Thursday, July 27, 2023

Blueberry Turnovers

I started writing this blog because of my addiction to cookbooks. I’ve been aware of this addiction, and lived with it, for many, many years now. At one time, there was a cookbook that I wanted more than any other, but it was out of print. It could be found from used book sellers, but a like-new copy was very pricey. That book was The Last Course by Claudia Fleming. I once met Melissa Clark, who co-wrote that book, when she was in Austin for the Texas Book Festival. While sitting and chatting with her, I asked if there would ever be a new edition. She didn’t think so at the time, and I was left wanting an original copy more than ever. Countless times, I allowed my mouse cursor to hover over that “buy” button, but I never clicked. Because I didn’t succumb to splurging on that book, I felt I had my addiction in check. Fast forward to 2019, and a new edition of that very book was published. I purchased that, at a normal price, with no guilt. Incidentally, now that a new edition exists, used copies of the original are much more sanely priced. And last year, to my delight, Claudia Fleming wrote another cookbook. This new book is Delectable: Sweet and Savory Baking, and I received a review copy. My addiction continues, but it’s still in check. I think. 

While the first book focused on her amazing desserts at Gramercy Tavern, this new one is about Fleming’s home baking after moving on from her restaurant North Fork Table. Delectable is a collection of favorite recipes she developed and refined in her home kitchen. So, they are all very doable. I stopped and gawked at the Blackberry Shortcake several times, and the Plum and Almond Cake is screaming to be made soon. There are cookies and brownies and tarts and custards. One of the most involved recipes in the book is also one I have marked to try: Banana Espresso Semifreddo with Butterscotch and Macadamia Nuts. I made the Oatmeal Cookies with Sour Cherries and added ruby chocolate chunks. And the Date, Nut, and Coconut Muffins became a new favorite. Then, when I received local blueberries from my CSA, I turned to the Blueberry Turnovers. 

The turnovers are made with a cornmeal dough, and you want to allow time for it to chill before you roll it out. Also, there’s a typo in the book. Rather than rolling out the dough and cutting it into 2 x 2 1/2 inch rectangles, you want 4 x 5 inch rectangles. It’s a good idea to make the filling in advance so it too can be chilled. Some of the blueberries were combined with lime zest, sugar, lime juice, cornstarch and cooked until bubbly. Off the heat, the rest of the blueberries were added, and then the filling was chilled. Just a spoon of filling was added to each piece of dough before folding the dough over and crimping to seal. I brushed the tops with egg wash and sprinkled on sanding sugar. Then, the turnovers received cuts for venting, and they were baked until golden. 

These tasty treats were almost too easy to pick up and eat with your hands. They disappeared quickly. The cornmeal dough was a great match for the blueberry filling. The Tomato Crostata and Fennel Taralli are pulling me toward a savory recipe next, but the Chocolate Caramel Tart with Peanuts has my attention too. This new book will continue to feed me and my cookbook addiction.

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Thursday, June 15, 2023

Homestyle Braised Tofu

Years ago, when I first became obsessed with cooking, my fascination was with successful results. When I could reproduce what was represented in a recipe without catastrophe, it was thrilling. All these years and many cookbooks later, I’m still delighted by successes with recipes that are new to me. But, I’m now also fascinated by learning new techniques that are better than what I’d been doing previously. I recently had just that kind of experience with a dish from The Vegan Chinese Kitchen by Hannah Che of which I received a review copy. This book showcases the author’s interest in connecting her culture with her desire to follow a plant-based diet. She began to discover vegetarian and vegan traditions in Chinese cooking and then attended the only vegetarian cooking school in China, in Guangzhou. She also spent a year learning about Buddhist vegetarian cooking in Taiwan. She writes: “Becoming vegan didn’t alienate me from my heritage, as I’d feared, but actually motivated me to understand it even more.” Luckily for all of us, her journey has brought about a book full of vibrant, meatless, Chinese recipes. The chapters represent ingredient categories, and right away, I was pulled in by Leafy Greens which is the first. The Blanched Spinach with Sesame Sauce calls for sesame paste, and the book includes a recipe for a homemade version. It was as delicious as the photo in the book looked. A few pages later in the same chapter, I tried the Napa Cabbage and Vermicelli Salad and incorporated some local vegetables that were available at the time. As mentioned in the recipe head note, it was indeed great as leftovers for lunch. From the Stems, Shoots and Flowers chapter, I was inspired to make homemade bean sprouts. And, there’s a Stir-Fried Bean Sprouts with Chinese Chives recipe I have marked. I’m also eager to try the Fish-Fragrant Eggplant so named because fish were often cooked the same way with chiles, ginger, and garlic. There’s a lot to explore in the Tofu chapter as well as in the Tofu Skin chapter. There are mock meats like the Vegetarian Roast Goose made with shitakes and bamboo shoots and no actual goose. The chapter for Gluten, or seitan, includes recipes for making your own plus poached gluten rolls, fried gluten puffs, and raised gluten. You’ll also find mushroom recipes, noodle recipes, dumplings, and a version of Scallion Pancakes that’s a must-try. The dish that taught me an excellent technique, though, was the Homestyle Braised Tofu. 

This recipe involves frying tofu, and let me start by explaining my previous process for frying tofu. In the past, I would press blocks of tofu between plates, weighted down with whatever was handy, to remove water. Then, I would cut the tofu into pieces and pat them dry before tossing them with cornstarch. Without fail, when I slid the coated tofu pieces into hot oil it would spatter wildly making a huge mess all over the top of the stove, the backsplash, the floor in front of the stove, and me and whatever I was wearing. Here, you are instructed to skip pressing the tofu, and just cut it into pieces to be added to boiling, well-salted water. The tofu was left to soak for a few minutes and then removed with a slotted spoon and drained on a towel-lined sheet pan. After draining, the tofu was then fried in a wok. On the Tofu FAQ page, Che explains that no one in China presses tofu. Instead, by soaking it in salted water, cold water inside the tofu is drawn out and the tofu is seasoned. It firms up a bit and fries with much less mess. And, it worked beautifully! No spattering at all. I’m now a convert to this way of frying tofu. For the rest of the recipe, dried shitakes were rehydrated in boiling water, drained, and halved. The mushrooms were stir-fried with garlic, ginger, and green onion before chile bean paste was added followed by soy sauce and water. The fried tofu was added with sliced carrot and cooked for a few minutes before adding snow peas. I was actually able to get local snow peas at Boggy Creek Farm on the day I had planned to make this which was perfect. It was topped with chopped green onion tops before serving. 

The chile bean paste made the dish spicy and full-flavored, and the texture of the fried tofu was just right with crispy edges and chewy centers. For the first time, frying tofu wasn’t a dreadfully messy cooking adventure. I’m definitely willing and able to learn new tricks in the kitchen, and there’s a lot more to learn and taste from this book.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Sun-Dried Tomato, Goat cheese, and Walnut Monkey Bread

I generally, mostly, when not celebrating a special occasion, try to avoid sugar and stick to more savory fare. Armed with a new book devoted to the non-sweet side of baked goods, I was excited to pull out some pans and get the oven pre-heated. Savory Baking is from Erin Jeanne McDowell, and I received a review copy. This isn’t a gimmicky approach of turning sweet recipes into things that aren’t sweet. This is an informative baking book that teaches great technique through recipes that are savory, although there are also some suggestions for making sweet variations. And, in addition to the baked goods, there are recipes for putting them to use. For instance, there’s Green Chile Sausage Gravy to go with Buttermilk Biscuits, Always Salad to go with Flaky Frico, and Mama’s Salmon Sandwiches for Ciabattina Rolls along with quick pickles, sauces, flavored butters, and more. I knew this book was going to deliver great results when I read the thoughtful explanation about when and why to cut butter into flour at the size of walnut halves versus the size of peas versus the texture of cornmeal. Helpful information is found in every chapter like perfecting crepe-making, methods for cooking flatbreads, and strudel dough handling. I especially appreciated the chart that shows how much focaccia dough to make to fit different pan sizes. There were oodles of things I wanted to try, but first was the Pickly Pepper Bialys. I used to eat bialys on occasion when I was a college student in Illinois, but I’d never made my own. They’re very similar to bagels minus the hole in the middle. I have made tortillas many times, but I usually make corn rather that flour. I suspected the recipe for flour tortillas here would be a winner, and I was correct. I went with the spinach version and was delighted with them. The savory pastries all look delicious, and I have my eye on the Croissant Breakfast Pie. Also, the Roasted Garlic Naan, the Pizza Babka, and the Stuffed Pretzels all look hard to resist. I might have to bake page by page through the Snacks, Bites, and Appetizers chapter with Parmesan Palmiers, Jalapeno Pastry Poppers, and Panfried Mushroom Dumplings to name a few options. Circling back to something I’d never made before, I needed to try the savory monkey bread. 

Monkey bread always looks addictive. I’m not sure why I’d never made it before, but this recipe with sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, and walnuts was too interesting to skip. The yeasted dough was made with milk, milk powder, one egg, butter, and creme fraiche. While the dough proofed, the filling was made by cooking sun-dried tomatoes with smashed garlic and olive oil. Off the heat, butter was added with herbs and tomato paste. The mixture was pureed, goat cheese was crumbled and blended with creme fraiche, and walnuts were toasted. Working with the dough was fun and a little messy. First, it was rolled into a big square, and the goat cheese mixture was spread over one half. The walnuts and sesame seeds were sprinkled on the goat cheese. The dough was folded over and pinched around the edges to seal. It was rolled out into a big square again before being cut into strips that were cut into little squares. Each little square of dough was dipped into the sun-dried tomato mixture before being placed in a bundt pan. Then, it was left to rise before baking. 

Of course, the garlic and herbs made the bread small amazing as it baked. And, after it cooled a bit, the tender pull-apart pieces were as addictive as I knew they would be. There are other flavor combinations offered including Gooey Cheese Monkey Bread; Caramelized Onion, Balsamic, and Parmesan Monkey Bread; and Roasted Garlic and Herb Monkey Bread as well as other ways to shape the bread like in pull-apart sheets or circles. I want to try all of those and then use this dough for every other thing that comes to mind. I have lots more savory baking to do.

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Thursday, March 2, 2023

Pimento Cheese Popovers

It was a roasted green beans with sesame seed dressing recipe from Brown Sugar Kitchen that turned me into a big fan of Tanya Holland’s. That seemingly simple dish was so surprisingly delicious, as was everything else I made from the book, that I was hooked. I was delighted to find her new book Tanya Holland’s California Soul, of which I received a review copy, was also packed with great ideas. This new book shares the stories of several Black culinary entrepreneurs from California. Holland turns to these makers for the best, freshest ingredients for her California-style cooking. I especially enjoyed reading about Black Cowboys in California as well as about Antoine Ellis and Cedric Jefferson who operate Compton Farms offering beef, chicken, sausage, and eggs. Four chapters of recipes correspond to the seasons and reflect her local-sourcing through the year. For each season, there are salads, mains, breakfast dishes, vegetable sides, breads, and sweets. I’m already looking ahead to the summery Cornmeal Dough Pizzette with Grilled Beefsteak Tomaotes, Red Onions, and Whipped Goat Cheese. Our local tomatoes will be here before you know it. Until then, the Smoked Trout Spring Salad with Lemon-Mint Vinaigrette featuring fava beans and asparagus will be perfect. Also in the spring chapter, the Buttermilk Muffins with Cinnamon-Cardamom Streusel sound fantastic. It’s nice to see a good variety of plant-based recipes too like Heirloom Red Beans with Farro and Poblano-Red Onion Relish, Stuffed Sweet Potatoes, and Barbecued Pulled Tofu Sandwiches. From the winter chapter, I didn’t get to the Mustard Barbecue-Roasted Quail yet, but I think that dish could cross seasons as could the Dungeness Crab Beignets. I feel like I should wait for fall, though, for the Fresh Gingerbread Cupcakes with Molasses Buttercream and the Brown Butter “Red Velvet” Beet Bars with Sour Cream Frosting. I was tempted by several of the baked goods in the book, but the first one I made was the Pimento Cheese Popovers. 

The pimento cheese was made first. As I often do, I mixed plant-based “dairy” with regular dairy. I shredded cheddar made with milk from pastured cows and used plant-based cream cheese. Also, for the first time, I used Truff hot sauce with a bit of truffle flavor and became instantly hooked. Those ingredients were mixsed with Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, paprika, minced jalapeno, onion, garlic, pickles, and I added chopped pickled jalapeno. For the popovers, the pan should be heated in the oven while the batter is made. Milk, eggs, salt, and flour are all that’s needed for the batter. It was whisked until frothy. The popover pan was removed from the oven, each cup was brushed with oil, and the batter was added. A spoonful of pimento cheese was added to each cup. The popovers baked at 450 degrees F for 15 minutes and then 15 minutes more at 350 degree F. When they came out of the oven, they were removed from the pan, and a small hole was cut in the bottom of each to allow steam to escape. 

I'm no stranger to savory popovers. I’ve made a shrimp-filled version before too. But regarding pimento cheese, I didn’t really grow up with it. I remember encountering it often once I moved to Texas. It seemed to appear as a non-meat option for sandwiches here and there, but I was always a little ambivalent about it. I can say that this version of pimento cheese is definitely my favorite I’ve ever had, and putting it in a popover is genius. Now, I need to decide what I’m making next from this book.

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Thursday, January 5, 2023

Chard Rotolo

I’ve enjoyed all of the Ottolenghi cookbooks, and I was especially intrigued to see a few new ingredients appear in the book Flavor. The reason for these additions was Ixta Belfrage. She was a chef in the Ottolenghi test kitchen at the time, and now she has created a first cookbook of her own, Mezcla: Recipes to Excite. I received a review copy. Mezcla means mix or mixture in Spanish, and it perfectly describes her culinary influences. From the age of three, she grew up in Tuscany but often visited her mother’s family in Brazil. She also lived in Rio de Janeiro for a year. Her paternal grandparents lived outside of Mexico City near the volcano for which she was named. Last, her time working in the Ottolenghi kitchen left its mark as well. Exploring all of those places, and having connections to the foods of each locale led to her very personal style of cooking. The book is divided into two main parts: Everyday and Entertaining plus a chapter for sweets called The End. The Everyday recipes are quicker to prepare than those in the Entertaining chapter. There are clear fusion dishes like Cheesy Roasted Eggplant with Salsa Roja, which is like eggplant parmesan but with an ancho and habanero sauce, and Pappardelle with Chipotle Pancetta Sauce. And, there are flavor-packed dishes that might not fit into neat categories like Piri Piri Tofu over Crispy Orzo, Roasted Cabbage with Mango and Harissa Salsa, and Spicy Ginger Tomato and Sesame Dip. One idea that appears a few times in the book is an “aioli” of cooked onion. In one version, the onion is roasted with garlic before being pureed with olive oil, lemon, and cream. In another, onion is caramelized on the stovetop before being pureed with miso, mustard, milk, olive oil, and lemon. Both sound delicious as spreads for toast, toppings for beans, or to serve with eggs. First, I wanted to try the Chard Rotolo since it’s filled with an arugula paste, and my homegrown arugula was ready just in time. 

There are a few steps for putting this together, but each is simple enough. To begin, the arugula paste was made with lots of arugula, basil, a few anchovies, olive oil, lemon zest, and in place of mascarpone I used plant-based cream cheese. The ingredients were pulsed in a food processor until smooth. Next, water was boiled, chard leaves were briefly dunked in it to soften them. The stems were chopped and added to the arugula paste. I used dried lasagne sheets that I softened in hot water before using, but fresh lasagne sheets would have saved that step. A sheet of parchment paper was placed on the work surface, and layers were built on top. The chard leaves formed the base layer, lasagne sheets came next, then arugula paste was spread on the pasta sheets. The parchment paper made rolling the layers easier. The leaves were tucked into the ends, and the finished roll was lifted, still on the parchment, into a roasting pan. It was covered with foil and baked for 20 minutes before the foil was removed for another 8 minutes of baking. An easy sauce was made with tomato puree, butter, garlic, and oregano. I sliced the rotolo and placed pieces on top of the sauce in a serving dish. 

This recipe was fun to make and delivered on flavor, and the sliced roll was a nice presentation. The arugula paste with anchovies is an element to return to for various uses like spread into sandwiches or layered into traditional lasagne. As with everything in the book, there was adventure for your taste buds and cooking inspiration.

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

Blistered Peppers with Mozzarella and Croutons

Scrappy cooking, or cooking outside the lines, is a fun approach to putting a meal on the table. That’s the style you’ll find in I Dream of Dinner by Ali Slagle. I’ve been cooking through my review copy. The recipes are intended to give “just enough structure to get you to excellent meals, in your kitchen, your way.” They should all require no more than 45 minutes to make and ten or fewer ingredients. What I always enjoy in a cookbook is an offering of alternatives for swapping out ingredients or making little changes, and those suggestions are in abundance throughout the book. The recipes are written to walk you through the entire process of making each dish. So, rather than calling for a pre-prepped ingredient in the list, just the item itself is listed and any prep work is described in the instructions. The goal is to prevent you from seeing a short recipe and not realizing everything in it requires several minutes of attention before you can begin. I just have one little quibble with the way the ingredient lists are written: there are no quantities in the lists. You have to read the recipe to find out how much of each ingredient is needed. But, otherwise, I have been enjoying this “fast and loose way of cooking.” It could be that I have a thing for eggs lately, but I wanted to taste everything in the Eggs chapter. The Fried Egg Salad is a mix of vegetables skewing toward escabeche with lettuce to which chopped fried eggs are added. Alternative routes for this include a romaine salad with olive oil braised chickpeas or a Thai salad among others. I had to try the Crispy Potato, Egg, and Cheese Taco because that combination can do no wrong. Shredded potato was fried in butter in rounds to fit the tortillas; shredded cheese was sprinkled on top; and an egg was cooked on top of the cheese. It was simple and lovely. The Beans chapter is fun too. I have my eye on the Big Beans with Breadcrumbs wherein gigante beans are browned in oil in a hot pan before panko crumbs are added with butter and cooked until they coat the beans which are then served with dressed salad greens. The other chapters include Pasta, Grains, Vegetables, Chicken, Beef Pork and Lamb, and Sea Creatures. I made the Sticky Chicken with Pickled Vegetables, and it’s a delightfully quick and tasty take on teriyaki. Alternatives include making this with tofu or salmon and adding vegetables. I plan to do all those things. The Tomatillo Poached Cod is like a streamlined pozole. I did actually cook dried hominy rather than using canned, but it was still a very approachable dish with great flavor. And, one recipe tip that I will use repeatedly from now on is to add grated zucchini to ground chicken for burgers. The dish I want to tell you more about, though, is Blistered Peppers with Mozzarella and Croutons. 

I had lots of local, sweet peppers in various sizes to use in this dish. The peppers, some chopped and some just stemmed in my case, were cooked in olive oil with garlic, smoked paprika, and red pepper flakes in a Dutch oven in the oven until the peppers were blistered. Next, almonds were chopped and tossed with bread chunks and olive oil. The mix was seasoned with salt and pepper, and it was baked until golden. Some of the excess oil from the peppers was poured over the bread and almonds, and minced garlic and sherry vinegar were added as well. Last, fresh mozzarella was cut into pieces and layered with the peppers, chickpeas, and croutons and almonds on a serving platter. 

This dish was a delightful mix of flavors and textures. And, like all the other recipes, it came with great ideas to repurpose in others. The idea of using warm excess oil from the peppers to dress the croutons and almonds could apply in so many other dishes. And, that’s the intention here. The recipes inspire all sorts of directions for experimentation, and also happen to be delicious just as they are.

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Thursday, October 6, 2022

Salt-and-Pepper Cod with Turmeric Noodles

When I flip through a new cookbook and just know the dishes shown are going to taste great, it’s a sure sign I’ll be spending a lot of time with that book. That’s what happened with the review copy I received of The Cook You Want to Be by Andy Baraghani. His food is self-described as maybe “a touch too lemony;” he claims to use “a ridiculous amount of herbs;” and he prefers “vegetables to meat.” So, it’s pretty much perfect to my taste. Every dish seems to include some kind of special touch that boosts the flavor, and there’s a chapter for just that purpose. The Mighty Little Recipes chapter includes sauces and toppings that add that extra something. My first stop in the book was to try the Creamy Nuoc Cham from this chapter. Pureed cashews give it the creamy texture, and I used it as a dipping sauce for roasted shrimp. So many things caught my eye as I read through the book. All of the egg recipes did, especially the Crispy Chickpea Bowls with Lemony Yogurt and Chile-Stained Fried Eggs. I stopped twice in the Snacks to Share chapter to try the Broken Feta with Sizzled Mint and Walnuts and the Nuts to Drink With. The mix of lemongrass, garlic, red pepper flakes, and honey made those nuts particularly addictive. The Salads chapter delivers with Parmesan-Kale Chip Salad with Tangy Mustard Dressing and Juicy Tomatoes with Italian Chile Crisp among several others. The Vegetables chapter shows that creamy nuoc cham served with Charred Brussels Sprouts as well as Roasted Carrots with Hot Green Tahini, and now I can’t wait for those vegetables to come into season. I could live in the Grains chapter and can’t wait to try the Fregola with Buttery Clams and Yuzu Kosho. I had lots of local zucchini on hand, so I made the Farro with Melty Zucchini and Sumac. The Castelvetrano olives, red wine vinegar, and sumac made it delicious. There are also meat recipes and a slim chapter for sweets. But, next, I turned to the Salt-and-Pepper Cod with Turmeric Noodles. 

The dish is an adaptation of cha ca la vong but with an addition of butter in the noodles. Here, the nuoc cham with fresh chiles, garlic, fish sauce, and lime juice is not made creamy. It’s a runny sauce to drizzle over the fish and noodles. Grated ginger and garlic were coated on pieces salt-and-pepper-seasoned cod before the fish was seared in a hot pan. Dried vermicelli noodles were cooked and drained and then tossed in melted butter with ground turmeric. To serve, the noodles formed a bed for pieces of cod that were topped with lots of chopped herbs and green onion. Dill is traditional here but I used a mix of herbs. More herbs on the side are fun to add to each bite along with the sauce. 

Like all the recipes in this book, this one was uncomplicated but flavor-forward. It’s easy enough to be on regular rotation, but pretty enough to impress. And, that’s exactly the point of these dishes. As the author says, they should impress “not just your friends but yourself!” And, they will.

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