all sorts of vegetables, this book will serve you well. 

Cucumber Umeboshi Salad with Cashew Crunch 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Salad for President: A Cookbook Inspired by Artists

Serves 4 to 6 
Prep Time: 20 minutes 

In Japan they say that umeboshi plums possess magical healing powers, the ability to cure everything from ancient Samurai battle fatigue to the modern-day hangover. Umeboshi are shockingly expensive, but a little of their concentrated, salty tartness goes a long way. When I buy cashews for cooking, I always opt for the broken cashew pieces as opposed to whole nuts; they are more affordable and taste just as good. Black garlic is fermented, and has twice as many antioxidants as raw garlic; its flavor is much sweeter and milder, like garlic candy, in a good way. You can find this at your Asian grocer, but it is widely available in mid- range supermarkets as well (they even sell it at Trader Joe’s). If you can’t find it, just substitute roasted garlic cloves with an added pinch of sugar. 

For the cashew crunch 
2 cloves black garlic, peeled 
1 teaspoon fish sauce 
1 teaspoon minced habanero pepper (or more if you love spice) 
1⁄2 cup (65 g) raw cashew pieces 
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds 
1 (8 x 7 1⁄2-inch/20 x 19-cm) sheet unseasoned nori 
1 tablespoon untoasted sesame oil or vegetable oil 

For the salad 
2 pounds small cucumbers (about 6 lemon or Kirby and 10 Persian), chilled 
2 umeboshi plums 
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar 

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). 
2. Using a mortar and pestle, make a paste out of the black garlic, fish sauce, and habanero. 
3. Roughly chop the cashews and toss them in a bowl with the sesame seeds. Cut the nori into thin shreds and add them to the cashew mixture. Add the black garlic paste and stir to combine it with the other ingredients as evenly as possible. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat it evenly with the sesame oil. Spread the nut mixture out on the foil and toast it on the middle rack of the oven for about 10 minutes, until the nuts start to brown lightly. Remove them from the oven and let them cool to room temperature. The nuts should go from sticky and soft to crunchy clusters as they cool. 
4. Working with the cold cucumbers, remove every other strip of the skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and discard (if using Persian cucumbers, you won’t need to do this). Cut the cucumbers into 1-inch (2.5- cm) chunks, as shown, or into ribbons and put them in a salad bowl. 
5. Remove the pits from the plums and discard. Mince the plums into a chunky paste and toss them with the cucumbers. Add the vinegar and toss to coat evenly (you might want to use your hands to break up the plums here). Top with the crunchy cashew topping and gently toss to combine.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Cold-Press Coffee Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Sauce

I’ve been making homemade ice cream for years. And, I thought I had a handle on the parts of a custard and how the ingredients come together to freeze just right for ice cream. Thanks to the new book Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream: The Art and Science of the Scoop by Dana Cree, I now have a much, much better understanding of how all of that works. As I read my review copy, I enjoyed learning specifics like that fat helps to trap air as ice cream is churned and that dairy proteins bind to water in the base and prevent ice crystals from forming. I love this kind of information. I never really knew why some ice cream recipes call for corn syrup in addition to sugar, but here, it’s explained that monosaccharides in corn syrup, as opposed to disaccharides in sugar, bind more water which is again to prevent ice crystals. There are also explanations for the use of texture agents and how they affect the final result. By knowing the science behind what each item contributes, you get a clearer picture of what you could and what you should not change in ice cream recipes. You also learn how to create the creamiest texture and best flavors possible. For instance, fat in an ice cream plays an important role in how flavors are delivered. With a higher fat custard, flavors will develop more slowly as you taste them, and they will last longer on your palate. But, in the case of a lower-fat sherbet, the flavor is experienced more immediately. Depending on the flavor in question, you might want a slow, lingering effect or a quick burst. There’s also information about each step of making ice cream and what happens along the way. By curing or chilling an ice cream base before churning, the emulsion is strengthened and produces a better, less icy texture. The recipes are divided among Custard Ice Creams, Philadelphia-Style Ice Creams, Sherbets, Frozen Yogurts, and Add-Ins. Then, there’s a chapter for Composed Scoops that combine flavors, ripples, sauces, and toppings. There are delicious flavors offered in the book like Bourbon Butterscotch Ice Cream, Cheesecake Ice Cream, Bubblegum Ice Cream, Blood Orange Sherbet, and Key Lime Pie Frozen Yogurt. But, what I really appreciated was learning that a Philadelphia-style ice cream with no eggs is a better choice for flavors like chocolate or mint because you’ll quickly taste the subtleties of those ingredients. For coffee flavor that builds as the ice cream melts in your mouth, a custard base is the way to go. 

I have to explain how I chose the flavor combination shown here. When Kurt and I visit our favorite gelato shop, my go-to order is an affogato with salted caramel gelato. I love the hot espresso with the cold caramel gelato. Here, I kept the same flavors but switched the temperatures. I made the Cold-Press Coffee Ice Cream and topped it with a warm salted caramel sauce. The custard was made with cream, milk, sugar, and glucose. I used light corn syrup for the glucose. Egg yolks were tempered with the hot dairy and sugar mixture, and the custard was cooked until thick. After straining the cooked custard, coffee beans were added and left to steep while refrigerating the base overnight. The next day, the coffee beans were strained out, and creme fraiche was added before churning. The churned ice cream was placed in the freezer to harden for a few hours. I made the salted caramel sauce for serving and topped the scoops with chocolate-covered espresso beans. 

The coffee flavor was lovely in the rich custard, and the texture was perfectly smooth and chewy. Knowing the science behind ice cream making is eye-opening. To understand how all the ingredients interact and what each contributes makes me look at other recipes in a whole new way. It also makes me want to try every flavor in this book with all the ripples and swirls and crunchy, crispy toppings to go with them. 

Cold-Press Coffee Ice Cream 
Reprinted from Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream: The Art and Science of the Scoop . Copyright © 2017 by Dana Cree. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Andrea D’Agosto. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Makes between 1 and 1 1/2 quarts ice cream 

Coffee was my mother’s favorite ice cream flavor, and one I pretended to like as a child out of sheer admiration for her. As I grew into a coffee-swilling adult, though, I too found a deep appreciation for this flavor. Most ice cream shops add concentrated coffee to their ice cream, making a recognizable tan-colored scoop. As a pastry chef, I learned to flavor coffee ice cream by infusing whole coffee beans into the dairy, giving me a pale-colored scoop with a deep coffee flavor. As cold-press came onto the coffee shop scene, promising a smoother, less acidic brew, it too changed the way I thought about flavoring my coffee ice cream. Heat changes coffee’s flavor, and as it brews, bitter, briny, acidic notes come with it. When I started making a cold-press coffee ice cream, I cooled my ice cream base completely before I introduced the beans. I let them infuse slowly, over the course of a full day and night. The resulting ice cream tastes the way coffee smells, and has the unique quality of being white. I stir in a small amount of tart creme fraiche at the end, and its acidic quality makes this coffee ice cream a very special version of a commonplace flavor—one you won’t forget. For a more classic-tasting coffee ice cream, or if you are short on time, go ahead and add the coffee beans to the milk and cream as they are heating up, and let them steep for 10 minutes before straining them out. You can also replace the creme fraiche with an equal amount of cream, added with the milk in the beginning of the recipe. 

Cream (20%)200g | 1 cup 
Milk (40%)400g | 2 cups 
Glucose syrup (5%)50g | 1/4 cup 
Sugar (15%)150g | 3/4 cup 
Egg yolks (10%)100g | about 5 large yolks
Cornstarch 10g | 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon, mixed with 20g | 2 tablespoons of cold milk, whisked into the simmering dairy, then cooked for 1 minute. 
Coffee beans30g | 1/2 cup 
Creme fraiche (10%)100g | 1/2 cup

Prepare an ice bath. Fill a large bowl two-thirds of the way with very icy ice water and place it in the refrigerator. 

Boil the dairy and sugars. Put the cream, milk, glucose, and sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, and place it over medium-high heat. Cook, whisking occasionally to discourage the milk from scorching, until the mixture comes to a full rolling boil, then remove the pot from heat. 

Temper the yolks and cook the custard. In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks. Add 1/2 cup of the hot dairy mixture to the yolks while whisking so the hot milk doesn’t scramble the yolks. Pour the tempered yolks back into the pot of hot milk while whisking. Place the pot over medium-low heat and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot constantly with a rubber spatula to avoid curdling. 

Chill. When you notice the custard thickening, or the temperature reaches 180°F on a kitchen thermometer, immediately pour the custard into a shallow metal or glass bowl. Nest the hot bowl into the ice bath, stirring occasionally until it cools down. Strain. When the custard is cool to the touch (50°F or below), strain it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any bits of egg yolk. (This step is optional, but will help ensure the smoothest ice cream possible.) 

Infuse the coffee. Stir the coffee beans into the cooled custard, and transfer it to the refrigerator to infuse for 12 hours. 

Strain the custard and add the creme fraiche. When you are ready to churn your custard, strain out the coffee beans through a fine-mesh sieve. Take 1/4 cup of the cold custard and stir it into the creme fraiche until smooth, and then stir this back into the custard. 

Churn. Place the base into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The ice cream is ready when it thickens into the texture of soft-serve ice cream and holds its shape, typically 20 to 30 minutes. 

Harden. To freeze your custard ice cream in the American hard-pack style, immediately transfer it to a container with an airtight lid. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream to prevent ice crystals from forming, cover, and store it in your freezer until it hardens completely, between 4 and 12 hours. Or, feel free to enjoy your ice cream immediately; the texture will be similar to soft-serve. 

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mustard Greens Pancakes with Sesame-Soy Dipping Sauce

I really do like greens. It’s not a matter of tolerating them when they appear or making use of them from time to time. I really want to eat greens every day, and I can find ways to include them in just about any meal. Just ask Kurt. So, the new book from Jenn Louis, The Book of Greens: A Cook's Compendium of 40 Varieties, from Arugula to Watercress, with More Than 175 Recipes of which I received a review copy, is a delight for me. Also, Jenn Louis’s last book was about making pasta and dumplings, and some of those elements, that I happen to love creating in the kitchen, find their way here into dishes incorporating greens. This all adds us up to quite a lot that makes me very happy in this new book. Now, the only issue with greens is that the sturdy, earthy, serious greens like kale, chard, and collards thrive in cooler weather and aren’t part of our local, summer produce. But happily, this book covers the full spectrum of greens, including a few I’d never thought to bring into the kitchen before, and there are hot weather options too. The book is organized alphabetically by the name of each green, and there’s general information about each variety followed by recipes for it. Since locally-grown arugula is available almost year-round, I was happy to try the Arugula Salad with Red Grapes, Feta, and Dukkah. It comes with a suggestion for trying it with plums in place of the grapes which I did, and it was fantastic. The Dandelion Salad Sandwich is a smart combination of a sweet butternut squash puree with dressed slivers of dandelion greens and slices of hard-boiled eggs. The Miso Soup with Turmeric, Wheat Noodles, and Gai Lan would also be great with bok choy or chard in place of the gai lan, and why have I never thought of taking miso soup in a direction like this? There’s a section just for herbs, one for lettuces, and one for root, fruit, and vegetable greens. It’s a great reminder that squash leaves, sweet potato greens, and tomato leaves are edible and available in the summer. I tried the Tomato Leaf-Egg Pasta with Butter and Fresh Tomato Sauce and highly recommend it. And, while I have enjoyed nopales from cactus plants, I’ve never harvested aloe vera stalks for juicing. There’s a cocktail made with aloe juice and tequila in the book, and I can’t wait to try it. The point of the book is, of course, to highlight greens, but the recipes grab attention first for the mix of flavors and textures. They just happen to be made with all sorts of different leaves. 

When I read about the Mustard Greens Pancakes, I marked the page immediately. These were made with baby mustard greens that I was able to get at Boggy Creek Farm. They’re like scallion pancakes, and I’ve made a similar flatbread before. But here, the dough is layered with fresh, chopped greens before completing each pancake. It’s a fun process. A simple dough of flour and boiling water was made in the food processor. After it was kneaded and allowed to rest, it was divided into four pieces. Each piece was rolled into a disk, brushed with sesame oil, the disk was rolled up into a cylinder, the cylinder was then coiled like a snail, and then rolled into a disk again. The second time, that dish was brushed with sesame oil, topped with sliced mustard greens, and the cylinder and coil rolling was repeated before flattening the dough into a final disk shape. The pancakes were cooked in untoasted sesame oil for a few minutes per side until golden. A dipping sauce was made with soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, green onion, and ginger. The crisp pancakes were cut into wedges to be dipped into the sauce. 

These pancakes are easy to like with their crispiness after being cooked in oil. More traditionally, they would be made with scallions layered into them rather than mustard greens, but I loved this take on the concept. Here and with most of the recipes in the book, the type of greens used can easily be changed without any problem. Just choose some greens, any greens, and this book will give you great inspiration for using them. 

Mustard Green Pancakes 
Reprinted with permission from The Book of Greens: A Cook's Compendium of 40 Varieties, from Arugula to Watercress, with More Than 175 Recipes by Jenn Louis, copyright © 2017. Photography by Ed Anderson. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. 

These aren’t like breakfast pancakes; they are like the scallion pancakes you might find in a Chinese restaurant. If you love the sharp, strong flavor of mustard, then you will love these. Or if you don’t want so much of a vegetal flavor, consider subbing in a milder green, such as spinach or chard. The dipping sauce drives home the Asian flavor. 

Makes 4 pancakes, serves 4 

2 cups [280 g] all-purpose flour 
1 cup [240 ml] boiling water 
1/4 cup [60 ml] toasted sesame oil 
1 ounce [30 g] thinly sliced mustard greens (tender stems are okay) 
1/4 cup [60 ml] neutral vegetable oil 
Kosher salt 

Dipping Sauce 
1 tablespoons soy sauce 
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar 
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil 
1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onions (green parts only) 
1/2 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger 
2 teaspoons sugar 

Put the flour in a food processor. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in 3/4 cup of the boiling water. Process for 15 seconds. If dough does not come together, drizzle in more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it just comes together. Transfer to a work surface and knead a few times to form a smooth ball. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. 

Divide the dough into four even pieces and roll each into a smooth ball. Working one ball at a time, roll out into a disk, about 8 inches [20 cm] in diameter. Using a pastry brush, paint a very thin layer of sesame oil over the top of the disk. Roll the disk up like a cylinder, then start at the end and coil the dough like a snail’s shell. Flatten gently with your hand and roll again into an 8-inch [30-cm] disk. 

Paint with another layer of sesame oil, lay an even layer of one-quarter of the sliced mustard greens, and roll up like a cylinder again. Again, coil like a snail shell, flatten gently, and re-roll into a 7-inch disk. Repeat with the remaining dough and mustard greens to make three more pancakes. 

Combine all the dipping sauce ingredients and set aside at room temperature. 

To cook the pancakes, heat the oil in an 8-inch (20-cm) nonstick or cast-iron pan over medium- high heat. When the oil is hot, after 2 to 3 minutes, carefully slip one pancake into the hot oil. Cook, shaking the pan gently until the first side is an even golden brown, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip with a spatula or tongs and continue to cook until the second side is and even golden brown, about 2 more minutes. Season with salt, cut into 6 wedges. Serve immediately with the sauce for dipping. Repeat with the remaining pancakes. 

nettles, spinach, lamb’s quarters 

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Eggplant Crostini

When seasonal dishes collide with beautiful presentation, the combination gets my attention every time. In Simple Fare: Spring and Summer, that beauty of presentation extends to the book itself with a clean, modern layout and large, stunning photographs reminiscent of the style of Donna Hay. As I read my review copy, I quickly fell for this simplicity that comes packed with special touches. The author, Karen Mordechai, believes “food should capture your spirit.” What you cook and what you’re drawn to evolves as you do, and food “is at the foundation of our cultures.” By sourcing the best of the current season and sharing meals with family and friends, “we help sustain a beautiful cycle of goodness.” The Burnt Carrots dish is just carrots roasted with a coating of maple syrup and olive oil, but it’s served with marinated labneh, toasted hazelnuts, and nigella seeds. The Ricotta Gnudi is plated with an easy mix of brown butter and purple basil leaves, but the dumplings are made with a mix of plain, homemade if possible, ricotta and smoked ricotta. The Cured Eggs are shown with two variations. They can be pickled with a beet to turn the outside pink or with saffron to turn it yellow, and the pink option looks lovely in the bowl of White Miso Soup. There’s nothing too complex or time-consuming about these dishes, but they all offer nice, added touches. For instance, for the Eggplant Crostini shown here, there’s a flavorful tahini spread that holds everything in place on the toasted bread, a tangy black garlic dressing, and toppings of pickled red onion, toasted pine nuts, and fresh basil. I had just brought home some farm-fresh eggplant that was perfect for it. 

Wedges of eggplants were cut and tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper before being roasted until browned and crisp. The tahini spread was made by mixing tahini with a minced garlic clove, some lemon juice, and olive oil. Next, the dressing was made by pureeing black garlic cloves with pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, sumac, cocoa powder, salt, and olive oil. I had made the pickled red onion in advance by thinly slicing an onion and covering the slices with a brine of white vinegar, lime juice, and salt with a bay leaf. The roasted eggplant wedges were tossed with some of the dressing before building the toasts. To put it all together, toasted bread was spread with the tahini mixture, the dressed eggplant wedges were nestled into the spread, more dressing was drizzled on top, and garnishes of pickled red onion, toasted pine nuts, and basil leaves were added. 

I love a composition that’s put together well like this. The tahini spread is an excellent glue to keep everything in place as you pick up each piece of bread. A great punch of flavor is delivered here by the black garlic dressing. The sweet and funky, fermented garlic combined with pomegranate molasses, lemon, and sumac made the roasted eggplant sing. Simple, fresh food with interesting details, that’s as pretty as it is tasty, never goes out of style.  

Eggplant Crostini
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Simple Fare: Spring and Summer. 

This eggplant dish is warm and bright. It works well as a starter or as a light meal, served with a side of greens. The roasting technique is inspired by a method from London-based chef Yotam Ottolenghi. 

For the eggplant 
3 to 4 (about 31⁄2 pounds/1.6 kg total) eggplants 
4 tablespoons (60 ml) olive oil 
1⁄2 tablespoon salt 
Freshly ground black pepper 

For the tahini spread 
3⁄4 cup (180 ml) tahini 
1⁄2 garlic clove 
Juice of 1 lemon 
4 tablespoons (60 ml) olive oil 

For the black garlic dressing 
3 black garlic cloves, peeled 
1 teaspoon black sesame paste 
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses 
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon 
1⁄2 teaspoon sumac 
1⁄2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder 
1⁄4 teaspoon salt 
3 tablespoons olive oil 

For the toast 
1 loaf miche, cut into slices 1⁄2 inch (12 mm) thick 
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) olive oil 
1⁄2 cup (75 g) Pickled Red Onion 
1⁄4 cup (35g) pine nuts, toasted 
1⁄4 cup (10 g) fresh basil leaves, torn 

Preheat the oven to 400oF (205oC). Cut each eggplant into half lengthwise, and cut each half into half widthwise. Cut each quarter into thirds to create thick wedges. In a large bowl, toss the wedges with the olive oil, salt, and some pepper. Arrange the wedges on two parchment-lined baking sheets and roast until golden and slightly crisp, but not dry, 35 to 40 minutes. 

For the tahini spread: Combine the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in a food processor and blend until smooth. The mixture should be spreadable, but not overly thick. If you wish to thin your tahini, add a thin stream of up to 1⁄2 cup (120 ml) ice water to the mixture with the motor running until your desired consistency is reached. Set aside. 

For the black garlic dressing: Pulse the garlic, sesame paste, molasses, lemon juice, sumac, cocoa powder, and salt in a food processor to form a paste. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow and steady stream until completely incorporated. Remove the eggplant from the oven and, while still warm, gently toss it in a large bowl with the black garlic dressing until completely coated. Set it aside to let the flavors meld. 

For the toast: Heat a grill to medium-high or a grill pan over medium- high heat. Brush each slice of bread with the olive oil and toast for about 2 minutes on each side, until lightly brown. 

To serve, spread each piece of toast with a bit of the tahini spread and top with a few wedges of warm eggplant. Garnish with pickled red onions, a sprinkling of pine nuts, and basil leaves.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tacos with Roasted Vegetables in Cascabel Chile Oil with Homemade Queso Fresco, Guajillo Tortillas, and Salsa de Arbol

I do not ever get tired of tacos. It’s not possible. There are infinite combinations when you consider types of tortillas, fillings, cheese or no cheese, and the choice of a salsa or two. I had tacos for breakfast yesterday and will have tacos for dinner tonight. But, the tacos shown here today are special. The tortillas were homemade, the cheese was homemade, the vegetables were roasted in homemade cascabel chile oil, and they were the most delicious tacos I’ve had all year. The recipes are from Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen , and I received a review copy. I should be clear that this book is so much more than just tacos. It’s a collection of favorite authentic Mexican dishes from Gonzalo Guzman, the chef of Nopalito restaurants in San Francisco. The recipes are true to their origin with inspiration from seasonal, local ingredients in California. Because of Guzman’s upbringing in southern Mexico in Veracruz, corn was “the king of Mexican ingredients.” And, freshly made corn tortillas are key to several dishes. The Basics chapter includes information about nixtamalization, making your own masa, and turning that into fresh tortillas. There’s also a recipe for wheat flour tortillas even though corn is preferred. Then, the chapters take you through small plates, big plates, drinks and desserts, and salsas. The Ensalada de Pepinos y Verdolagas caught my eye because it’s made with purslane and cucumbers and both are in season right now. Also, the dressing is an interesting vinaigrette thickened with pureed pepitas. There are quesadillas, tacos, and tamales with meat, fish, and vegetable fillings. And, there's a lovely looking Huarache de Huitlacoche y Hongos. I’ve never found huitlacoche available locally, but I’d love to try this with all mushrooms instead. The braised meat dishes, adobo-rubbed trout, and enchiladas would all be inviting for parties. And, I have to try the Smashed Shrimp with Eggs and Salsa served with tortillas and refried black beans and the Breaded Chicken Sandwiches on homemade cemitas or sesame rolls. The fresh, bright, and spicy flavors are evident, and I couldn’t wait to jump in and try several things. 

First, I made the Queso Fresco which is similar to making fresh ricotta except the curds are pressed to form a firmer cheese. There is a typo in this recipe, though, as the amount of vinegar listed is too much for the quantity of milk. The milk will over-acidify, separate, and not curdle. Rather than using the amount of vinegar listed, once the milk comes up to about 170 degrees F, turn off the heat and just dribble in a tablespoon of vinegar at a time while stirring until the milk begins to form curds. I used less than one-quarter cup of vinegar for a half gallon of milk. After curdling, the milk was left to sit for 20 minutes before the curds were drained in a cheesecloth-lined strainer. The liquid was squeezed from the cheesecloth, salt was added, and the cheese was weighted down with a bowl to press more liquid from it. It was placed in the refrigerator for eight hours. Next, I made tortillas. I used store-bought masa harina rather than making homemade masa, but I took inspiration from the book for adding pureed, reconstituted dried chiles to the dough. I used guajillos, and they gave the masa a pretty, orange color. Rolling balls of dough and flattening them in a tortilla press is one of the funnest things to do in the kitchen. Just be sure to line the tortilla press with pieces of plastic cut from a storage bag to prevent sticking. The pressed tortillas were cooked for a few minutes per side on a griddle and kept warm wrapped in a kitchen towel. Meanwhile, I also reconstituted some cascabel chiles that were combined with another guajillo and pureed with a clove of garlic and olive oil. That oil was used for roasting vegetables. In the book, the roasted vegetable recipe includes winter vegetables like broccoli and butternut squash, but I used the technique for summer squash, eggplant, sweet peppers, and potato. Chunks of vegetables were coated in the chile oil and seasoned with salt and pepper before roasting in a 400 degree F oven until tender and browned. One last item was the Salsa de Arbol. Dried arbol chiles were heated in a tablespoon of olive oil and then pureed in the blender with canned tomatoes, a chopped tomatillo, a clove of garlic, and some salt. All of these components came together for the freshest, most flavorful tacos. 

The texture and flavor of the homemade queso fresco was on another level in comparison to the store-bought variety. And, the farm-fresh vegetables roasted with chile oil were addictive all by themselves. But, wrapped in the warm, chile-flecked tortillas with the bright, tangy, and not-too-spicy salsa de arbol and dotted with chunks of queso fresco, they were divine. I’m not sure if I’ll be baking cemitas next or gathering everything for a mole sauce, but I’ll be cooking more things from this book. 

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Everything Biscuit Sandwich with Smoked Whitefish Schmear

Is breakfast the most likeable meal of the day? I think it might be. Or, maybe I’m just a really big fan of eggs and the myriad ways they can be prepared. So, the new book Egg Shop: The Cookbook, of which I received a review copywas sure to be a winner to me. It’s from the New York City restaurant that came about because of a love of egg sandwiches. And, there’s even more to like about this book and restaurant beyond the breakfast menu. There’s a real commitment to best-quality ingredients and a made-from-scratch approach. Of course, you can choose how many items you prefer to make yourself rather than buy, but all the recipes are here for the breads and rolls, cold-press coffee and chai concentrate, nut milk, homemade bacon, pickles, aioli, flavored oils, and more. The recipes range from indulgent to lean and nutritious. After a chapter that covers basic egg cooking and some classic ways to use those cooked eggs, there are sandwiches, bowls, California-inspired dishes, snacks and sweets, and drinks. Did I mention that everything in this book looks like something you’ll love eating? It does. I’ll be trying the Egg Salad Sandwich made with yogurt in the egg salad rather than mayonnaise. This sandwich is layered on multigrain bread with sliced tomato, baby greens, and an optional piece of boneless fried chicken. The Duck Confit Banh Mi topped with a sunny side up duck egg and the Cognac-Cured Gravlax sandwich on seeded rye are two others on my to-try list. On the lighter side, the Warrior One bowl is composed of sweet potato and broccoli salad, Masala lentils, sliced almonds, onion chutney, and a poached egg. And, from the California-inspired dishes, I’m always drawn to Huevos Rancheros. Here, it’s made with Black Bean Smash, a homemade Salsa Ranchera, crispy blue corn tortillas, and salsa-basted fried eggs. Every recipe has considered components lending great flavors and special touches that seem to guarantee deliciousness. I knew the smoked whitefish sandwich would be a savory thrill with all the parts that come together for it. 

First, the sandwich is built on an “everything” biscuit. The toppings from “everything” bagels are here applied to a buttermilk, drop biscuit. The biscuits are baked until a few minutes from being done, and then they’re pulled from the oven, given an egg wash, sprinkled with the toppings, and put back in the oven to finish. That delayed topping procedure prevents any burning of the onion flakes, sesame seeds, etc. The smoked whitefish spread was full of big flavors and several things that could be homemade or not. The whitefish was skinned, boned, and flaked. Rather than making a caramelized onion aioli from scratch, I caramelized some local leeks and added them to store-bought mayonnaise. Also, rather than making my own hot pickles, I used a locally-made, spicy, fermented pickle. For the caperberry mustard, I chopped some rinsed and drained capers and added them to Dijon mustard. The other ingredients in this spread were minced green onion, chopped celery and leaves, zest and juice of a lemon, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. To build the sandwich, biscuits were cut in half and spread with the whitefish mixture, sliced tomatoes were added, a fried egg went on top, and a sprinkling of dill completed it. 

I can assure you this sandwich did not disappoint. The everything biscuit will be the kind of biscuit I bake most often from now on. It made an excellent delivery system for the smoked whitefish schmear and all its tangy, bright flavors. Perfect, local, summer tomatoes and a fresh farm egg rounded the experience. Having breakfast for dinner will come in handy with so many more egg dishes I can’t wait to try. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 
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