Thursday, April 30, 2009

Grilled Halibut with Tomato Butter

My normal procedure for gathering information from food magazines goes like this: 1. read magazine, 2. place magazine in stack with others that have been read, 3. eventually, flip though all those read magazines and cut out recipes and photos I want to keep, 4. file those pages and use some sooner than others. However, once in awhile, something catches my eye, and I have to try it immediately. That was the case with this grilled halibut dish from April’s Food and Wine. I didn’t even get to step two. I saw this and made a shopping list. It’s from an article about food and wine pairings suggested by a few different sommeliers. This dish is from Caroline Styne of Lucques and AOC, and a pinot noir was recommended for it.

Tomatoes cooked in butter and spooned over grilled fish was all I really needed to know to want this for dinner. But, as I read through the recipe, I began to wonder how much I would love it with tarragon rubbed onto the fish and also used in the sauce. It’s not that I dislike tarragon, but I wasn’t sure I would love a double-dose of it. I’ve mentioned before that I have Mexican mint marigold growing in my yard, and that is our Texas substitution for fresh tarragon. The plants die back to the ground at the end of winter and then begin new growth in early spring. They’re about halfway back to their normal height now. So, I used chopped Mex. mint marigold instead of tarragon, and it has the same anise flavor. The halibut fillets were rubbed with a combination of chopped parsley, the M.m.m., and lemon zest, and they were left in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Then, they were grilled outside over charcoal while the sauce was made. Butter was melted in a small skillet, whole M.m.m. leaves were added and cooked until fragrant, and then grape tomatoes joined this mixture. It was left to cook over low heat until the tomatoes burst to release delicious juices into the browned butter.

I can say with certainty that the flavors of this dish were as good as I’d imagined when I first saw it in the magazine. The two uses of tarragon or M.m.m. worked fine. The anise was subtle and married nicely with the freshness of the tomatoes and richness of the browned butter. The herb rub on the halibut became a very good accent to the flavor of the fish itself and the smoke from the grill. I made the smashed fingerlings mentioned in the article as well, and they were great on the side. Also great was the light, California pinot noir with nice, balanced fruit whose name I can’t remember because we ended up with a different wine than the one from the article and I failed to write it down. The simple, flavorful sauce could be used on ravioli or gnocchi, and the tarragon could be replaced with thyme for variation. Or, I could happily sit down to a plate of burst-open tiny tomatoes in herbed browned butter and a hunk of bread.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Strawberry Scones

UPDATE 3/26/2012: Every year, as soon as the strawberries appear at the farmers' market, I want to bake these scones again. I just baked some and took new photos to update the post. There's also a new added note in the recipe regarding the self-raising flour.

Every time I see a scone recipe, I want to try it. Kurt certainly wouldn’t mind if I did try every scone recipe, and since I don’t even need much encouragement to bake, I baked scones again. Hopefully, this won’t become a dedicated scone site, but chances are good there will be additional scone variations presented here. These particular scones are another item from Exceptional Cakes, and there’s so much more on my to-bake list from that book. Date shortbread bars or the chocolate caramel tart could be next. But, about these scones, I thought I should compare these to the last scones I baked.

These scones were made with self-rising flour which I had never used before. I didn’t even find it at my grocery store, so I made it as described here. An additional two teaspoons of baking powder was added to the homemade self-rising flour. Those ingredients were sifted with salt and sugar, and butter was worked in with my fingertips. Some milk was measured and then eggs were beaten into it and that was poured into the flour butter mixture. I stirred this together and folded in chopped, fresh strawberries. The strawberries were my choice of an addition, but the recipe suggested sultanas. I usually cut butter into flour using a pastry cutter, but this time I worked it in with my fingertips. I think the fingertip method is actually faster, and I definitely had a better sense of when it was well-combined. I may never go back to the pastry cutter. Now, interestingly, the minneola tangelo-buttermilk scones I made in February, used all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Butter was mixed in with a pastry cutter, buttermilk was added, and then the segmented tangelos and zest were incorporated. There were no eggs in the dough, and there was more buttermilk than the milk in these scones.

The tangelo scones were fantastic, and they rose nicely. However, in my opinion, the texture of these strawberry scones was the better of the two. It was more delicate and less crumbly. Warm from the oven, they were incredible, and re-warmed the next day, they were still incredible. Let me know if you have a favorite scone recipe, or if your scones have eggs or not, and I’ll keep trying every recipe I see.

Since the book is not available, and I had a request for the recipe, I'm including it below.

450 g self-raising flour (or, just under 450 g all-purpose flour, plus  1 tablespoon and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons salt) (if you're converting to cups, that's 3 cups all-purpose flour plus the baking powder and salt) (and, yes, add the salt and baking powder listed below as well.)
pinch of salt
25 g granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
85 g unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
200 ml cold milk
chopped fresh strawberries or fresh or dried fruit of your choice (I used about a pint of fresh strawberries.)
1 egg for glaze
sugar for sprinkling (I used turbinado sugar.)

-preheat oven to 170 degrees C or 350 degrees F; line a large baking tray with parchment or silpat; sift the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder into a bowl; add the butter and rub in with your fingertips; in a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs, add the milk, then pour into the flour; stir together quickly and lightly, adding fruit if using; don't overwork the dough, the quicker and lighter you are, the better the scones will be

-tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a one inche thickness; cut into rounds and place on prepared baking tray; lightly beat egg for glaze and brush onto tops of scones, then sprinkle with sugar

-bake in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until risen and lightly browned

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sliced Spring Salad with Avocado and Feta

Have you read A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg yet? The book is moving and touching and funny, and I couldn’t put it down once I started it. Her stories describe times with her father, time spent in Paris, and meeting and falling for her now husband. All of which involved food in one way or another, and each story includes a recipe or two. And, about the food, I have several post-its marking pages of things I intend to make. The first of those to be tried was the sliced spring salad. I had some radishes and cilantro from Hands of the Earth Farm, and the weather’s been warm and muggy and just right for a crisp salad.

To begin the preparation, the red wine vinegar and Dijon vinaigrette was made in a small bowl. Then, there’s a description of the order in which the vegetables should be sliced based on the speed at which they oxidize. I should mention that the writing of the recipes is as well-done as that of the stories in that they are both clearly of the same voice. I won’t ruin it by quoting it here. The radishes were sliced first, then radicchio, followed by endive. Those were tossed in a large bowl with cilantro leaves and some of the vinaigrette to taste. Last, the avocado was sliced and placed on top, and the salad was sprinkled with French feta. It was quick and easy to assemble, and the most time-consuming part was probably picking the leaves off the cilantro stems.

It was a colorful, fresh combination that was perfect with some simply grilled chicken. The radicchio and endive were crunchy and flavorful, the radishes added a peppery note, and the buttery avocado was delicious with the cilantro. French feta is a little milder than Greek, and it worked very well here. As noted in the recipe, goat cheese would also be good. It was a winner that we’ll definitely have again. Up next from this book could be meatballs with pine nuts, or slow-roasted tomato pesto, or custard-filled corn bread, or caramelized cauliflower with salsa verde. So many post-its.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Benedict Bars

I’ve been reading the Baker and Spice books Exceptional Cakes and Exceptional Breads, and I may end up making every item found in both books. Everything looks unbelievably good. I linked those titles to Amazon, but the Cakes book is unfortunately, currently unavailable. Baker and Spice shops are located in London and were founded on the principle of hand-made baking with traditional ingredients and methods. They rely on best-quality ingredients and careful baking techniques to achieve incredible goods that are not masked through decoration in any way. I like that approach, and the first item I had to try was the Benedict bar with a crunchy almond topping. My first question was why is this called a Benedict bar? There’s a note in the book explaining that the name comes from the South African Benedict cake which has similar flavors. I didn’t find any information online about this cake, so if anyone can tell me about it, I’m wondering what it’s like.

The recipes in these books are written with metric measurements by weight, and rather than doing conversions I used my kitchen scale set to grams. Now that I have that scale, I don’t know how I lived without it for so long. I did need some help in converting the Celsius oven temperature to Fahrenheit, and for that I used my handy Food Lover's Companion. This simple cookie bar started with a shortbread base. Interestingly, the shortbread ingredients included some corn flour which I luckily had in my bin of random flours. Other than that, it was a straightforward shortbread recipe with butter, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and vanilla. This was pressed into the bottom of an eight-inch square pan and chilled while the topping was made. The topping was made by melting butter with sugar, vanilla, a little milk, and sliced almonds. The chilled shortbread in the pan was topped with a layer of what was supposed to have been raspberry jam but in this case was black currant jelly, and then the topping was poured over it. This went into the oven for 30 minutes and smelled fantastic as it baked.

I let the pan cool and then placed it in the refrigerator to make it easier to cut into bars. This is a rare time when I think I will enjoy a cookie-type item better in its chilled state. The jelly layer is delicious when cold, and the topping and shortbread can do no wrong at any temperature. I would try to go on and on about the crunchy, nutty top, the fruity, sweet middle, and buttery, rich foundation of it all, but I’m running back to the kitchen to eat another one instead.

Since the book is not available, and I had a request for the recipe, I'm including it below.

Benedict Bar
First prepare the shortbread crust:
150 g unsalted butter
225 g plain flour (All purpose flour)
4 T corn flour
1/2 t baking powder
125 caster sugar (granulated sugar) + more for sprinkling into pan
1/4 t sea salt
1 t vanilla extract

-spray a 24 x 20cm (I used an eight inch square pan, but slightly larger would also work) with cooking spray and sprinkle with sugar
-dice the butter straight from the refrigerator into a mixing bowl and leave to soften for 30 minutes; sift the flour, cornflour, and baking powder on top, then add the sugar, salt, and vanilla; rub together between your fingertips until the mixtures begins to cohere (Or, place in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the paddle attachment until it resembles breadcrumbs.)
-press into the prepared pan and chill in the refrigerator while making the topping

100g unsalted butter
60g caster sugar (granulated sugar)
1 t vanilla extract
200g flaked almonds
3 T milk
raspberry jam (or blackcurrant jelly or whatever jam or jelly you have)

-preheat oven to 180 degrees C or 350 degrees F [Here's a handy conversion tool:]
- put butter, sugar, vanilla, almonds, and milk in a small saucepan over low heat, and warm until the butter melts; remove from heat and allow to cool
-remove shortbread from refrigerator and spread a layer of jam on top; pour cooled, melted butter mixture over top; bake for 25 to 30 minutes and then allow to cool on a rack; chill in the refrigerator for one hour to make cutting easier

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Soup of Wild Greens with Gnocchi and Prosciutto or Pesto

I know how this looks. I really do. I hesitated to even post this at all, but I went for it in honor of Earth Day for lack of a better reason. Yes, that is a bowl of green goo. It’s something you might find on the Land of the Lost studio floor after a Sleestak scene. Did you know the movie version is coming out in June? I just discovered that fact as I looked for a link to explain Sleestak, and now I can’t wait for June. So, let me explain this soup. We’ve been getting some fresh and gorgeous spring greens from our Hands of the Earth CSA, and yesterday was a pick up day, and I found this recipe, and it sounded good to me. HOE has grown some really beautiful beets, and they deliver them with their perfect greens intact. I’m not sure that beet greens get used very often. Beets sold in grocery stores often have the greens removed, or they’re a little dried out and less than appetizing. Yesterday, Earth Day, the beet greens were pristine, so I cut them off to use them and saved the beets for later. We also received some braising greens including little collard and kale leaves. I was thrilled to use every bit of what we received as best we could, and the trimmings went into the compost as usual. And, that is how to throw an Earth Day party: eat all your greens and make compost.

If I haven’t driven you off yet, let me mention the book in which I found this soup. It’s from Potager: Fresh Garden Cooking in the French Style. Potager, or kitchen garden, cooking is necessarily seasonal. The author, Georgeanne Brennan, founded Le Marche which is a seed company specializing in unusual vegetables. This book encourages home gardening or finding fresh, local ingredients. The book is sectioned according to season and offers a range of simple but interesting dishes. There’s a savory bread pudding with asparagus and fontina that I have bookmarked, and for summer, rosemary pizzas and charred eggplant sandwiches with aioli sound amazing. This soup was very easy to prepare, and I hope I can convince you to consider trying it. Two pounds of greens were cleaned and roughly chopped and then sauteed with onion in olive oil. Once the greens were limp, they were added with their juices to a blender pitcher with a half cup of vegetable broth. This was pureed and returned to a large saucepan. An additional cup and a half of broth was stirred into the puree. Meanwhile, store-bought gnocchi were boiled separately. To serve, ladle soup into bowls, add gnocchi, top with grated pecorino and sliced prosciutto if you like.

Kurt’s bowl had some prosciutto, but I went a different way with mine. I made a quick cilantro pesto, with cilantro also from HOE, using almonds, garlic, and olive oil. I spooned a bit of this on top of the gnocchi. For both bowls, I sprinkled on some piment d’esplette for color and spice. I know you might not believe this, but it was really good. It was very fresh tasting, and the gnocchi were the perfect addition to the soup. The cheese instantly melted into the top surface, which added to the murky look, but also added a nice salty edge. Grow some greens, or find really fresh ones at a farmers’ market, and make a pureed greens soup with gnocchi because it actually is more delicious than it looks.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

White Bean and Roasted Zucchini Puree with Truffle Oil

I’ve read several great posts lately about the organic products from da Rosario, and I will join in the chorus of praise. I received a bottle of their black truffle oil, couldn’t wait to try it, and wouldn’t be mentioning it if it weren’t fantastic. The truffle fragrance from the bottle is enough to make me swoon, and I’ve been known to simply stop reading a restaurant menu as soon as I see a dish served with truffle oil or truffles or any variant of truffleness. I thought back to my last restaurant experience with truffle oil to come up with a plan for using this. We went to Asti for Kurt’s birthday and started with the antipasti platter. Among several delicious things, there was a white bean puree with a pool of truffle oil on top of it and some crunchy grissini along-side it. That became my corner of the platter, and nothing else mattered for a few minutes.

Yes, I thought, white bean puree. Then memory number two flashed by which involved an impossibly light and airy zucchini puree I recalled as an amuse bouche once enjoyed at Aquarelle. I began to imagine a hybrid of the two with some garlic pungency and a little freshness of lemon, and then I turned on the oven. I roasted three bulbs of garlic because having extra roasted garlic always ends up being a good thing. For the last 15 minutes of their roasting time, I put some peeled zucchini in the oven too. Once cool, I chopped the zucchini, squeezed the softened cloves from the garlic heads, and put both in a food processor with two cans of white beans that had been rinsed and drained. That combination was joined by some olive oil, a little lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper, and it was pureed. It seemed just a little flat, so I added some minced fresh garlic and a little more salt.

The zucchini lightens the mixture leaving it fluffier than it is otherwise. The roasted garlic and fresh garlic worked together to intensify the flavor, and the lemon brightened it up as it does. It’s delicious on crostini or carrots or spread into a sandwich with lots of lettuce, but none of that matters because its purpose was to be a pillow on which the truffle oil would rest en route to my mouth. And, that, was just delicious.

1 bulb garlic
1 lb. zucchini (I used three small ones, but sizes vary quite a bit, so I’m giving the weight here.)
2 15 oz. cans white beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 t lemon zest
Juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Truffle oil

-roast garlic in a 400 degree oven until softened, about 40 minutes depending on the size of the garlic (I prefer to cut off the very top of the bulb, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper before wrapping in parchment and foil and placing in the oven.)
-peel zucchini, place on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper place zucchini in oven for the last 15 minutes of roasting time
-remove garlic and zucchini from oven and allow to cool enough to handle; squeeze garlic cloves from bulb into the bowl of a food processor, cut stem ends from zucchini and chop remaining into large chunks; add chunks to food processor bowl along with remaining ingredients; puree until smooth; taste for salt and adjust as needed
-serve on crostini topped liberally with truffle oil

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spicy Sicilian Chicken

I must have been feeling a little lazy yesterday because I wanted a dinner that would mostly cook itself. This stew from Molto Italiano did that, and as a bonus, it required some wine but not an entire bottle. Since the vegetables refused to chop themselves, I had to do that part, but my next task was to sit back and sip the remaining wine while the stew simmered. Lazy is good sometimes, and so are one pot meals.

Mario insists that this dish is to be spicy. I used chiles de arbol for the five dried chiles listed in the ingredients, and I broke them into pieces while adding them to the mix of vegetables. They did their job in delivering a good level of heat to the dish, and the instructions direct you to add some red pepper flakes at the end of cooking for added zip. So, yes, this was a lazy, simmered, one pot meal with zip. Could it get any better? It could. The vegetables included chunked eggplant, carrot, celery, potatoes, and tomatoes and thick strips of bell peppers. Sicilian olives and rinsed and drained salt-packed capers were added as well. I was surprised that there were no onions or garlic included, but there was plenty of flavor just as it was. A chicken cut into eight pieces was browned in a large skillet. The pieces were removed to a plate and the vegetables, olives, capers, and dried chiles went into the pan. A cup and a half of dry red wine was added. I used an inexpensive Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The browned chicken was added back to the pan. It was brought to a boil, reduced to a simmer, covered and allowed to cook itself, and I sat.

The chicken I used was kind of big, so I gave it extra time to simmer. The tomatoes softened and became one with the sauce. The other vegetables attained a lovely tenderness. The potatoes were cut into big enough chunks that they held their shape, and they turned a pretty pinkish color from the wine. I put just a little more effort into this meal than I really had to because I decided the sauce could be thicker. I transferred everything to a large serving bowl and turned up the heat to reduce the sauce and then poured that delicious, rich wine and chicken gravy over the stew. It was garnished with chopped parsley and mint and red pepper flakes and served with bread for dipping. It was a hearty, easy meal that makes arguably even better leftovers. I may let dinner do the cooking more often.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ricotta Cheesecake

Every once in a while, I do ask Kurt what he would like for me to make. It’s only fair given that he suffers the brunt of all of my failed attempts in the kitchen. For Easter, I asked what he thought would be good for dessert. Without even a moment to ponder, he fired back: cheesecake. I liked that idea and of course, chose to make one I hadn’t tried before. This is from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, and it states in the intro to the recipe, this is about the easiest cheesecake you can make.

There are two steps which require different appliances, but they’re quick and simple. First, put some fresh ricotta in a food processor and process until smooth. Next, use a mixer to beat egg whites to a stiff, glossy state. That’s it. The rest was just a matter of folding things together. In a large mixing bowl, the ricotta was mixed with egg yolks, flour, some sugar, orange zest, and salt. Then, the egg whites were folded into that mixture. It all went into a springform pan and was baked for about one hour. There was no water bath, so no need to wrap the springform pan in foil. It really was a very easy cheesecake to make.

It came out of the oven puffed like a souffle, but it didn’t drop like one. It settled into a flat shape with just a little ridge around the outside. The instructions in the book mention turning the cake out of the pan and then inverting it back right side up, but I’m not sure why. I just removed the outer ring of the springform pan and let it sit on the base of the pan. Once it cooled to room temperature, I chilled it in the refrigerator in an airtight container. This was a sleek, grown up kind of cheesecake. It had no crust, no cream cheese, and it wasn’t as sweet as other cheesecakes I’ve made. The texture was lightened by the egg whites but still had some sense of density from the ricotta. It was mildly flavored with an orange accent, and would be perfect with espresso. Since I didn’t think to buy some espresso beans, I served it with a strawberry coulis. Dark chocolate sauce would be another option or maybe a melted marmalade. I think this particular cheesecake could be taken in all kinds of directions with sauces and toppings, and it was pretty delicious all by itself too.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Grilled Salmon Sandwiches with Pineapple-Mustard Glaze and Green Chile-Pickle Relish

I’m cheating a little with this post because I have, sort of, made this before. But, it was before I started this blog, and I changed things up this time. This is a Bobby Flay meal from way back, and I admit to being a long-time fan. Anybody else remember his early shows with Jackie Malouf and the always-present, odd tension between them? I’m not sure if this meal is old enough to be from that show, but it’s pretty old. Say what you will about Flay’s attitude, personality, whathaveyou, but I’ve always liked his food. I’ve made several of his dishes over the years, and they’re always fantastic. In true Flay form, this meal is all about big, bold flavors. And, there are a lot of those bold flavors going on, but they somehow manage to work together really well. The original meal, still posted on the Foodnetwork site, and what I made several years ago, was tuna burgers with great things mixed into the chopped tuna. The burgers were glazed as they were grilled and then topped with the relish. This time, I wanted to make a sandwich of grilled salmon filets, so I made some alterations.

This time, the mixture that was to have seasoned the tuna was used as a marinade for salmon. Dijon, chipotle puree, honey, oil, and green onions were combined with salt and pepper, and I spread that over the salmon and left it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. I made the glaze the same as before by combining pineapple juice, white wine vinegar, grated ginger, and soy sauce in a pan. This was brought to a boil and reduced to half its volume which took about 30 minutes. There was supposed to be some brown sugar in that mixture, but the pineapple juice was sweet enough for me, and I omitted it. For the relish, poblano chiles were roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced. They were combined with diced dill pickle, finely chopped red onion, lime juice, chopped cilantro, and olive oil. Honey should have been added, but there I go again not liking things too sweet. So, the honeyless relish was seasoned with salt and pepper and was ready to go.

The marinated salmon was grilled and glazed twice with the reduced pineapple elixir. The side dish for this meal was seasoned grilled fries, and they couldn’t be simpler. Potatoes were cooked on the stove until almost tender, then chopped into wedges, basted with oil mixed with ancho chile powder and salt, and then grilled. The best part is that they don’t stick to the grill. The potato surface instantly crisps and they finish cooking through quickly while acquiring that irresistible grill flavor. I served the marinated, grilled, pineapple glazed salmon topped with the green chile-pickle relish on toasted sesame-semolina sandwich rolls. Have you ever noticed how long the names of Bobby Flay dishes are? Long names, lots of components, bold flavors, but delicious food. This is a completely opposite food philosophy from that of allowing simple, fresh flavors to shine individually, but it has its place on my table. It’s a fun combination of spicy, sweet, sour, tangy, smoky, fresh, and I recommend it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sourdough Starter and Bread Adventure: 4 Sesame-Semolina Sandwich Rolls

I had an idea about a grilled salmon sandwich I wanted to make, and at the same time, I was itching to use my starter again. Lucky for me, these sandwich rolls appear in the Bread from the La Brea Bakery book so I could continue my adventures in baking with it. Silverton explains in the book that she loves the pale, yellow color of these rolls’ interiors, and that color comes from the durum wheat. The recipe calls for both semolina flour, which is made from durum wheat, and durum flour. The difference between the two is that semolina flour is usually of a coarser grind than durum flour, but that depends on where and how it was made. The semolina flour I found was finer in texture than cornmeal, and I didn’t find durum flour locally. I located some information online explaining that semolina flour can be processed in a food processor to make it finer, and then it can be used as durum flour. That’s what I did here.

This was a one-day bread, and the dough came together easily and was a nice one. Water, fresh yeast, white starter, bread flour, semolina flour, and (my version of) durum flour were first combined in the bowl of a stand mixer and mixed with a dough hook. Salt was added, and the dough was mixed until smooth and then kneaded by hand briefly. It was placed in a large bowl, covered with plastic wrap, and left to ferment for about two hours. At that point, it was divided into 12 pieces which were then covered with a towel and left to rest for 15 minutes. Then, the instructions got a little cloudy, but I think it all worked out ok. A process of flattening each piece of dough and then folding this way and that and sealing and folding again and sealing that seam and tucking in loose dough and ta-da. I would have loved some photos to follow for that, so I just did what seemed about right. In the end I had 12 roll-shaped items that were each about seven inches long.

The next step was pretty fun. Each roll was sprayed with water from a spray bottle and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Then each back side was dipped in a plate of water and then pressed into a plate of semolina flour. So, the rolls ended up topped with sesame seeds and crusted with semolina on the bottom. They were placed on a floured towel with the towel pinched up between each roll to keep them separated. They were then covered and left to snuggle for about one hour while the oven heated. The rolls were placed on a parchment lined baking sheet and each received a couple of slashes on top. The instructions for how to do those slashes also left me wanting a photo, so again, I did something that seemed like what was described. The oven was spritzed with water, and in went the rolls. The oven was spritzed two more times in the first five minutes of baking, and the total baking time was about 30 minutes.

I’d love to find out what I was really supposed to be doing with the folding and seam sealing to form the rolls and how that affects the outcome. If there are any expert sesame-semolina sandwich roll bakers out there, please advise. I’m not sure if the interior texture I achieved on these was exactly what it should have been, but I was happy with the result for a first attempt.

I’m submitting this to Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread. The guest host this week is Zorra.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Roasted Beet Salad with Fennel, Black Olives, and Pecorino

Our spring/summer CSA subscription just started, and Hands of the Earth Farm grew some beautiful beets. The bunch we received included red, gold, and some pale, pinkish white ones. I wanted to use these in some interesting way, and I knew right where to look. I read A16: Food + Wine recently, and I remembered seeing this salad in the Anitpasti chapter. This book tells the story of the San Francisco restaurant of the same name and the southern Italian food and wine that inspired the menu and wine list. The first section in the book covers wine by region. This area of Italy is not as well-known for its wine as the northern regions, and less wine is exported from the south. I learned a lot about some unfamiliar varietals and some interesting wines to look for in stores and restaurants. In the food section of the book, there is a wine suggestion for each dish, and for this salad that was Asprinio di Aversa from Campania. Asprinio means “slightly sour,” and this wine is described as lean and crisp with a sour edge. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy one to locate. Another wine from Campania is Greco di Tufo which is also a lean white with some acidity, and this I was able to find.

The fresh, pretty beets were roasted until tender, allowed to cool, peeled, and chopped into wedges. Fennel was sliced, quickly blanched, rinsed, and drained. A thick vinaigrette was to be made from black olives. I used black Cerignolas which have a nice, buttery, olive flavor but are a little difficult to pit. The pitted olives were pulsed in a food processor with olive oil and red wine vinegar, and this was tossed with the prepared beets. The drained, sliced fennel was tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. The salad was plated by piling some fennel in the center and surrounding it with beets, and an aged sheep’s pecorino, oro antico, was shaved on top of it all. I didn’t even realize until I had plated the salads that there is no pepper in this dish. I had to stop and think about whether I had grabbed the peppermill at some point out of habit, and no, I did not, I actually followed the instructions correctly. Throughout the food portion of the book, Appleman mentions the simplicity of flavors found in southern Italian food. He mentions that traditionally when onion is used, garlic is not, and when chiles are used, black pepper isn't. He doesn’t always use black pepper whether chiles are present or not. In general, ingredients are left in simple combinations to prevent one flavor from sullying or masking another.

Here, the focus of the salad was the sweetness of the vegetables accented by the briny olives and salty cheese. A small amount of salt was used in dressing the fennel, but pepper was not used at any point. Each item on the plate fulfilled exactly what it should have. The fennel was perfect with lemon, and the olives met well with the earthy sweetness of the beets. The sharp yet rich bite of the cheese brought all the flavors together, and the crisp, light, Greco di Tufo with a hint of grapefruit was just what was meant to go with it since I don’t know what I was missing with the Asprinio di Aversa.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Peanut Butter and Jellies

For special occasions, I like to sends friends off from our house with a little something, a goodie bag if you will. Sometimes it’s just a few cookies I baked the day before, or during the holidays, it might be homemade candy. For the dinner party I’ve described all week, I wanted to send our friends off with a little something particularly American, and I remembered this pairing from The French Laundry Cookbook. Fruit jellies served with peanut butter truffles is a charming twist on a classic flavor combination.

This is the first time I am able to say that I prepared something from The French Laundry Cookbook, and it’s kind of exciting to get to say that. Opening that book in the kitchen and actually following the recipes felt a little like cooking from kitchen scripture. I kept the book a good distance from the mess as if it were placed on a pedestal, and I wondered if I should have bowed before measuring out the first ingredient. All jokes aside, this is a really excellent book, and I learned a great deal from reading it alone. To begin this treat, I set about making the jellies. The two suggested flavors are yuzu and concord grape. I searched high and low and did not find yuzu juice in this town of mine, and by comparison concord grape just seemed a bit pedestrian. I decided to make just one flavor, and opted to use acai juice. Next, the suggested apple pectin was as elusive as the yuzu juice, so I used an equal measure of citrus pectin and it seemed to work fine. Keller does note that apple pectin is the key to the jellies delicate texture, so I’ll try harder to procure it next time. For the truffles, I used El Rey milk chocolate and organic, freshly ground peanut butter. Once the truffles are formed, they are then dipped not once, but twice in melted chocolate which can be either milk or bittersweet. I found a 53% cacao El Rey which is somewhere in between and used that.

So for jellies, a combination of juice, sugar, and corn syrup was simmered and skimmed. Pectin was combined with more sugar and dissolved with some of the simmering liquid. All was returned to a pot to simmer a bit longer, and then it was poured into a pan and left to set. The truffle filling was made by blending peanut butter, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Melted milk chocolate was added and then some softened butter, and they were blended into the mixture. This was then refrigerated until firm. I formed the truffles by using a melon baller, and then they were chilled. More chocolate was melted, and the truffles were dipped once, allowed to set, and then dipped a second time. For presentation, the truffles were dusted with cocoa powder.

For me, the truffles were like the best Reese’s peanut butter cups ever made. The jellies were delicious, albeit sticky due to our humidity, and the combination of the two was fun and cute and a good food pun. The truffles were far and away the better half of the duo, but I will definitely make this again with both parts.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chilled Lemon Souffles

The dessert of the meal I’ve been describing this week was individual chilled lemon souffles, and this comes from a delightful, little book. Eggs by Michel Roux is smaller in size than other books, but in it you’ll find perfected techniques for cooking eggs and a wealth of ideas for egg dishes. Each section is devoted to a way of cooking eggs. The steps involved in the basic preparation are clearly described with instructions and photos, and then several variations on dishes using that preparation are presented. I’m looking forward to trying crunchy fried eggs which is a method of poaching in hot oil. The variations include crunchy fried eggs on darphin potatoes with spinach and crunchy fried eggs on dandelion salad. And, there’s so much more. Classic sauces like hollandaise, mornay, and sabayon are described. There are crepes both savory and sweet, quiches, omelets including rolled Thai varieties, custards, baked eggs, and hard-cooked eggs stuffed with mussels. I really like this book.

While so many dishes jumped out at me as I read this book, the chilled lemon souffle was the first thing I made because it worked well with my plans for the party. This is not a cooked souffle. The ingredients are simply folded together, transferred to serving dishes, and chilled. I wanted to use the freshest eggs I could find, so I headed straight to the farmers’ market. Milagro farms had some beauties last weekend, and I talked with the farmer about the chickens that laid them. They have several varieties of chickens which are allowed to roam free, have a moveable coop so their domain can be moved about the farm, and they’re fed the organic vegetables grown at the farm. The dozen eggs I bought included some brown, some cream-colored, and some pale blue eggs. They were perfectly fresh and delicious. For the souffles, six eggs were separated. The yolks were whisked with sugar and lemon zest. Gelatin sheets were softened in water, the water was squeezed from them, and then they were dissolved in warm lemon juice. That lemon juice was then whisked into the egg yolk mixture. Cream was whipped to a ribbon consistency and folded into the yolk mixture. Egg whites were whisked to soft peaks with some sugar, and then they were folded into the main mixture.

In the book, this is presented as one large souffle with a ring of lemon slices around the top and sliced almonds in the center. I decided to serve it in individual portions instead. So, I used six ramekins and wrapped each of them with parchment paper to support the souffle as it was spooned into each cup and above each rim. The ramekins were chilled for about five hours. Thinly sliced lemon was gently cooked in sugar syrup for a couple of minutes and allowed to cool. I served each souffle with a few lemon slices and a sprinkling of sliced almonds. I was pretty sure this was going to be an enjoyable dessert, but I was surprised by Kurt’s reaction. I had imagined he would tolerate the lemon dessert and find it ok, but he was actually just as thrilled with it as I was. The texture was like clouds as it was set just enough to hold its shape, and the flavor was lovely and lemony without being too assertive. It wasn’t too rich or too filling, and it was a nice way to end the meal.

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