Saturday, July 31, 2010

Swordfish with Peperonata

When we received some fresh, colorful peppers from our CSA last week, I knew how I wanted to use them. They were mostly sweet peppers in red, orange, and pale yellow or almost white, and there were some jalapenos too. My plan was to cook them slowly with onion and tomato to make a peperonata to serve on swordfish like I saw in Eating Local. I warned you I’d be using this book a lot. Now, about that swordfish. I admit I’m a worrier when it comes to buying fish. I always check in with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list before making a purchase. The news changes from time to time, and I like to find out specifically which fish from which sources are the best options. As it happened, on the day I was planning to shop for swordfish, I learned about the Whole Foods MSC-Certified harpoon-caught swordfish program, and you can read about it here and here. There’s a short season for this type of sustainably caught swordfish, and I heard about it just in time. Also, on the topic of choosing fish responsibly, Chef Rick Moonen recently offered a list of five fish that deserve a break in the 5@5 post on Eatocracy. One of his recommendations was wild-caught swordfish.

In Eating Local, the swordfish is grilled, but I was too lazy to cook outside in the heat and just seared ours on the stove. The peperonata was started by sauteing onion and garlic in a large skillet over low heat. Grated tomato was added and allowed to cook for five minutes. Then, sliced bell peppers, and in my case sliced jalapenos as well, were added with some red pepper flakes. The skillet was covered, and everything simmered gently for about 25 minutes. Capers and spoonful of white wine vinegar were added, and it was seasoned with salt and pepper. Some peperonata was scooped onto each piece of swordfish and topped with basil.

A nice mix of cooked peppers is a happy sight for me, but this assemblage of colors and flavors worked especially well. There was layered flavor with some sweetness, some spice, and then the acidity of the vinegar and capers plus the added heat from the pepper flakes. Swordfish is a sturdy, mild fish that carries other robust flavors well, and the peperonata worked perfectly with it.



Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pretzel Bites

When I read a cookbook, I always take mental notes of the things I really, really want to make. Admittedly, I have a messy, confused pile of notes in my head at this point, but I eventually remember them when an occasion for each arrives. Sometimes it takes a while though. I’ve had the lovely and thorough Martha Stewart's Hors D'oeuvres Handbook since 1999, and I just finally made the pretzel bites that looked so tasty when I first saw them in that book over ten years ago. There’s one less note cluttering up my brain now. I feel better. It’s nice to make room in there for new notes. I remember when I first saw these addictive, little snacks. They looked great for a party, and I thought they’d partner perfectly with ice cold beer. We had a few friends over for happy hour at our house a couple of weeks ago, and I got to try these mini pretzels at last. They’re made from an easy dough that’s cut into bite-sized pieces that are boiled and baked. You can top them however you choose, and I made two versions using grated parmesan for one and a mixture of crushed fennel seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and salt for the other.

The yeast dough, which was very much like pizza dough, was made in a stand mixer, and then it was kneaded on a floured board until smooth. It was left to rise for about an hour and a half. The dough was divided into 16 portions which were each rolled into a rope and then cut into three-quarter inch pieces. The pieces were boiled in batches of about 15 at a time for one minute in water with baking soda added, and then they were placed on oiled baking sheets. The boiled pieces were brushed with an egg wash, topped as desired, and then baked in a 450 degree F oven for about 15 minutes.

This recipe makes a lot of pretzel bites, but they do disappear quickly. It’s impossible to stop popping them into your mouth when they’re warm from the oven. They’re soft on the inside with a little crunch on the surface, and the salty toppings keep you coming back for more. The only criticism I have is that they’re not as amazing after they’ve sat for a few hours and even less so the next day. Re-warming them in the oven for about five minutes fixes that by bringing back that nice surface crunch, so I recommend it before serving if you’ve made them in advance. Then, don’t bother counting how many you’ve eaten, just refill the tray as needed.

I’m submitting this to Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.




Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Carolyn Jung, What Are You Reading?

Carolyn Jung always has the latest news on chefs, restaurants, cookbooks, and products. She’s a James Beard award winner for feature writing about restaurants/chefs and the former food writer/editor of the San Jose Mercury News. She’s a freelance food writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco magazine, Coastal Living, Food Arts, and other publications. She has judged the Pillsbury Bake-Off and was a judge for the 2009 James Beard Foundation Cookbook Awards. Her writing brings food to life whether she’s describing a cupcake or the work a world renowned chef on her site Food Gal, and you can now subscribe to her recently launched newsletter for more food news each week. I had a feeling Carolyn could suggest some good titles, so I asked her what are you reading?

Carolyn:
Knives at Dawn (Free Press) by Andrew Friedman.
This is like a culinary David vs. Goliath. It tells the story of what Timothy Hollingsworth, now chef de cuisine of the French Laundry, survived as he competed for the United States in the 2009 Bocuse d’Or, the Olympics of cooking. Going against other chefs, who not only had competed before but had years to practice for this grueling, stressful event, the young Hollingsworth was the decided underdog as he worked to complete his elaborate show platters with help from his even younger and even less experienced assistant, Adina Guest, a commis at the French Laundry. It’s a page-turner, filled with suspense, hilarity (see how the gregarious Daniel Boulud always manages to take control of a bad situation), and how-could-you moments, such as when Hollingsworth decides to use a brand-new knife on the first day of the competition. You come away with even more respect for chefs like these who work so hard to be at the top of their game day in and day out.

Medium Raw (Ecco) by Anthony Bourdain.
I’ve been a fan of Bourdain’s since his Kitchen Confidential days, and was lucky enough to interview him over lunch a few years ago as passersby yelled, "Love your show!" and a shy server came up to him to ask him for his autograph. This book can be a little too all-over-the-place at times, as if he were writing in a stream of consciousness between takes of his popular No Reservations show. But what we’ve come to love in Bourdain – the snarky, cursing, no-holds-barred curmudgeon of the kitchen – is still evident in full force. Who else could so aptly describe Chef David Chang as sounding like a "Tourette’s-afflicted Marine?" Or so wonderfully capture how a seemingly thankless job as the fish cutter at Le Bernardin can become elevated to one of utmost respect and sheer awe in the hands of the dedicated, hard-working Justo Thomas, who has not only been doing that job for six years, but doing it like no one else ever has. I love reading Bourdain for his laugh-out-loud sarcastic zingers, but also for the unexpected peeks into the recesses of the restaurant world that nobody else focuses on.

Hungry (Berkeley Books) by Sheila and Lisa Himmel.
Normally, a book chronicling the travails of anorexia and bulimia would probably not make my list of top summer reads. But this book is different, because it is the gripping, true story of a restaurant critic whose daughter developed anorexia during her college years. Imagine the irony of getting to eat at some of the best restaurants as part of your job, only to come home to a daughter who was wasting away before your eyes because she refused to eat. Full disclosure: I worked with Sheila Himmel at the Food section of the San Jose Mercury News, when she first wrote a front-page story about her daughter’s plight, which later led to the development of this book. “Hungry’’ is a brave look at a frightening eating disorder, and a reminder that food is not merely all glamorous and hip as it’s so often portrayed in society these days, but a topic that can spur great anxiety, fear, and pain for many.

Thank you for participating, Carolyn. Check back to see who answers the question next time and what other books are recommended.

Previous WAYR posts:
Jaden Hair
Michael Ruhlman
Monica Bhide
Michael Natkin
Sara Roahen
Andrea Nguyen
David Lebovitz
Rick Bayless
Tara Austen Weaver
Mollie Katzen
Deborah Madison
Soup Peddler
Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan
Robb Walsh
Kim Severson
David Leite
Dan Lepard


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Roasted Corn and Tomato Lasagnettes

Making fresh pasta is, I think, the most fun of all cooking tasks. I also really enjoy rolling out cookie dough and cutting shapes. And, strangely, I find using my cherry pitter and having the pits shoot out of each little fruit to be an entertaining thing to do. There are a lot of enjoyable cooking tasks coming to think of it, but still, making pasta is the best. It’s the simplest of doughs with just eggs, salt, and flour. It miraculously forms into a pliable and easily workable substance. You divide it into whatever portions you find manageable and begin rolling it thinner and thinner. It works. You keep rolling, it keeps becoming thinner and longer. Then, you cut it however you want, and cutting it is so simple. Kurt thought I might have been losing my sanity as I repeatedly asked him if he wanted to roll some of the pasta through the machine. I didn’t want to deprive him of the fun, but he didn’t seem to get it. He kept answering 'I’m good.' I’ve tried a few different pasta dough recipes over the years, and this was the second time I’ve made the fresh pasta recipe from Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition. It’s a rich dough that forms well and is easily worked. The lasagnettes recipe is also found in that book.

The dough was rolled into long lasagna sheets which were cut down to about twelve-inch pieces for cooking. The cut sheets were boiled for about three minutes, transferred to ice water to stop the cooking, and then they were cut into three-inch rounds. I stored the scraps of pasta in a bag in the freezer for some future use in which the shape won’t matter. The cut pasta rounds were covered with a damp towel and refrigerated until the other parts of the dish were ready.

This is going to sound like a lot of work, but each step is easy and a lot of things can be prepared in advance if you prefer. Corn was cut from the cob, two cups of raw kernels were set aside, and the rest was roasted until browned in spots. Then, tomatoes were roasted with thyme and olive oil, and I cheated a little here. In the book, large tomatoes are suggested, and they are to be cut into quarters and seeded so that you are left with petal shapes. I used halved cherry tomatoes instead and didn’t seed them. Both of the roasted items could be prepped a day or two ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. Returning to the raw corn kernels, they were cooked with butter and then milk was added. Once the kernels were tender, the corn and milk mixture was pureed in a blender and then strained. A bechamel was made by starting with a roux which was whisked into the strained corn puree. One more element was needed, and that was toasted panko crumbs which were tossed with freshly grated parmigiano. Then, assembly began. Pasta rounds were set on a baking sheet, each was topped with some bechamel, then some roasted corn and roasted tomatoes, then another pasta round, more bechamel, more roasted corn, some of the bread crumb mixture, and then another layer was added. A dribble of water was added to the baking sheet, the stacked lasagnettes were covered with oiled parchment, and the sheet pan was placed in the oven for fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, a simple butter sauce was made by whisking a little butter at a time into warm water in a saucepan over low heat.

To serve, the butter sauce was placed on the plate, a lasagnette was set into the puddle of sauce, and it was garnished with fresh basil. It was all a little fussy, and there were several steps to this preparation, but you can actually build the mini, stacked lasagnas and keep them refrigerated for a full day before heating and serving which makes this a good idea for a dinner party. The stacked towers hold their shape well as the bechamel is thick enough not to ooze out and cause the upper levels to slide. It’s also a ridiculously delicious bechamel with the fresh corn puree. That being said, now that I’ve learned the process for making stable, little, lasagna towers, I’m thinking of other seasonal ingredients to use later in the year. Roasted butternut squash rounds with a parmigiano bechamel comes to mind. Whatever filling you choose, you should try these, and definitely enjoy the opportunity to make your own fresh pasta.



Thursday, July 22, 2010

Iced Oatmeal Applesauce Cookies and Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

You know I love it when I get to bake some cookies and then promptly get them out of my house. I don’t need those little, tempting treats sitting on my kitchen counter taunting me every time I walk through the room. And, putting them in the freezer is no better. In this weather, frozen cookies are just as irresistible as the ones on the counter. So, when my brother sent me his cookie wish list, I was game. It was an opportunity to whip out the Martha Stewart's Cookies book again, try a couple more recipes, and then box up the results and ship them away. The book has 175 cookie recipes, and I’ve joked that I’ll eventually try all of them. I just counted, and I’ve made sixteen so far. Although not all of them are mentioned on my site, I haven’t encountered a disappointment yet. My brother’s list went something like this: oatmeal raisin, sugar cookies, brownies, chocolate chip, peanut butter cookies. I took some liberties with flavors, naturally, and decided to make the iced oatmeal applesauce cookies and peanut butter swirl brownies.

The iced oatmeal and applesauce cookies are a rather healthy option with only half a stick of butter, one egg, and a half cup of applesauce. Those ingredients were mixed with brown sugar and granulated sugar before the dry ingredients including oats, of course, were added. Last, golden raisins were folded into the dough, and the cookies were baked and cooled. If they weren’t delicious enough on their own, the drizzled maple glaze on top made them stellar. These could easily be one of my favorite cookies from this book.

Up next were the peanut butter swirl brownies. Making a simple batter in a bowl with no need for a mixer is always fun. Unsweetened and semisweet chocolates were melted with butter and then combined with the dry ingredients. Sugar, eggs, and vanilla were added, and that was set aside. Peanut butter was mixed with melted butter, confectioner’s sugar, salt, and vanilla for the filling. Part of the chocolate batter was poured into the prepared, square baking pan. The peanut butter filling was globbed here and there on top of it, and then the remaining batter was poured over the filling. The filling was swirled into the batter with a knife, and the brownies baked for 45 minutes. They came out looking decorative all on their own with no need for added embellishment, and with swooping peanut butter throughout the chocolate brownies, the flavor was perfect. Getting to bake some cookies, have a little taste of them, and then, poof, have all traces gone from the house is my ideal arrangement.



Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Red Rice Salad with Blueberries

I just learned about AmazonEncore which is a new publishing program that re-introduces overlooked books to wider audiences. Books are chosen based on customer reviews and are then re-published and distributed via Amazon, the Kindle Store, Audible.com, and independent bookstores. I was sent a review copy of The Berry Bible by Janie Hibler which is a James Beard Foundation book award nominee and was just re-released by AmazonEncore. It’s part berry encyclopedia covering every berry you can name and several you might not know and part recipe book including sweet and savory dishes for all those berries. And, you could win a copy of the book. Just leave a comment with your email on this post before Saturday 24 July 2010 at 8:00am when I’ll randomly select a winner and contact that winner for mailing information. AmazonEncore will ship the book anywhere, so this giveaway is open to everyone.

As I read through the encyclopedia portion of the book, I learned the differences between highbush blueberries, the kind that grow in Texas and many other parts of the US, and lowbush blueberries which are found in the northeastern US and in British Columbia. I also learned about cloudberries which grow in sub-arctic regions and have a very high level of vitamin C. Jostaberries are a hybrid of currants and gooseberries, and the information about every berry’s history, habitat, and common names in different parts of the world can be found here. The types of recipes you’ll find are categorized by beverages, breads, soups and salads, main courses, sauces, preserving, frozen treats, pies and tarts, cakes, and other sweet treats. A few dishes caught my eye like grilled paprika chicken with blackberry sauce, American barbeque sauce made with marionberries or blackberries, blueberry and toasted walnut conserve, spicy cranberry-horseradish relish, and chocolate-espresso hazelnut cake with raspberry glaze. There are recipes for all seasons as frozen and dried berries are mentioned in addition to fresh. I was intrigued by the savory use of berries in the salads and main courses, and my first stop was the red rice salad with blueberries.

I used red jasmine rice, but I think brown rice would be delicious here as well. The cooked rice was cooled and combined with toasted hazelnuts, dried cranberries, dried chopped apricots, and minced red onion. The dressing was made with lime juice, honey, ginger, lime zest, olive oil, and salt and pepper. The dressing was added to the salad with fresh blueberries which were gently folded into the mix. Then, the rice salad was served over lightly dressed salad greens. It seemed like this might be a rather sweet salad with so much dried fruit in addition to the fresh blueberries, but the onion and olive oil balanced the flavors well. The varied textures from chewy fruits to crunchy nuts and the mix of sweet, tart, and savory tastes made this salad great. Now, I’m thinking ahead to fall when I can try the persimmon, apple, and pickled cranberry salad and to next spring for the roasted asparagus with raspberry vinaigrette.


UPDATE:
Random number generator selected "10." Esi from Dishing Up Delights has won the book. Congratulations Esi!



Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mai Tai

I wish my toes were in the sand as I write this. What would be better than sitting on a beach and sipping a Mai Tai? Unfortunately, I can’t get to a beach this week, so I’ll have to settle for sipping a Mai Tai while sitting in my backyard. When I read the article about Mai Tais on The Atlantic last month, I realized that this cocktail could be a vacation in a glass. A regular weekend quickly becomes more interesting when you have a fruity, tropical cocktail in hand. The article I read mentioned drinks that are like liquid candy and drinks that allow you to taste the rum and tartness. The recipe offered was of the latter type, and I had to try it. It’s made with lime juice, Cointreau, simple syrup, rum, and Orgeat syrup. I’d heard of Orgeat before, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find it locally. First, it’s pronounced or-zha not or-geet, and the important thing about it is its almond flavor. My first stop in my search for it was a well-stocked liquor store, where the person who helped me locate it mispronounced it. Not a good sign. The product I was shown was a big bottle full of artificial flavors, etc. I decided to keep looking. I checked online and learned that Monin brand makes an Orgeat syrup, and it has the exact same ingredients as their almond syrup. So, when I located Monin almond, I went with that.

Now, the recipe from The Atlantic was very specific about the type of rum to use as Appleton 21-year old was mentioned by name. I wasn’t feeling that picky since I had some good, aged rum in the house which we had poured into a decanter, and for the life of me I can’t remember what brand it is. The recipe also suggests floating Demerara rum on top as an option. I skipped that option. Aged rum, lime juice, Cointreau, simple syrup, and Orgeat or almond syrup were placed in a cocktail shaker with ice, it was given a good shaking, and it was poured over crushed ice in a glass. I did follow the instructions regarding garnishing with mint since the mint in my garden hasn’t died yet this year.

One sip of this, and you’ll imagine the sound of waves crashing nearby. It’s the Orgeat that gives it that tropical vibe. It blends with the tart lime and rum and adds a distinctive, happy, rounded flavor. My drink is ready and all I need is the surf, the sand, and a palm tree or two.



Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dan Lepard, What Are You Reading?

Dan Lepard is known for how well he knows bread and his artisanal approach to baking. I’ve baked from and mentioned the books Exceptional Breads and Exceptional Cakes which he co-wrote, and his other books include Baking with Passion and The Handmade Loaf. Most recently, Dan has written the British chapter in the French language Dictionnaire Universel du Pain to be published by Laffont Paris in October 2010. He also has two new books that will be published next year including a collection of recipes from his Guardian newspaper column, and the long-awaited book on traditional British baking. And, you'll find great information about baking and recipes on his site. He’s an incredible baker, writer, and photographer, and I knew he’d have an interesting answer when I asked him what are you reading?

Dan:
Most of my time out of the kitchen is spent studying old baking methods in cookbooks and manuscripts, even though my regular work is about trying to write recipes that have a modern, inventive edge to them. Dipping into the past is a reminder of all the ideas that have been stirred into our baking soup over the centuries. Yep, for all the tweeting, blogging, and general web stuff I do, I’m still sat reading old books.


I’m always on the hunt for things to eat with bread, so I’ve been working my way through a series from the 1960s called The Compleat Imbiber, filled with essays on food and drink, edited by Cyril Ray. The design and typography has a good boldness to it, and just looking at volume five on my desk here, there are essays by Elizabeth David on first eating pork cooked with prunes at the R├┤tisserie Tourangelle, in Tours, France, and how she came to write her own recipe for it. Another by Isak Dinesen on wine drinking by soldiers in biblical Palestine. It’s all stirring and fascinating.

The other book here is a reprint by Persephone Books, in Bloomsbury, London of Florence White’s Good Things in England, first published in 1932. It’s a collection of recipes and thoughts on cooking and local traditions around England, most of them lost and forgotten. It’s a book I reread often, and this summer it’s on my desk again. Simple recipes for a North Yorkshire fruit bread rich with allspice, pork lard, and raisins, another for a raised red gooseberry pie from Sussex.




Thank you for participating, Dan. Check back to see who answers the question next time and what other books are recommended.

Previous WAYR posts:
Jaden Hair
Michael Ruhlman
Monica Bhide
Michael Natkin
Sara Roahen
Andrea Nguyen
David Lebovitz
Rick Bayless
Tara Austen Weaver
Mollie Katzen
Deborah Madison
Soup Peddler
Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan
Robb Walsh
Kim Severson
David Leite


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Key Lime Bundt Cake with Margarita Frosting

I’m always mentioning my CSA, but what I currently receive isn’t a share from a single farm. I’ve been receiving a box every other week from Farmhouse Delivery, and they combine produce, meat, dairy, eggs, and local artisanal products in a flexible plan. The boxes are delivered to your door, and you can choose to receive one every week rather than every other, but that would be a little too much for a two-person household. Because the items are gathered from a few different local farms, each box is filled with varied and interesting things. There's always something exciting and unexpected. A couple of weeks ago, our delivery included some key limes, and a few ideas came to mind immediately. I knew I’d seen a key lime cake I really wanted to try. After a little searching, I found it again on Cookie Madness. This is a great summer cake. It’s a sturdy but tender bundt with lots of flavor from the key lime juice and zest in the batter, and the frosting has all the basic ingredients of a good margarita.

The cake is made with cake flour which gives it a velvety texture. The dry ingredients were sifted together, and then eggs were separated. The egg whites were beaten to soft peaks in a separate bowl and set aside. The yolks were combined with softened butter, sugar, and lime zest. As usual, I used all butter here rather than a mix of butter and shortening. The dry ingredients were added to the butter mixture alternately with lime juice and sour cream. You know a cake is going to be good when sour cream’s involved. Last, the egg whites were folded into the batter, and it was poured into a prepared bundt pan. For the frosting, softened cream cheese, butter, and confectioner’s sugar were mixed, and tequila, Grand Marnier, and lime juice were added. The frosting should be thin enough to run down the sides of the cake but thick enough to hold some shape. Tasting and testing the frosting is a fun process as you can add additional lime juice, tequila, or confectioner’s sugar to achieve the margarita taste you want and the thickness that seems right.

Bundt cakes are so low-maintenance with their built-in good looks from the pan in which they’re baked and their need for just a simple drizzly frosting at the most. Add to that great flavor like key lime, and you’ve got a fantastic dessert. Getting to use some locally grown citrus in this delicious cake was a bonus for me, and well, the familiar flavor of a margarita was, you know, icing on the cake.



Saturday, July 10, 2010

Korean Tofu Tacos

In May, Food and Wine magazine included a story about different tacos from across the US. Most of the tacos in the story were traditional al pastor, chicken, or fish varieties, but they also showed a fun fusion option. Here in Austin, we enjoy a delightful plethora of taco opportunities of all kinds, and we even have a trailer that offers up Korean-Mexican fusion fare. Chi’lantro, the name being a melding of kimchi and cilantro, moves around town to different locations, and I haven’t been able to visit the trailer yet. So, when I saw these crunchy tofu tacos with kimchi in the magazine, they were destined for my dinner table. First, I needed to visit my nearby Korean market for kimchi and gochujang. As luck would have it, the only msg-free kimchi available that day was a big jar. I asked around about how to use some of it quickly to regain refrigerator space and got some great ideas like kimchi burgers and kimchi soup. Now, my big jar will be empty in no time.

To make these tacos, tofu was drained, patted dry, and cut into one-inch cubes. A paste was made from Korean chile powder, gochujang, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and salt. In a separate bowl, cornstarch was combined with Korean chile powder and salt. The tofu cubes were tossed in the chile paste mixture and then in the cornstarch. Then, it was fried in hot oil for three minutes or less until browned and crunchy on the surface. Tortillas were filled with the fried tofu, hoisin sauce, kimchi, sliced pear, green onions, and chopped peanuts. I added a little extra gochujang as well.

I was completely thrilled with these tacos. This mix of spicy, tangy, crunchy, savory, and sweet was a big winner. I should have thought of this sooner, but an interesting substitution for the pear slices, and to extend the fusion concept, would be jicama. I also think this taco filling would be fun and delicious placed on top of crisp tostadas. Clearly, this is somthing I’ll be making again and again.



Blogging tips