Friday, October 24, 2014

Spinach and Chard Empanadas

I always think of Nick Malgieri as a great baking teacher. Back when the Food Network aired only shows about how to cook, rather than so many cooking competitions, I used to love seeing Nick Malgieri appear on shows like Cooking Live with Sara Moulton. I always learned new things. Years ago, I also attended a fantastic class he taught here in Austin at Central Market Cooking School. His latest book, Nick Malgieri's Pastry, is an excellent guide for all sorts of pastries, and I received a review copy. There are clear instructions and photos for each step of the way, and he writes: “if you follow the simple instructions here, you’ll be able to tackle any pastry project you like.” I believe it. He guides the reader through several versions of dough and how to work with each, and then there are the recipes for using them. As I read through the chapters with tarts and pies, I made mental notes for upcoming holidays. The orange and almond tart is a beauty for New Year’s when citrus season is in full swing, the Sour Cherry Tart with Almond Meringue would be festive for Christmas with jarred sour cherries, and for Thanksgiving I can’t decide between the Cranberry Pecan Pie and the Old-Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie. I’m also fixated on the “French” Apple Pie which is a double-crust pie baked in an eight-inch round pan with straight sides, filled with cooked chopped apples and raisins, and it’s topped with a confectioners’ sugar glaze. I’ve never seen a pie like this, and I have to try it. Beyond the tarts and pies, there are strudels both sweet and savory, baklava and yufka recipes, puff pastries, yeasted doughs, and pate a choux. The Pear and Almond Dumplings made with puff pastry are on my to-try list, and so are the Coffee-Filled Cream Puffs. Before I dive into the gorgeous dessert options, I wanted to try the savory empanadas. In the book, they’re called Argentine Christmas Eve Empanadas because their spinach and anchovy filling make them appropriate for the day before Christmas. They’re made with Sour Cream Dough which was a delight to work with. 

As promised, following the simple instructions produced a perfect dough for the empanadas. Flour and salt were combined in a food processor, and pieces of butter were added and pulsed. Sour cream was spread around on the surface of the flour-butter mixture so it would mix in more easily. A few pulses later, the dough was ready. It was shaped into a disk and chilled for a few hours. Meanwhile, I started on the filling. I used a mix of fresh spinach and Swiss chard. Lots of scallions were chopped, garlic was minced, and anchovies were finely chopped. Oil was heated in a large saute pan, and the scallions were added followed by the garlic and anchovies. I added the spinach and chard directly to the scallion mixture without pre-cooking. It was seasoned with salt and pepper and smoked paprika. Parsley was added last. I tipped the pan to the side and let the moisture run away from the spinach and chard before removing it to a bowl to cool. After the dough had chilled, I divided it into eight pieces and rolled each into a round. The sour cream made it especially tender and easy to roll. I stacked the rounds between pieces of parchment, covered the stack with plastic wrap, and chilled them overnight. The next day, I filled each dough round with some of the spinach and chard mixture and shaped the empanadas. They were brushed with an egg wash and baked for about 25 minutes. 

The dough was incredibly easy to roll and resulted in that perfectly fragile, shatteringly crisp texture just like it should. The filling was savory and flavorful with the scallions and anchovies. I was thrilled with the result and can’t wait to try more things from the book. And, I’m already ready to start baking for Thanksgiving. I predict several dessert options on the table this year. 

Argentine Christmas Eve Empanadas (Empanadas de Vigilia) 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Nick Malgieri's Pastry.

These spinach empanadas make a delicious alternative to the typical meat-laden ones and are traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve, a day of abstinence from meat in Catholic countries. These are usually deep-fried, but I decided to bake them—it’s easier, and they turn out much less rich. 

Makes eight 7-inch empanadas 

1 batch Sour Cream Dough, chilled 
2 pounds baby spinach, rinsed and drained, or 2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry, and chopped 
3 tablespoons olive oil 
1 cup finely sliced scallions (the white part and half the green) 
2 cloves garlic, grated 
1 ounce anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, finely chopped 
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
1 1/2 teaspoons hot Spanish paprika (pimenton) 
Egg wash: 1 egg well whisked with a pinch of salt 

1. Put the fresh spinach with the rinse water still clinging to it in a large Dutch oven with a lid. Place over medium heat, cover, and steam for a few minutes until it reduces in volume. Uncover and, stirring occasionally, cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer. Drain, cool, and chop the spinach. 
2. Put the oil and scallions into a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the scallions start to sizzle, lower the heat and cook slowly, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a few seconds. Stir in the chopped spinach and anchovies; cook for a minute or two. If using frozen spinach, cook a couple of minutes longer at this point. 
3. Taste the spinach and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and paprika. Cool the filling. 
4. While the filling is cooling, divide the dough into 80-gram pieces and shape each into a flat disk. Roll each piece of dough into an 8-inch disk and chill if you’re not going to assemble the empanadas immediately. 
5. Arrange the disks of dough on the work surface and brush the edges with water. Divide the filling equally among the dough rounds, mounding it in the center of each one. Fold the dough over to make a fat half-moon-shaped pastry. 
6. Press the edges of the pastry together with a fingertip, then fold and overlap the edge of the dough to seal the empanadas. 
7. Chill the empanadas, loosely covered with plastic wrap, until you’re ready to bake them, up to 24 hours. When you’re ready to bake, set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400°F. 
8. Arrange the empanadas on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and brush them with the egg wash, making sure not to let puddles accumulate on or under the empanadas. Place the pan in the oven, lower the temperature to 375°F, and bake until deep golden, 20 to 25 minutes. 
9. Cool the empanadas briefly on the pan on a rack and serve warm. 

Sour Cream Dough 
My dear late friend Sheri Portwood ran a Dallas catering business for years and was constantly trying to perfect her recipe for rugelach, which uses this dough. I’ve included recipes for rugelach in several other books, but I love this dough as the top of a deep-dish savory pie, a cobbler (especially when it’s cut into separate overlapping disks for the top crust), or for any top-crust-only pie. It’s flaky, extremely tender, and delicate, almost like puff pastry. A food processor does the best job of mixing this. 

2 cups/270 grams unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon into dry-measure cup and level) 
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt 
8 ounces/2 sticks/225 grams unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 20 pieces 
2/3 cup/150 grams sour cream 

1. Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times at 1-second intervals to mix. 
2. Add the butter and pulse until it's finely mixed into the flour and no visible pieces remain. 
3. Spread the sour cream all over on the top of the flour and butter mixture (rather than adding it all in one spot). Pulse 3 or 4 times; if the dough is already starting to form a ball, stop pulsing; if not, pulse a few more times but don’t overmix or the flaky quality of the dough will be lost. 
4. Invert the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Shape into a disk and wrap in plastic. 
5. Chill the dough for 2 to 3 hours or overnight before using. Makes enough for the top crust of a large savory pie or sweet cobbler or 8 empanadas. 

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

We’re all moved into our temporary home, and I’m slowly but surely getting acquainted with the kitchen. I’m not at all happy about the small, shallow sink that makes it difficult to wash large pots and pans. And, I’m still trying to figure out the best way to use the limited amount of countertop space. Despite these little inconveniences and my ongoing complaints, I have managed to do some cooking since we’ve been here. I’ve just been tentative about taking on baking projects that require space for working with dough. But, now I realize I was being ridiculous. I just read a review copy that I received of The Bread Exchange by Malin Elmlid who has baked all sorts of sourdough breads in different situations all over the world. She travels with her sourdough starter or creates a new one when she arrives at her destination. She asks to borrow ovens and seeks out the best flour she can find wherever she happens to be and makes it all work. And, beyond making bread in all the places she’s traveled, she’s also brought about a fascinating project involving trades of bread for gifts from other people. The trades aren’t about any kind of monetary exchange. Rather, her handmade bread that she’s watched over for hours and baked to perfection is traded for new experiences to learn from or things handmade by other people. The book is about bread and how she makes her sourdough loaves, but it’s also about her travels and experiences all over the world. Beyond the initial instructions for creating a sourdough starter and a handful of bread recipes, you’ll find stories and recipes from different occasions and locations. I do want to try the Rosemary Bread with Goji Berries. Elmlid received a goji berry tree as a trade in Germany. I didn’t know goji berries grow well in Germany, and now I wonder if I could grow a tree here. The stories meander from Egypt to Sweden to Bavaria, Poland, the US, and Afghanistan among other locales. The recipes include things like Fig Confit from an event in Berlin, Blood Orange Curd with Rosemary from a stay at a farmhouse in Bavaria, a Midsommar Cake with a Rhubarb Compote inspired by the Midsummer celebration in Sweden, Afghan Leek Dumplings, and Belgian Waffles. Since I still wasn’t ready to bake while I was reading this, I opted to start by trying the recipe for Maple-Roasted Squash Salad which was part of a menu from a roof-top party in Brooklyn. 

In the book, the recipe is made with pumpkin. I knew I’d never be able to peel a pumpkin easily, so I opted to use a butternut squash instead. The squash was peeled and diced, tossed with maple syrup and sprinkled with ground coriander, and then baked until tender. The next element of the salad was the yogurt sauce. Plain yogurt was mixed with minced garlic, and some red wine vinegar was to be added. I had just received some beautiful bottles of oils and vinegars from O Olive Oil and couldn’t wait to try the fig balsamic. I used that in the yogurt sauce instead of red wine vinegar. The salad was built by layering the roasted squash pieces with some yogurt sauce and topping it with sprouts. I garnished with chopped walnuts for some crunch. 

This salad was a light and lovely intro to fall. The roasted squash was completely of the season, but the yogurt and sprouts brightened and freshened it up a bit. The fig balsamic could quickly become my new best friend in the kitchen. It would be a perfect condiment drizzled over any roasted squash all by itself. And, now I think I’m ready to put my sourdough starter back to work. I know I can find the space to knead and shape some loaves no matter how cramped this temporary kitchen seems. 

Maple-Roasted Pumpkin Salad 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Bread Exchange
Contributed by Renee Baumann, SERVES 6 

I traded a loaf of sourdough bread, baked in the NoMad kitchen, for this recipe. I asked Renee to help me create a vegetable dish to pair with a burger but that would steer clear of the more typical burger accompaniments. I wanted a veggie dish that would stand on its own, complement the flavor of the burger, and showcase the agricultural bounty of New York. Browsing through the seasonal produce at the Union Square Market, the idea came to her: kadu bouranee, an Afghan dish that she had recently fallen in love with. Traditionally, the sweet roasted pumpkin is served with hot lamb or beef and a cold garlicky yogurt sauce. She borrowed the flavor combination and then took some liberties, choosing simple culinary treatments, with just enough seasoning to highlight the ingredients. 

MAPLE-ROASTED PUMPKIN 
1 1/4 lb/570 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into cubes 
1/4 cup/60 ml maple syrup 
1/4 tsp ground coriander 
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper 

GARLIC-YOGURT SAUCE 
2 medium garlic cloves 
2 cups/480 ml tangy plain sheep- or goat-milk yogurt 
Sea salt 
1 tbsp red wine vinegar, plus more as needed (optional) 
Sunflower shoots for garnishing 
Toasted hazelnut or walnut oil for tossing 
Purple carrots, thinly sliced, for garnishing 

To make the pumpkin: Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Place the pumpkin cubes in a baking pan, drizzle with the maple syrup, and sprinkle with the coriander. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 12 to 17 minutes, or until al dente. 

To make the sauce: Cut the garlic cloves in half lengthwise. Remove any green shoots in the center. Finely mince the garlic. Stir the garlic into the yogurt in a medium bowl and let the flavors meld for 10 minutes. Season with salt and the vinegar, taste, and add more as desired. If you are using a tangy yogurt, you may not need any vinegar. 

Toss the sunflower shoots with a little nut oil just before serving. Arrange a pile of shoots on top of the pumpkin and top with the yogurt sauce. Garnish with carrot slices. Serve as a warm or cold salad, depending on your mood, season, or schedule.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Sour-and-Hot Mushroom Soup

Hot-and-sour soup is one of my favorites. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find versions of it with no pork when ordering at restaurants. There are plenty of recipes for vegetarian versions of the soup to make at home, but I was particularly drawn to this mushroom-forward take. This is from Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop, and since I usually mention when I’ve received copies of books I want to point out that this is one I purchased. I was browsing the cookbook section at the bookstore which I can spend hours doing, and when I started looking through this one I lost count of how many dishes I wanted to run home and try. There’s a rainbow of sticky note flags marking pages in this book. The dishes are true to authentic Chinese cooking, but they’ve been made very accessible to home cooks in the West. Not too many ingredients are hard to find, and often those are optional. I’ve made the Tiger Salad which is a mix of cucumber, cilantro, green chiles, Chinkiang vinegar, and sesame oil. I made the Salt-and-Pepper Squid and added Shrimp lightly dusted in potato starch, fried, and topped with stir-fried garlic, green onion, and red chile. I tried the Sweet and Spicy Cold Noodles with sesame paste, sesame seeds, chile oil, and topped with shredded chicken. Everything has been outstanding. I can’t wait to take a stab at Dumplings in Chile Oil Sauce, the Stir-Fried Oyster Mushrooms with Chicken, and the wonderfully simple Silken Tofu with Avocado. This book hasn’t spent much time on the shelf and probably won’t. Now, back to this soup I started talking about. It’s described as subtler than the hot and sour soups from Chinese restaurants in the West. The sour comes from Chinkiang vinegar, and the hot was to be delivered by white pepper. I have a preference for black pepper and crushed red pepper, so I made a very unauthentic change to the dish by using those instead. However, I did seek out dried day lily flowers which were an optional item in the ingredient list. 

The recipe includes both fresh and dried mushrooms. We usually have a pretty good selection of types of fresh mushrooms at our local grocery stores, but on the day I was shopping for this dish shitakes were available but no oyster or enoki. I bought dried oyster mushrooms instead. The dried mushrooms and the dried day lily flowers were to soak in hot water for an hour before using. Meanwhile, I started cutting the ginger into tiny slivers. The fresh mushroom caps were also cut thinly, and the tofu was cut into thin shapes similar in size to the mushroom pieces. To start the cooking, oil was heated in a wok and ginger was sizzled until fragrant. The dried mushrooms which had been sliced thinly as well along with the fresh mushrooms and lily flowers were added next. The mixture was allowed to cook until the mushrooms were almost cooked through, and then, warm chicken stock was added and brought to a boil. The tofu was added and carefully stirred to prevent breaking it too much. Light and dark soy sauce were added, and after a short simmer, the vinegar and pepper were added. Off the heat, sesame oil was stirred into the soup, and it was topped with green onions. 

This was a fantastic hot-and-sour soup or sour-and-hot soup. The fresh and dried mushrooms gave it great flavor, and there was a nice mix of textures with the lily flowers and tofu. It lacked the shreds of cooked egg that often appear in a hot-and-sour soup, but there was enough going on here that I didn’t miss them. I’d like to just keep cooking page after page of this book, so a feast of a dinner party might be in order. 

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Sweet Potato Scones with Brown Sugar Icing

Since 2008, West Oakland has had the good fortune to have a soul food restaurant feeding the community in more ways than one. Tanya Holland opened Brown Sugar Kitchen to serve breakfast and lunch, to purchase most of what the restaurant uses from local producers, to hire local cooks, and to become a venue that supports local organizations. The food is traditional in concept and contemporary in execution. It’s real soul food made fresh with just a few updates. The recipes are in the new book Brown Sugar Kitchen, and I received a review copy. There’s a forward by Michael Chabon, who happens to be a regular customer, and photos are by Jody Horton of Austin. I was struck by Chabon’s thoughtful definition of soul food: “Soul food is the little joint at the broken heart of America where all the kitchen inheritances ingather, and get tangled like travelers’ yarns, like the paths of exile and homecoming, like strands of DNA.” If I were visiting Oakland, I would happily wait in line to try the Cornmeal Waffles with Apple Cider Syrup, the Creole Shrimp and Grits, or one of those lovely-looking Sticky Buns. And, with the book, I can try them at home without planning a trip. That more contemporary angle on soul food I mentioned shows through in the Roasted Green Beans with Sesame-Seed Dressing which I tried and which disappeared from our plates faster than any other green bean dish to date. Also, the Simply Sauteed Collard Greens, Okra Peperonata, and Green Chile-Harissa Potato Gratin are updated versions of classic dishes. There’s a Caribbean Lobster Roll with Spicy Lime Aioli, a Bourbon and Chili-Glazed Salmon, and Buttermilk Fried Chicken. There are also soups and sandwiches, desserts, and drinks. But, I got distracted in the breakfast chapter when I saw the Sweet Potato Scones with Brown Sugar Icing. 

I expected these scones to be similar to the pumpkin scones I’ve been making for years. For those, I add pumpkin puree to the flour and butter mixture. Here, the sweet potato was diced and sauteed in a little butter and left diced when mixed into the scone dough. The cooked sweet potato does need to be completely cooled in the refrigerator before being added to the dough. The rest of the process was the same as most scone recipes. I tend to always work the butter into the flour by hand rather than using a food processor. And, I used Muscovado sugar for the brown sugar, but those were the only changes I made. Once the butter was worked into the dry ingredients including flour, baking powder, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, currants and the cooled sweet potato were added. Then, cream was added, the dough was kneaded briefly, it was formed into a disk, and it was cut into triangles and baked. The icing was a mix of melted butter, brown sugar, and cream thickened with confectioners’ sugar. 


So, about those pieces of diced sweet potato in the scones? They were delightful. The cooked sweet potato was as tender as the rest of the scone, and the sweet, chewy bits of currants were a lovely added touch. And, the icing on top was a rich, layer of the most delicious butterscotch. I’m sad those scones are gone now, but I can’t wait to try more things from the book. 

Sweet Potato Scones with Brown Sugar Icing 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Brown Sugar Kitchen.

MAKES 8 SCONES 

A scone has a sweeter profile and a slightly cakier texture than a biscuit. I had an idea to infuse my sweet potato obsession into a breakfast treat, so I asked our baker to come up with a recipe for sweet potato scones and she nailed it. And who wouldn't love anything topped with brown sugar icing? 

SWEET POTATO SCONES 
3/4 CUP/170 G unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled, plus 1 TBSP 
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced 
3 TBSP firmly packed brown sugar 
 Kosher salt 
2 CUPS/255 G all-purpose flour 
1 TBSP baking powder 
1/4 TSP ground cinnamon 
1/4 TSP ground allspice 
 PINCH of grated nutmeg 
1/2 CUP/70 G dried currants 
3/4 CUP/180 M L heavy cream, chilled 

BROWN SUGAR ICING 
1/4 CUP/20 G powdered sugar 
 1 TBSP unsalted butter 
1/4 CUP/50 G firmly packed brown sugar 
3 TBSP heavy cream 

To make the scones: In a wide sauté pan, melt the 1 tbsp but¬ter over medium heat. Add the sweet potato and cook, stirring often, until it begins to soften, about 10 minutes. Add 1 tbsp of the brown sugar and cook, stirring often, until the sweet potato caramelizes, 12 to 15 minutes. Just before the sweet potato is done, stir in a pinch of salt. Refrigerate to cool completely, about 1 hour. 

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, baking powder, the remaining 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Scatter the chilled butter cubes over the flour mix¬ture and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Do not overprocess. 

Transfer the flour-butter mixture to a large mixing bowl, add the currants and the chilled sweet potato, and toss to coat with the flour-butter mixture. Add the cream, gently stirring with a fork to incorporate. The dough should just barely come together. Do not overmix. 

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and gently knead into a ball, taking care not to mash the sweet potato cubes. The dough will feel slightly dry. Form into an 8-in/20-cm disk and cut into eight triangles. Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheet. 

Bake until the scones are barely golden brown, 18 to 22 min¬utes. Let cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

To make the icing: Sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, and cream over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the but¬ter is melted and the mixture is well combined. Pour the butter mixture over the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Let cool completely. 

When the scones are cool, set the wire rack with the scones over the baking sheet. With a small offset spatula or a table knife, spread about 1 tbsp icing on each scone. Let set for at least 15 minutes before serving. 

(To make ahead, store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.) 

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cambodian Red Curry Chicken Wings

Some changes are coming to Lisa is Cooking. Big changes, to me anyway. I’m moving out of the kitchen where I’ve been cooking for fourteen years. I’ll be leaving behind the spot on our back porch where I’ve shot most of the photos that have appeared on this blog. The gas range with the oven I’m completely used to will be a thing of the past. We’re packing up and moving over, not too far away, to a temporary residence while our house gets rebuilt. It should take less than a year but probably not much less. In the meantime, I’ll be cooking in a completely unfamiliar kitchen with even less countertop space than I have now. I haven’t even figured out yet where I’ll take food photos or where I'll knead bread or where to put the food processor. It’ll be an adventure, or that’s what I’m telling myself. I won’t be able to resist sharing updates about the house project along the way. When it’s done, I’ll be moving back into another different kitchen. This future kitchen will be a little less unfamiliar since I designed it and know where everything will go. I just haven’t stood in it yet. And, the appliances will be new and different, but they’ll be ones of my choosing. I can’t wait to get acquainted. So, I apologize in advance if it takes me a bit to get situated in my temporary kitchen and if my photos look weirder than ever for a year. What won’t be changing here at Lisa is Cooking is the cooking itself. I’ll still be trying all sorts of dishes from every different source I encounter. I’ll still be whipping up things like these Cambodian Red Curry Chicken Wings that I saw in the July issue of Food and Wine magazine. The recipe is from Edward Lee, and it was inspired by the food from the restaurant Senmonorom in Lowell, Massachusetts. I made a minor change to the cooking process, but that’s the kind of change that’s expected. 

You begin by cooking the wings in a saute pan on the stovetop. When they are browned on all sides, they should be transferred to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Then, the sauce was started with shallots, garlic, lemongrass, and ginger being added to the hot pan. After a few minutes, dried chiles like chiles de arbol, soy sauce, fish sauce, cumin, coriander, paprika, nutmeg, and turmeric were added and cooked until fragrant. Last, coconut milk was added, and the sauce mixture was poured into the blender to be pureed. The pureed sauce was returned to the saute pan. This is where I made a little change. Rather than adding the browned chicken wings to the sauce to simmer for a few minutes, I placed the wings on a baking sheet, basted them with the sauce, and placed them under the broiler. I had a vision of these wings being sticky and coated with the sauce while still having bits of crisp, browned skin. I opted for the high heat of the broiler instead of leaving the wings sitting in the sauce. After basting on both sides and allowing the sauce to achieve a lovely state of stickiness, I served the extra sauce drizzled over the top and as a dipping sauce on the side. 

As described in the magazine, the flavors are less spicy than Thai but deliciously layered. Served with limes for squeezing and some simple rice and vegetables, this was a fun meal. You have to accept that your fingers will be gooey with sauce, but some of the best meals start with that acceptance. Now, I’m off to pack up more of my kitchen things and get this adventure underway. 


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Three-Cheese Rye Biscuits

The new book Huckleberry, from the Bakery and Cafe in Santa Monica of the same name, by Zoe Nathan is easy for me to like. As I read my review copy, page after page held something I wanted to try baking, flavors I wanted to taste, and breakfasts I knew would be delicious. I’m easily entertained by the thought of baking lots of different types of breakfast treats, but seriously, I wanted to grab the mixing bowls and bake every single muffin recipe in the first chapter. It starts with Cooca Nib Muffins with Dark Chocolate Glaze and goes on to include Lemon Cornmeal Muffins with Lemon Glaze, Gluten-Free Vegan Banana Chocolate Muffins, Fig-Brown Sugar Muffins, and more. It’s not just the baked goods and breakfast dishes in the book that appealed to me either. There’s also a nice mix of various flours and whole grains that appear in several recipes. But, those wholesome, whole grains aren’t there just to be healthy ingredients. They’re added for flavor and texture, and there’s no lack of decadence in these recipes. There are Brown Rice Quinoa Pancakes, Multigrain Pancakes, and Ricotta Griddlecakes. Then, there are chapters for Sandwiches, Hearty plates with an Egg on Top, and Coffee and Other Beverages. In deciding where to start, I put my sweet tooth on hold for just a moment while I mixed up the Three-Cheese Rye Biscuits. Despite the rye flour and whole wheat flour, these are anything but a health-food kind of biscuit. They’re buttery and tender with cream cheese and grated cheddar and parmesan. 

Step one was to combine the dry ingredients which include rye flour, all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Next, cold pieces of butter were worked into the flours followed by cream cheese that was worked in in the same way. Then, the grated cheddar and parmesan were added with buttermilk. The dough was transferred to a work surface and briefly kneaded to bring it together. To form the biscuits, an ice cream scoop was used. After scooping each biscuit onto a baking sheet, I flattened them a little to prevent domed tops. The sheets pans with biscuits were placed in the freezer for a couple of hours before baking. I only baked half of them at first since, once frozen, the raw biscuits can remain in the freezer for up to a month. They went straight from the freezer to the oven with a quick stop for an application of an egg wash and a sprinkling of fleur de sel. 

If someone offered me a whole grain rye biscuit, this is not what I would expect to receive. These biscuits were as indulgent as any I’ve tasted previously. The cheeses and crunchy salt sprinkled on top add savory flavor. They were perfect with a vegetable scramble for brunch. Some breakfast or brunch dishes in our not-too-distant future will probably include Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Parmesan and Eggs, Vegetarian Croque, Lentils with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Sunny-Side-Up Eggs, and lots of muffins. I think I need to get back to the kitchen now. 

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Vietnamese-Style Portobello Mushrooms

This was our conversation: Me- “I cooked from a new book for dinner tonight. The book is The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook (review copy), and it includes recipes and writing related to grilling from the entire history of The Times.” Kurt- “A grilling book! What did you grill?” Me- “Vietnamese-Style Portobello Mushrooms.” Kurt- “You have a new grilling book…and, you made mushrooms?” Me- “Of course!” His hopes for a steak off the grill were dashed, but he did enjoy the portobellos. The book does include plenty of recipes for meats with an entire chapter for Burgers, one for Beef and Veal, one for Pork, another just for Lamb, a Poultry chapter, and one for Fish and Shellfish. But, there are also Starters, Vegetables and Sides, Desserts and Breads, and Marinades Rubs and Sauces. I also have Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook, and I haven’t done a page by page search to find out how many recipes are included in both books. One difference between the two books, though, is that this grilling book includes writing in addition to recipes. The first story is about Mr. Gunning’s Barbecue in Mount Vernon which appeared on March 30 in 1887. There are stories and accompanying recipes from over the years from writers and contributors like Craig Claiborne, Pierre Franey, Jane Nickerson, Steven Raichlen, Florence Fabricant, Mark Bittman, Julia Moskin, Sam Sifton, and many more. I particularly enjoyed the story by Sam Sifton about hog roasting in a La Caja China which is a Cuban roasting box. He attempted to track down the reason for the name (the explanation is that “Cubans like to call anything that is unusual or clever Chinese”), and in the process found out about other cultures that roast pigs in boxes. All of this interest resulted in a mojo-brined, roasted pig served with black beans and rice and plenty of rum, and I ended up craving Cuban flavors after reading about it. My Cuban feast had to wait because a few pages later, I was taken with Mark Bittman’s description of various grilled vegetables including Portobello mushrooms. 

I want to mention what I think is an important ingredient in all grilling recipes, and that’s the smoke from the hardwood coals. The convenience of gas grills is great, and I sometimes just grill in a grill-pan inside for nice char marks. But, natural hardwood coals impart added flavor to grilled food like nothing else. With these grilled portobellos, it was an integral part of the resulting dish. To start, a marinade was made with peanut oil, lime juice, chopped mint, minced Thai chile, and fish sauce. I spooned half the marinade over the cleaned mushroom caps and left them to sit while the grill was prepped. Once on the grill, the mushrooms were brushed with more of the marinade as they cooked. They need almost 20 minutes of grilling over medium heat to cook all the way through and become tender. After taking them off the grill, I let the mushrooms sit for a few minutes before slicing them and serving them garnished with sliced chiles and chopped green onion and mint. I served the sliced Portobellos with a Vietnamese rice noodle salad inspired by one found on David Lebovitz’s site. I simplified the salad by only adding cucumber, carrot, chiles, and baked tofu and topped it with chopped peanuts and fried shallots. 

The mushrooms were loaded with flavor from the marinade combined with smoky flavor from the grill. Some of the other recipes from the story about grilled vegetables were Chili-Rubbed Jicama Steaks with Queso Fresco, Teriyaki Cabbage Steaks, Curry-Rubbed Sweet Potato Planks, and Miso-Glazed Eggplant Slices. I want to try those on the grill too. And, yes, I will eventually turn to the meat chapters to grill something just for Kurt.  

Vietnamese-Style Portobello Mushrooms 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook.
Time: 20 minutes Yield: 4 servings 

1⁄4 cup peanut oil 
1⁄4 cup fresh lime juice 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish 
1 fresh hot red chili (like Thai), seeded and minced 
1 tablespoon fish sauce 
1⁄2 teaspoon sugar 
Salt and lots of black pepper 
4 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed 

1. Heat a charcoal or gas grill until quite hot and put rack about 4 inches from flame. Mix together oil, lime juice, mint, chili, fish sauce and sugar and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brush mushrooms all over with about half of this mixture. 

2. Grill mushrooms with tops of their caps away from heat until they begin to brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Brush with remaining marinade and turn. Grill until tender and nicely browned all over, 5 to 10 minutes more. Garnish with more mint and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

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