Saturday, October 3, 2015

Crispy Haloumi Cheese with Dates, Walnuts, and Apples

Sometimes new cookbooks don’t draw me in right away. I might need to read a few pages to get a feel for the style of cooking in the book, and eventually I start getting excited about the dishes. That was not the case with Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking. My first look inside the review copy I received had me completely intrigued. The colorful, vibrant salads and vegetables dishes, the various rice dishes and pilafs, and skewers of grilled chicken and salmon with flavorful marinades left no doubts that I’d enjoy this book. Zahav, the restaurant, opened in Philadelphia in 2008, and this book presents the mix of dishes from the menus over the years. Chef Michael Solomonov writes that these dishes “make an impression of a cuisine that is evolving.” They reflect an idea of Israeli cooking, but at times, traditional approaches are changed to accommodate what’s available and in season at the restaurant. I like this thought of the food giving a sense of a culture and a place and not sticking too strictly to original versions. I learned that “tehina” is the same thing as “tahini,” and it’s invaluable in Israeli cooking. It’s used to add richness without the use of cream or butter for keeping kosher. It’s used in hummus, of course, but also in many other applications both sweet and savory. For instance, there’s a vegetable dish in which cooked green beans are mixed with sauteed mushrooms and tehina sauce and then topped with lentils and crispy garlic. I’m noting that for my Thanksgiving menu. One recipe I already tried was the Latke with Gravlax. It’s one big latke made in a skillet and turned in one solid piece. There’s no onion, flour, or egg, just grated potatoes cooked in oil. It was simple, crispy, and delicious. The vegetable-filled borekas are similar to turnovers and are made with a dough kind of like puff pastry, and I want to try them all. I also want to attempt making laffa flatbread. The recipes in the book quickly caught my attention, but so did the writing. Solomonov shares his stories about living in Isreal at different times and his training as a chef. There are interesting historical insights like the fact that Israeli couscous was first made as a wheat-based substitute for rice when there was a rice shortage. And, there are explanations about the mix of cultures that make up Israel and how the food represents many different origins. There’s so much to appreciate here from the Pumpkin Broth with Fideos soup to the Chocolate Babka served with cardamom-flavored Turkish Coffee Ice Cream. 

I’ve been making use of our fall fruits in salads like arugula with pears, gorgonzola, and pecans and mixed greens with apples, pecans, and goat cheese. I can’t get enough of the mix of sweet, tart, nutty, and salty. With these flavors already on my mind, I had to try the Crispy Haloumi Cheese with Dates, Walnuts, and Apples recipe. And, I can never resist a dish with haloumi. Pitted dates, toasted walnuts, olive oil, sherry vinegar, pinches of salt, and some hot water were combined in a food processor and pureed until smooth. This paste formed the base of the dish. Next, cubes of haloumi were sauteed in oil until golden on all sides. These were set on top of the date paste. Last, an apple was cut into matchsticks, and I used a Benriner, and those little sticks were perched on top of the haloumi. Dill and Urfa pepper were sprinkled on top to finish the dish. 

In the head note for this recipe, it’s mentioned that this dish cannot be taken off the menu at the restaurant because it is so well-loved. I can understand completely. This is such a good mix of textures and flavors, and haloumi works its magic when paired with something a little sweet like the dates here. And, crisp, fresh apple brightens the combination. Now, I need go shop for fideos to try that soup I mentioned, and I really want to attempt making Persian rice and about 20 other recipes as well. 

Crispy Haloumi Cheese with Dates, Walnuts, and Apples 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking

Serves 4 

1 cup roughly chopped dried dates 
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped 
1/3 cup olive oil 
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar 
Kosher salt 
Canola oil 
8 ounces haloumi cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes 
1 apple, peeled and cut into matchsticks 
Chopped fresh dill 
1/2 teaspoon ground Urfa pepper 

Combine the dates, walnuts, olive oil, vinegar, a couple pinches of salt, and 1/2 cup hot water in a food processor and puree until smooth. Set the date paste aside. 

Film a skillet with canola oil and heat over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering but not smoking. Arrange the cheese cubes in a single layer in the skillet and cook, turning, until the exteriors are golden and crisp, about 2 minutes per side. 

Spread the date paste over the bottom of a serving plate and add the fried haloumi. Top with the apple, dill, and Urfa pepper, and serve immediately. 

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Fried Sweet Potato Ravioli

I’ve always been a fan of Martha Stewart and all things Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia-related. I sometimes say that Martha taught me how to cook. I was reading Living magazine, watching the Martha Stewart show (an early version), and reading her books when I first started getting addicted to cooking and learning new things about food. And, I get that she’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The endless jokes about her perfectionism never fail to amuse, but that’s actually what I’ve always loved about her. She’s explained before that first and foremost, she’s a teacher. She wants to present precise information and best practices for everything she demonstrates, and I appreciate that. So, I like Martha, classic Martha. In recent years, Living magazine has become simplified in comparison to early issues. Recipes have become mostly of the “quick” and “easy” variety, and the information has been pared down. I miss the in-depth nature of the old issues, and when I look back at pages I’ve clipped and filed over the years, the old ones still grab my attention. In 1999, I was delighted to bring home a copy of Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook which at the time was a recreation of the book Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres from 15 years earlier. The 1999 version is a beauty with a section of color photos for all the recipes before the recipes themselves. Some items are easier to make than others, but everything is beautifully presented and made special. Now, a brand new book has been created. It’s Martha Stewart's Appetizers, and I received a review copy. Did you notice the change in title? It became simpler. The whole book is simpler with fewer sections and a more straightforward layout. There aren’t nearly as many fussy, little, perfectly cut-out shapes as seen in the previous book. But, it’s still from the Martha team. Everything looks delicious and pretty, and every single appetizer in the book had me imagining when and how I might serve it. 

This book has everything from Pigs in Blankets to Blini with Creme Fraiche and Caviar. There’s even a whole section for cocktails. I fell for the Pureed Soups because of the photo. Little cups of different types of soup are lined up in a rainbow of colors with beet soup next to butternut squash soup right by spinach-pea soup and so on. And, there are suggested garnishes like herbed croutons and roasted pepitas to serve with the soups. The mini quiches are adorable as are the Croque-Monsieur Bites. And, the Tostones with Crab Salad are at the top of my to-try list. There’s even an old-school Hot Artichoke Dip and a Hot-Crab and Pimento-Cheese Spread. Because I had a few local sweet potatoes sitting on my kitchen counter, I decided to dive in to Fried Sweet Potato Ravioli first. Baked sweet potatoes were cooled, and then the flesh was spooned into a food processor and pureed with heavy cream, grated parmesan, and salt and pepper. Wonton wrappers were each filled with two teaspoons of the sweet potato puree, and the edges were brushed with egg wash. The wrappers were folded over into triangles, and the edges were sealed. Working in batches, the filled wontons were fried a few at a time for about two minutes per side. The fried ravioli were served with sour cream topped with chopped chives. 

Yes, this new book is simpler, and I chose a pretty simple recipe to make from it, but I loved them both. The streamlined approach hasn’t lost me, but I enjoyed the more complex style too. These crispy ravioli dipped in the cold sour cream were delightful. I have some leftovers in the freezer that can be warmed and re-crisped in the oven some other day. Now, I need to plan a party or two and make several more things from the new book.  

Fried Sweet-Potato Ravioli 
Recipe reprinted from Martha Stewart's Appetizers. Copyright ©2015 by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. Photos by David Malosh. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
makes 38 

Using wonton wrappers instead of pasta dough eases the preparation of this savory starter, and results in a crisp, light crust. The ravioli are also a great make-ahead option; reheat in the oven when ready to serve, as a toasty prelude to a cold- weather meal. 

3 sweet potatoes, scrubbed 
1/4 cup heavy cream 
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper 
38 square wonton wrappers 
1 large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash 
Safflower oil, for frying 
Sour cream and snipped fresh chives, for serving 

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Prick sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Roast on a rimmed baking sheet until tender, about 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and transfer to a food processor. Pulse with heavy cream and cheese until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. 
 2. Working with one wonton wrapper at a time, place 2 teaspoons sweet potato filling in center of square. Lightly brush edges of wrapper with egg wash. Lightly press edges to seal. Using a small knife, make small decorative cuts along edges, if desired. Transfer ravioli to a parchment- lined baking sheet and cover with a kitchen towel. 
3. Heat 2 inches oil in a heavy- bottomed pot over medium- high until 350°F on a deep- fry thermometer. Line a wire rack with paper towels. Working in batches, cook ravioli until golden on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes; flip and cook until other side is golden, 1 to 2 minutes more. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to lined rack to drain. Return oil to 350°F between batches. Serve immediately with sour cream topped with chives. 

MAKE AHEAD Arrange cooked and cooled ravioli in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Freeze until firm. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag and freeze up to 3 months. Reheat on a parchment- lined baking sheet (do not thaw) in a 375°F oven, about 10 minutes. 

NOTE To keep them warm while you finish frying batches, place ravioli on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a 225°F oven.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Spicy Clam Salad

Every time I talk about the book On Top of Spaghetti I point out that I don’t play favorites with my cookbooks, but it’s one that is particularly special. It’s all pasta on every page, and everything I’ve made from it has been fantastic. Today, I won’t be talking about that book but instead about its authors and their first book. For years, I’ve been meaning to get a copy of Cucina Simpatica by Johanne Killeen and George Germon because of how much I enjoy On Top of Spaghetti. For that matter, their restaurant, Al Forno, is the reason Providence, Rhode Island has been on my list of places I want to visit. I still haven’t made it to Rhode Island, but I finally ordered Cucina Simpatica which was originally published in 1991. This one is more than pasta. It covers all of the Italian-based food they serve at Al Forno from starters and salads to pizzas, pasta, braises, and vegetables. And, now I have a new reason to want to visit their restaurant. I learned that most of their desserts are made to order including the ice cream that’s churned fresh for each customer. I checked the website, and their menu states that they continue to do this. Obviously, they have a knack for hospitality and an understanding of how to make really good food. As I was reading this book and choosing what to make from it first, our CSA box arrived. We received big ears of corn, pretty ripe tomatoes, and cucumbers. That helped me decide to try this Spicy Clam Salad. 

Making the salad requires pre-prepping a couple of items, but it all comes together simply for serving. First, oven-cured tomatoes were made. In the book, they suggest slow-roasting cored, whole tomatoes at 200 degrees F with basil or parsley and olive oil for eight to twelve hours. I took a quicker route by quartering the tomatoes, increasing the temperature, and giving them two hours in the oven. The flavor was concentrated and delicious. Meanwhile, hot pepper-infused olive oil was made by combining olive oil, paprika, crushed red pepper flakes, and garlic in a saucepan and simmering for 10 minutes. The pan was removed from the heat and left to infuse for 30 minutes before being strained. Next, the corn was cut from the cobs and cooked, and croutons were made with melted butter and garlic. The last thing to cook was the clams. They were steamed with white wine and water, and I added more crushed red pepper flakes. To complete the salad, the corn, croutons, chopped cucumbers, some sliced green onion, arugula, and parsley leaves were tossed with red-wine vinegar and the spicy olive oil. That was arranged on a platter, and the salad was topped with oven-cured tomatoes and the steamed clams. 

Fresh corn and clams always go nicely together, and all the other ingredients were like summer’s greatest hits. I always like clams, but this instantly became one of my favorite uses of them. Once again, Johanne Killeen and George Germon did not disappoint. I’m delighted to have another book of theirs to cook from, and I’d love to see a new one from them too. 

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Mint Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches

I really have been trying to consume less sugar lately. When I bake sweet treats, they get quickly whisked away to be shared with lots of people leaving none behind to tempt me at home. And, I haven’t been making ice creams or sorbets this summer like I usually do. But, then I remembered these ice cream sandwiches from Joanne Chang’s Baking with Less Sugar. They’re found in the amazing chocolate chapter in which none of the recipes contain any added sugar. The only sugar in these chocolate treats comes from that found in the chocolate itself. I marked this page when I read the book, and it was time to put them to the test. The first thing to mention is that this isn’t churned ice cream in the sandwiches. It’s actually a whipped chocolate ganache that gets spread between thin cake layers and frozen. There are a few steps that require waiting, chilling, or freezing before continuing, but each part is simple to do. 

You begin by making the “ice cream,” and letting chopped mint steep in warm cream for 30 minutes. After steeping, the mint was strained from the cream, the cream was brought back up to a simmer, and then it was poured over some chopped bittersweet chocolate. The chocolate-cream mixture was whisked until smooth before it was covered and chilled overnight. Next, the thin cake was made. More bittersweet chocolate was melted in a double-boiler. Egg yolks, coffee, and salt were whisked into the melted chocolate. Egg whites were whisked in a stand mixer until firm peaks were formed. The whites were folded into the chocolate mixture in two stages, and then a scant quarter cup of flour was folded into the batter. The cake batter was spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and it was baked for about ten to twelve minutes just until dry to the touch. After the cake cooled on a rack for 30 minutes, it was wrapped with plastic wrap and left in the freezer for a minimum of 30 minutes. The cake was removed from the pan and cut in half widthwise and set aside while the chilled ganache was whipped until fluffy and it held stiff peaks. The whipped ganache, or ice cream, was spread on one half of the cake, and the second half was placed on top and pressed to make flat. The sandwiched cake was then covered again and placed back into the freezer overnight. I wasn’t kidding about lots of waiting between steps. Last but not least, the big cake sandwich was cut into portions. 

The ice cream layer and the cake were both surprisingly tasty given that there was no added sugar in either. However, because of the sugar absence, the ice cream does freeze to a very solid state. It’s a good suggestion in the book to let them sit at room temperature for a few minutes before serving. There were no issues with the cake though. It was a tender and perfect way to sandwich ice cream. And, of course, the mix of chocolate and mint was meant to be. This got a thumbs-up for a treat that wasn’t too sweet. 

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Crunchy Fermented Buckwheat Cereal with Homemade Yogurt

Other than mentioning sourdough breads, I’ve been doing lots of fermenting of food and not talking about it here. It started two years ago after I read Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation and made lacto-fermented pickles for the first time. I was hooked. I loved that the sour flavor is a little different and a little more complex than what you get when pickling with vinegar. I’ve made lacto-fermented pickles with cucumbers, okra, peppers, and green beans, and I’ve made a fermented tomato salsa. And, it’s all so easy. For vegetables like cucumbers and okra, I start with a five percent brine and add garlic, dried hot chiles, and other spices like dill seed, and then the vegetables to be pickled are placed in the brine and held below the surface with jars or ramekins. It takes about four days for the fermentation process at room temperature. I still need to invest in a proper pickling crock with a weight that fits the top. A few months ago, I read Cultured Foods for Your Kitchen, and it gave me even more ideas for fermenting. But, let’s back up for a moment. You may be wondering, why ferment food at all? Traditionally, fermentation allowed foods to be preserved, but magically, it also offers a way of getting even more nutrition from food than you would without doing so. During fermentation, good bacteria are formed with all sorts of beneficial effects ranging from better absorption of nutrients to boosting the immune system. The only thing to keep in mind regarding fermentation is that those beneficial bacteria get killed off when exposed to high heat. I keep fermented pickles in the refrigerator for a couple of months if they even last that long. If they were heat-processed for canning and long-term storage, they’d still taste great but the beneficial bacteria would be killed off. Fermented foods, however, can be frozen and the good bacteria will survive. I mention this because the fermented cereal shown here was heated to a point that destroyed the good bacteria. In this case though, all was not lost. 

This recipe is from Cultured Foods for Your Kitchen, and in the head note, the Crunchy Buckwheat Cereal is compared to Grape Nuts. I’ve always loved Grape Nuts! When I was little, I used to sprinkle Grape Nuts cereal on my ice cream. It stayed crunchy until the end of the bowl. I couldn’t wait to make a homemade version or something similar. You begin with a couple of cups of untoasted whole buckwheat groats, and they were rinsed and drained. They were placed in a large bowl, a couple of tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar were added, and the groats were covered with water. The bowl was covered with a dish towel, and it was left to ferment for two days. The buckwheat was then drained and rinsed, and I spread it on a baking sheet to dehydrate it in the oven. It took a little over two hours at 200 degrees F. Now, the reason this wasn’t such a bad thing even though the heat destroyed the beneficial bacteria produced during fermentation is because soaking grains before cooking makes them much more digestible and nutritious. Grains contain phytic acid which can block the absorption of minerals and enzyme inhibitors that can impede digestion. Soaking neutralizes phytic acid and breaks down the enzyme inhibitors. These benefits in the grain remain after cooking. There’s a side note in the book that explains this in detail and encourages you to always soak your grains before cooking even if just for a few hours. So, the soaked and fermented buckwheat groats were dried until crunchy in the oven, and then I added a teaspoon of cinnamon and stirred it through before storing the cereal. The second part of this breakfast is the yogurt which I finally succeeded at making at home. I used good, local milk; heated it to the proper temperature; let the temperature reduce; added some leftover yogurt; transferred it to a bowl and covered it; placed the bowl in the Wonderbag; and left it to ferment. Once I had homemade yogurt, I chilled it and then strained it to make a thick Greek-style yogurt. 

I will say that this homemade buckwheat cereal isn’t exactly like Grape Nuts. I wondered if adding a little salt would make it seem more similar. But, it’s delightfully crunchy and makes a fantastic yogurt topping. As you see in the photos, I added some blueberries as well. And, I’m thrilled to have finally made homemade yogurt that didn’t fail. My fermenting will turn back to pickles next. I need to get okra and peppers in some brine before their season ends. 

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Summer Vegetable Tartlets with Parmesan Cream

I received a review copy of Anne-Sophie Pic’s newest book, Scook: The Complete Cookery Course. It’s a big, beautiful cookbook that she wrote to continue the tradition of passing along kitchen experience to new cooks. The recipes are some of her favorites from her childhood as well as her professional life in the kitchen. This new book is just as stunning as her previous book, Le Livre Blanc, which was focused on her incredible restaurant creations, but these recipes are much more doable by the home cook. There are even helpful step-by-step instructions with photos for some techniques. Pic is a third generation chef in her family, and she’s a three-Michelin starred chef at her restaurant Maison Pic in Valence, DrĂ´me, France. This book is divided into categories like Entertaining, Everyday, and For Children. Some of the selections for each of these categories represent ideals that might not be quite realistic for everyone. Personally, I wouldn’t think of Foie Gras with Beetroot or Lobster and Celery with Red Fruits as “everyday” dishes, but the idea is that everything in this chapter is quick enough to prepare on an everyday basis. It’s meant as inspiration to elevate your game of go-to, quick dishes. I’m definitely inspired to try the Roman Gnocchi Revisited topped with a tomato concasse with capers and black olives. A recipe from the Entertaining chapter that I keep turning back to is for a Tuna Tartlet with Sauce Vierge. This reminds me of some tartlets I watched Dorie Greenspan make at a cooking class when she was promoting her book Around My French Table. Both Dorie’s tartlets and the ones in this book make use of the same technique for the pastry base. Puff pastry is cut into shapes and baked between two baking sheets to keep it pressed and flat. Then, the crisp, flaky pastry pieces get some delicious toppings. Tuna was used in both versions, but I’d love to try these with smoked salmon and Pic’s suggested black olive tapenade, Espelette chile powder, and basil. Tartlets continued to capture my attention, and when I saw the lovely, little Vegetable Tarts with Young Parmesan Cream I had to try a summery version. 

In the book, these golden pastry rounds are topped with incredibly perfect-looking spring vegetables and a drizzle of the parmesan cream. I wanted to summer-ize the concept by using some grilled baby eggplant and cherry tomatoes. The rich pastry dough was made with lots of butter, ground almonds, all-purpose flour, and salt. The recipe called for lavender flowers, but I didn’t have any handy. The dough was rolled thin and then covered with plastic wrap and placed in the freezer for 15 minutes. Once firm, rounds were cut, brushed with egg wash, and baked. The parmesan cream was a simple mix of grated parmesan and milk that was heated in a saucepan and blended. Mine seemed thin, so I made a roux and whisked in the mixture to thicken it. I grilled quartered, little eggplants for the main topping. They were set on the pastry rounds with halved cherry tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil, and topped with the parmesan cream. 

Anne-Sophie Pic writes that she hopes the reader becomes comfortable with these dishes and makes the recipes his/her own. Switching out the vegetables for this tart was an easy change, and the parmesan cream would be a delicious accompaniment to just about any vegetable. This is a fun book to curl up with and page through the photos. And, there’s lots to learn from it too. 

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Cherry Tomato and Goat Cheese Cobbler

I keep coming back to the book Huckleberry. I had a feeling this would happen when I first read it. I haven’t baked my way entirely through the Muffins chapter yet, but I did find out just how delicious the Chocolate Chunk Muffins are. And, I don’t know how I haven’t baked the Blueberry Brioche or made the Brown Rice Quinoa Pancakes yet but I will eventually. Lately, I’ve been flipping back through the pages of all the savory dishes for breakfast or brunch. The photos of the sandwiches cause serious cravings. The Fried Green Tomato and Spicy Slaw Tartine and the Smashed Avocado Toast with Hard-Boiled Eggs and Anchovy Dressing will need to happen soon. But then, I remembered this lovely tomato cobbler that Barbara showed on her blog back in April. Roasted cherry tomatoes were topped with biscuits made with a mix of whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and cornmeal. I had pretty, little Juliet red tomatoes, Sungold yellow cherry tomatoes, and local heirloom cornmeal, and the time was right for this cobbler. It’s pretty quick and easy to prepare, and it’s even easier if you make the biscuits in advance and leave them in the freezer. 

To start the biscuits, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt were combined. Butter was worked into the flours by hand, and this is the way I almost always make pastry, scones, or biscuits. You can really feel how well the butter is getting worked in, and you stop when the butter pieces are broken up just enough. Buttermilk was added to bring the dough together, and it was transferred to a board to knead a couple of times. The biscuits were cut, and they were placed on a baking sheet in the freezer. I made them a couple of days in advance. For the cobbler, cherry tomatoes were cooked on top of the stove, and I added some garlic and crushed red chiles. Once they were softened, I transferred them to a baking dish. The tomatoes were topped with the biscuits, and the biscuits were brushed with an egg wash. The cobbler baked for about 25 minutes, and then goat cheese was sprinkled around between the biscuits. The oven temperature was increased, and the cobbler went back in for another 10 minutes. I topped the cobbler with chopped basil before serving. 

Juicy, roasted, summer tomatoes with fresh, mild goat cheese and buttery biscuits make a lovely, leisurely meal for a weekend morning. The biscuits rise and turn golden on top while soaking up tomato juices from below for a great crisp and tender texture contrast. Looking at how many other dishes I want to try in this book, some breakfast-for-dinner nights will come in handy. 

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