Thursday, June 6, 2019

Aloo (Potato) Parathas with Cilantro Chutney

I had a little cookbook fling recently. I started cooking from Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family and couldn’t stop. I blame it on the cilantro chutney. I made a batch and got hooked on it. I wanted to pour it on everything at every meal. My only regret is that this happened just as my garden cilantro stopped producing in the heat of spring. This new book is from Priya Krishna, and I received a review copy. It’s a collection of her mother’s recipes that are mostly traditional Indian dishes recreated with other culinary influences here and there. There are roti pizzas, a tomato rice dish with cheddar cheese, and feta used in place of paneer. It’s Indian food the way the Krishna family came to make it in their home in Dallas, Texas. The dishes are mostly vegetarian with one short chapter that involves chicken and fish. And, let me just walk you through what I’ve already tried from the book. The Lima Bean and Basil Dip is a tasty and easy snack that’s perfect for cucumber slices or crackers or flatbread. Next, I had to try the Spinach and Feta Cooked like Saag Paneer. I used a mix of spinach and kale, and a mix of tofu and feta. The use of feta was inspired by a Krishna family trip to Greece, and it is a delicious twist. I’ll be returning to this recipe often. A few days later, I made the one and only chicken recipe in the book: Garlic-Ginger Chicken with Cilantro and Mint. The chicken was marinated in a lovely mix of garlic, ginger, mint, cilantro, oil, and lemon juice along with coriander, turmeric, red chile powder, and amchur. After cooking the chicken, I used it in roti tacos, as suggested in the book, with an avocado and tomato kachumber, or salad, and amazing cilantro chutney. This was how I became dependent on cilantro chutney. I even got inspired to make homemade roti although that recipe isn’t in the book. I just really enjoy making various flatbreads. The flavorful, marinated chicken with the fresh avocado salad and bright and spicy cilantro chutney became an ideal way to fill a roti taco. In fact, Kurt requested we have that meal every Sunday night. I should point out there are several Kachumber recipes in the book like Beet and Avocado Kachumber, Daikon Radish Kachumber, and Avocado Corn and Tomato Kachumber. I adapted the latter since I didn’t have corn on hand that day. The leftover roti I made became Roti Pizzas inspired by the book. I used different toppings than the ones listed, but loved the idea and the result. There are also several pages I’ve marked for more things I haven’t cooked just yet. Because I do so enjoy making flatbreads, the next recipe I tried was the Aloo (Potato) Parathas with, of course, more cilantro chutney. 

I was torn between making the Pesarattu (Lentil Pancakes) and the Aloo Parathas but decided on the Parathas since new potatoes had just come into season here. I brought some home from Boggy Creek Farm. The first step is to cook the potatoes and peel them once cooled. Next, the dough was made with whole wheat flour, water, a little oil, and salt. The dough was mixed and left to rest in the refrigerator. To make the filling, the peeled potatoes were mashed with red chile powder, crushed fennel seeds, clilantro, and salt, and I added cooked and chopped kale. There’s a tip in the head note about adding cheddar cheese, and that inspired me to make a different addition. I do add kale to everything. The filling was mixed until no lumps remained. The dough and filling were each divided into equal portions and rolled into balls. Working with one portion at a time, the dough was rolled into a round, and a potato filling ball was placed on top before pinching the dough up and around the ball of filling. The sealed dough pouch was turned over and then rolled out into a round. The formed parathas were cooked on a hot griddle with just a brushing of oil for a few minutes per side. 

The crispy edges gave way to tender centers, and I loaded so much cilantro chutney on each bite it spilled as I ate. It couldn’t be helped at that point of my addiction to the stuff. They were as fun to make as to eat, but I could say that about everything I’ve tried from the book. With these recipes and the suggestions for ways to combine and use them, this cookbook fling could go on a while. 

Aloo (Potato) Parathas
Excerpted from Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family © 2019 by Priya Krishna with Ritu Krishna. Photography © 2019 by Mackenzie Kelley. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. 

Makes 4 parathas 

When I go back home to Dallas, my priorities are usually something like the following: Get eyebrows threaded, go to the Galleria mall with mom, and eat aloo parathas at my aunt Rachna’s house. I typically text Rachna, who is one of my mom’s sisters-in-law, the minute I land at DFW airport, and we set a date for me to come over and eat aloo parathas while we gossip about her son Ruchir’s love life. Aloo parathas are a simple dish—just bread filled with potatoes and spices. But the beauty of Rachna’s aloo parathas is the ratio. You know how people always complain that crab cakes have too much breading and not enough crab? This is also a common complaint about aloo parathas: too much dough, too little potato. Rachna’s version, however, is about 80 percent potato, 20 percent dough—the ideal proportions for ensuring a soft, satiny paratha. There are a lot of steps, but don’t be intimidated! If you can operate a rolling pin, you can make paratha. And when serving these, our family doesn’t abide by any kind of formalities—as soon as one is ready, someone claims it so it can be eaten while piping hot, with Cilantro Chutney or whatever condiment (achar, raita, etc.) happens to be around that day. 

TIP: Want to give your aloo paratha a little twist? Add 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese to the potatoes in step 2. 

For the dough 
1 cup whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting 
1/2 cup room-temperature water 
1/4 teaspoon vegetable oil 
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
For the filling 
2 medium russet potatoes, boiled, cooled, and peeled 
1/4 teaspoon red chile powder 
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed into a powder (this is easiest in a mortar and pestle) 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (stems and leaves) 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/4 cup vegetable oil, for basting the paratha (set aside in a small bowl for easy access) 

1. MAKE THE DOUGH: In a medium bowl, mix all the dough ingredients together and knead the dough with your hands until it is smooth and well incorporated. The dough should be soft, slightly sticky, and not too wet. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes. 
2.WHILE THE DOUGH IS RESTING, MAKE THE FILLING: In another medium bowl, using your hands ora potato masher, mash the potatoes, then use a wooden spoon or spatula to fold in the red chile powder, fennel, cilantro, and salt. Aim for the consistency of smooth mashed potatoes. (If the potatoes aren’t smooth enough, the dough will be hard to roll.) Use a fork to get rid of any lumps. 
3.Divide the dough and mashed potatoes into 4 equal portions (as in, 4 portions of dough and 4 portions of potatoes) and roll each portion into a ball. 
4. Generously sprinkle a clean work surface with flour. Lightly coat each dough ball with flour, then use a rolling pin to roll out each ball into a 6-inch circle, rotating the dough as you roll to maintain the circular shape, and adding more flour to your work surface as needed to prevent sticking. 
5.Working one at a time, place a potato ball in the center of a dough circle, then pull the edges of the doughover the top of the ball, like you would enclose a parcel, and pinch together to seal. Make sure the potato filling is nicely sealed in or it will spill out during the next step. 
6. Flip the dough-potato ball over so the seal is on the bottom and use a rolling pin to roll it out into an 8-inch circle. Repeat filling and rolling until you have four 8-inch rounds. 
7.COOK THE PARATHA: Warm a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skillet is thoroughly heated, carefully place a paratha in the pan. Cook for 2 minutes, until the underside starts to brown and blister, then flip. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of the oil to the surface of the paratha and spread it around with a spoon. Cook for 2 minutes, until the other side is starting to brown and blister, then flip the paratha again. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of the oil to the top of the paratha, spread it around, and cook until the underside is golden brown with dark brown spots, about 1 minute, then flip again. Cook the other side until golden brown with dark brown spots, no more than 1 minute. Transfer the paratha to a plate. Repeat to cook the remaining parathas. If there is residual flour in the pan, make sure to wipe it out before adding the next paratha. 

Cilantro Chutney 
Makes 1/2 cup (can easily be multiplied) 

Cilantro chutney is the king of chutneys. Why? Because it goes with any and all Indian food: samosas, dal roti, any kind of chaat (the Indian genre of snacks) name it. During the photo shoot for this book, my mom churned out literal buckets of the stuff every single day because (1) it’s delicious, (2) it’s photogenic, and (3) we drizzle it on everything. I love this simple, OG recipe from my mom because it retains the pleasant grassiness from the cilantro and has a creeping, lingering heat (though you can nix the chiles if creeping heat is not your thing). There are also many ways to customize it—add mint for fresher notes, or nuts for richness. Use it as a salsa, a sauce for grilled chicken, or a topping for Roti Pizza. 

1 bunch fresh cilantro, preferably organic, stems and leaves roughly chopped (about 4 cups) 
1 small Indian green chile or serrano chile, roughly chopped 
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from about 1 lime), plus more if needed 
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar 
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more if needed 

1. In a blender, combine all the ingredients and blend until smooth. If the mixture is too thick to blend, add a few drops of water to get it going. Taste and adjust the salt and/or lime juice, if needed. This chutney keeps, refrigerated in an airtight container, for up to 2 days.

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Big Sur Chocolate Chip Cookies

I remember when I first became aware of Maida Heatter. It was in the late 1990s, and a friend gave me her copy of Saveur magazine. She knew I was getting more and more interested in cooking, and she told me about some of the great stories in that issue of the magazine. It was a really fantastic issue. There were stories about New Orleans restaurants with recipes, and Thanksgiving leftovers recipes, and there was a story about Maida Heatter. I instantly became a huge fan and continue to be all these years later. It was her Polka Dot Cheesecake recipe in that article that fascinated me. I tried making it as soon as I had a chance, and it turned out perfectly. The instructions worked exactly as they should, and it was the most delightful thing I’d ever baked. That recipe also appears in the book Maida Heatter’s Cakes. And now, it appears in her latest book, Happiness Is Baking: Cakes, Pies, Tarts, Muffins, Brownies, Cookies: Favorite Desserts from the Queen of Cake, as well. I received a review copy of this new book that contains her classic recipes. In her introduction, she encourages the reader to treat this and all cookbooks like a textbook. She suggests you write notes on the pages to remember any little changes you should make next time from baking time and ingredients to the reason why you made the recipe. She writes: “In the future you will find that your own notes have added to the book and made it more valuable to you.” When I read that, I realized that’s why I started this food blog. I wanted to track what I was cooking, what changes I made to original recipes, and when and why I made each dish. Maida Heatter wants nothing more than for home bakers to enjoy succeeding at all their baking projects. Her instructions are always the best. This new book includes Everyday Cakes, Special Occasion Cakes, Cookies, and Pies Tarts Brownies Bars and More. There are multiple chocolate cakes and lemon cakes, and I’m convinced I should try every one of them. I just have to decide which to make first, The Best Damn Lemon Cake or the East 62nd Street Lemon Cake. The instructions for Mildred Knopf’s Orange Puff Cake have me very intrigued. To begin, egg whites are whisked with salt on a large platter. There’s a note that “this cake may seem like a lot of trouble, but, believe me, this is the sort of adventure in baking that makes a cook’s reputation.” How could you not try this recipe? The Bull’s Eye Cheesecake appears along with the Polka Dot. There’s Mississippi Mud Pie, Coffee Buttercrunch Pie, Key Lime Pie, the Pecan Squares Americana that I’ve made before, three versions of brownies, and more. 

First, I pre-heated the oven for chocolate chips cookies. I have a mental list of my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes, and I suspected these Big Sur cookies would end up on it. They’re big, thin, crunchy cookies with oats and walnuts, and I always love a big cookie. Interestingly, the recipe includes a small amount of lemon juice. I’d never seen that in a chocolate chip cookie before. Making the cookie dough was completely straightforward with creaming of butter and sugar with vanilla and lemon juice. The sifted dry ingredients were added followed by the walnuts and chocolate chips. The dough was portioned into large mounds with lots of space on the cookie sheet and only four cookies per sheet. The dough mounds were flattened slightly with wet hands before baking. 

I had hoped the lemon juice would be apparent in the finished cookies, but there wasn’t enough to taste it. I assume the acidity helped activate the baking soda. The oats, walnuts, chocolate, and cinnamon did contribute to excellent flavor and texture though. I’m glad I followed the recipe exactly the first time using it. Normally, I would be tempted to swap in pecans in place of walnuts, but the walnuts were delicious. And, yes, baking these cookies was definitely a source of happiness. 

Big Sur Chocolate Chip Cookies 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Happiness Is Baking: Cakes, Pies, Tarts, Muffins, Brownies, Cookies: Favorite Desserts from the Queen of Cake

These California cookies are 6 inches in diameter — they are the largest homemade chocolate chip cookies I know (nothing succeeds like excess). They are crisp, crunchy, buttery, delicious. Too good. Irresistible. But because of their size, don’t make them for a fancy tea party. Do make them for a barbecue or a picnic, or for any casual affair. 

Makes 12 to 15 very large cookies 
1 1⁄2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour 
1⁄2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
6 ounces (1 1⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter 
1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon lemon juice 
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar 
1/3 cup granulated sugar 
2 large eggs 
1⁄4 cup quick-cooking rolled oats 
6 ounces (generous 1 1⁄2 cups) walnuts, chopped or broken into medium-size pieces  
6 ounces (1 cup) semisweet chocolate morsels 

Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with baking parchment or foil. 

Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon and set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the vanilla and lemon juice and then both of the sugars and beat to mix. Beat in the eggs one at a time. On low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients and then the rolled oats, scraping the bowl as necessary with a rubber spatula and beating only until mixed. Remove from the mixer and stir in the nuts and morsels. 

Now work next to the sink or have a large bowl of water handy so you can wet your hands while shaping the cookies. Spread out a piece of wax paper or foil. Use a 1⁄4-cup measuring cup to measure the amount of dough for each cookie. Form 12 to 15 mounds of the dough and place them any which way on the wax paper or foil. Wet your hands with cold water, shake the water off, but do not dry your hands; pick up a mound of dough, roll it into a ball, flatten it to about 1⁄2-inch thickness, and place it on the lined sheets. Do not place more than 4 cookies on a 15 1⁄2 x 12-inch cookie sheet. These spread to gigantic proportions. 

Bake two sheets at a time for 16 to 18 minutes, reversing the sheets top to bottom and front to back as necessary to ensure even browning. (If you bake only one sheet at a time, bake it on the higher rack.) Bake until the cookies are well colored; they must not be too pale. Watch these carefully; before you know it, they might become too dark. 

When you remove them from the oven, let the cookies stand for about a minute, until they are firm enough to be moved. With a wide metal spatula, transfer them to racks to cool. If the racks are not raised at least 1⁄2 inch from the work surface, place them on a bowl or cake pan to allow more air to circulate underneath. 

When cool, wrap them with bottoms together, two to a package, in cellophane or wax paper or in plastic sandwich bags. If you do not plan to serve these soon, freeze them.
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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Grilled Potato and Leek Salad with Salsa Verde Vinaigrette

If you love to throw parties and are amazing at it or if you’d like to get better at doing it, I have a new book for you. Life Is a Party: Deliciously Doable Recipes to Make Every Day a Celebration from David Burtka is full of festive ideas, and I received a review copy. And, you can win a copy! Just leave a comment on this post before the end of Monday, May 6th including an email address where I can contact you. Two randomly selected winners in the US or Canada will each receive a copy of the book from the publisher. The book begins with handy party planning tips like setting the mood by testing lighting the day before, stocking up on plenty of ice and storing it in the bathtub or washing machine, checking with guests about any food allergies, and more. My favorite of the tips, and one that I live by, is getting as much done in advance as possible. You should enjoy the party too! Then, the party menus are grouped by season. But, there’s more than just menus and recipes. There are also suggestions for table decor, what to wear, how to take the theme to the next level, activities, and even a playlist for each occasion. Everything you need for an incredible party is here, but this is an easy-going book. You’re invited to pick and choose how much you want to do and how you want to shape your party. The recipes tend to serve six to eight, and you can scale up or down as needed. Each menu includes cocktails or mocktails, salads or sides, main dishes, and dessert. Of course, you could also mix and match recipes to create your own menus too. As soon as I opened the book, the Scallops with Peas and Green Oil got my full attention. It’s part of a spring party menu that starts with a Cucumber-Herb Cocktail and ends with a Flourless Chocolate Cake. The Mexican Fiesta looks like a lot of fun, and I would love to find big serving bowls of guacamole and ceviche at a party. I also loved the look of the Chocolate Chunk Hazelnut Bars and the pitcher of Fresh Blueberry Fizz at the Summer Picnic. It was the Sunday Funday menu that got me headed into the kitchen though. It starts with Mojito Slushies and includes Grilled Tofu Skewers with Coconut-Peanut Dipping Sauce, a DIY Sundae Bar, and the Grilled Potato and Leek Salad shown here. 

I did fall for the idea of grilling potatoes for a potato salad, but in truth, I can never pass up salsa verde of the Italian variety. The herby sauce with olive oil sounded like a perfect match for grilled potatoes. I used small, white potatoes, and they were boiled and allowed to cool before grilling. I opted for a grill pan on top of the stove for better heat control with the small potatoes and leeks and onions. I had a collection of local spring bulb onions and leeks, and I had just brought home some shallot scapes that I used here as well. The onions and leeks were halved lengthwise, brushed with oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled on the pan until tender. The cooled potatoes were sliced in half, oiled, seasoned, and grilled for a few minutes on each side. The vinaigrette was made with mustard, white wine vinegar, olive oil, parsley, cilantro, and I added capers. I chopped the grilled onions and leeks because I prefer them finely chopped. They were added to a big bowl with the grilled potatoes to be tossed with the vinaigrette. The salad was garnished with sliced radishes. 

My instincts did not fail me in assuming the salsa verde vinaigrette would be great with potatoes. The mix of alliums with the herbs all worked together fabulously. I would definitely serve this to guests or bring it to a party. Whether your guest lists are family-friendly or grown-ups-only, your gatherings are formal or anything-goes, and you plan every detail to a T or just want some basic ideas, this book has it all for your next party. 

Grilled Potato and Leek Salad with Salsa Verde Vinaigrette 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Life Is a Party: Deliciously Doable Recipes to Make Every Day a Celebration

Serves 6 to 8 

for the potatoes and leeks 
Kosher salt 
3 pounds fingerling potatoes 
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns 
3 large leeks (about 11/2 pounds) 
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil 

for the salsa verde vinaigrette 
1/4 cup whole-grain mustard 
1/4 cup white wine vinegar 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning 
4 scallions, thinly sliced 
Leaves from 1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped 
1 bunch cilantro 
1/4 cup sliced radishes, for garnish 

special equipment 
outdoor grill or grill pan 

1. Cook the potatoes: Bring a large stockpot of heavily salted water to a boil (the water should taste like the sea). Add the potatoes and peppercorns, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes. 
2. While the potatoes are cooking, make the salsa verde vinaigrette: In a medium bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, olive oil, and salt. Stir in the scallions, parsley, and cilantro. 
3. Grill the leeks: Heat the grill or grill pan to medium-high. 
4. Slice off the root ends and dark green tops of the leeks and discard. Halve the leeks lengthwise, then peel back the layers by the base so they are slightly separated. Immerse the leeks in a bowl of cold water and gently shake to dislodge any dirt and grit. Pat dry, then drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt. Grill the leeks cut-side down until dark grill marks form, about 4 minutes, then flip and cook until the leeks no longer feel stiff, about 4 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and let cool. 
5. When the potatoes are tender, drain them and spread them out on a baking sheet to cool, discarding the peppercorns. Once cool enough to touch, slice them in half lengthwise and toss with the remaining 1⁄4 cup olive oil and 2 teaspoons salt. Grill, cut-side down, until dark grill marks appear, 3 to 4 minutes, then flip and grill for 3 minutes more. 
6. Toss the potatoes, leeks, and salsa verde vinaigrette in a large bowl; garnish with the radishes. The salad can be served right away or allowed to sit on the counter for 2 to 3 hours before serving.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Rice Noodle Salad Bowl with Sriracha Tofu

Sometimes I enjoy hunting ingredients. I set aside part of day to drive around town from market to market to find just what I need for some recipes I’m planning to tackle. But, there are definitely times when the convenience of gathering what’s needed at one grocery store is necessary. If you’ve ever backed away from trying any Vietnamese recipes because of the challenge of an ingredient hunt, your worries are over. Andrea Nguyen’s new book, Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors, of which I received a review copy, shows you how to achieve great results with what you can find in any grocery store. This book was inspired by her mother’s resourcefulness when their family first arrived in the US in the 1970s. There weren’t nearly as many Asian products available in grocery stores then, and they had to make do with what they could find. They embraced learning about and becoming part of their new surroundings while continuing to honor Vietnamese culture. Today, many products you would need for Vietnamese dishes like fish sauce, rice noodles, and rice paper are available at most grocery stores. But, she offers some great ideas for substitutes for things that are more difficult to find. For example, if you can’t easily find tamarind, you can use pomegranate molasses for a similar tart flavor. She even includes a recipe to make your own from pomegranate juice. And, if the size of rice noodle you want isn’t on offer with other Asian products, try checking the options among the gluten-free pastas. The recipes cover all types of dishes from snacks to desserts, and I’ve been having fun trying several of them. First, I was excited about the Grilled Trout Rice Paper Rolls. I found brown rice paper and used it for the first time. I also had pretty, dark purple lettuce leaves that I brought home from Boggy Creek Farm and some homegrown cilantro and mint. The mixture was very pretty sitting on the rice paper before I rolled it up and realized that dark purple lettuce under brown rice paper was not photogenic at all. It was delicious, just not great for photos. And, the homemade Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce was fantastic with the rolls. I also tried the Roasted Cauliflower “Wings.” They’re a vegan version of Chile Garlic Chicken Wings. Both recipes appear in the book. The cauliflower became incredibly crunchy after roasting with a rice flour coating, and the dipping sauce was addictive. The Gingery Greens and Shrimp Soup was a marvel. The flavor to effort ratio was unparalleled. Onion was cooked in oil with salt, fish sauce and water were added, and it was boiled for a few minutes. That alone created a flavorful broth for the soup. Incredibly fresh, chopped Swiss chard and snow peas from the farmstand cooked briefly with shrimp in the broth. This was one of the best soups I’ve ever made. In the book, there are also tempting rice and noodle dishes, chicken and fish dishes, egg and tofu dishes, and desserts like No-Churn Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream that I can’t wait to try. But, my next stop in the book was for the Rice Noodle Salad Bowl with Sriracha Tofu. 

There are notes throughout the recipes that offer suggestions for substitutions for some ingredients or ways of making the recipe vegetarian or vegan if it isn't already. The Rice Noodle Salad Bowl is topped with marinated and grilled beef or chicken, but the notes suggest topping it with Sriracha Tofu instead. That’s what I did. To make the tofu, it was first cut into domino-like pieces. In a skillet, water, soy sauce, and sriracha were combined. The tofu pieces were added, and it was cooked until bubbly. The tofu pieces were flipped, and when the liquid in the pan had evaporated a little oil was drizzled over the tofu. It was left to cook for a few minutes before being flipped once again. The tofu pieces took on an orange and brown color from the sauce. For the noodle bowl, rice noodles were cooked, and I found a brand that I really like shown in the photo below. I wanted to include some pickled vegetables and made a quick pickle from carrot and kohlrabi matchsticks. The toppings were prepped including crispy fried shallots, chopped cashews, lettuce leaves, cucumber ribbons, sliced chiles, cilantro, and mint. Homemade Nuoc Cham made with maple syrup, lime juice, water, rice vinegar, fish sauce, and chiles served as the dressing. The noodles, lettuce leaves, and vegetables were arranged in bowls. The chiles, cashews, and herbs were added on top, and the sriracha tofu was the crowning glory. 

The fresh flavors of all the vegetables with the simple, citrusy sauce makes for a light and lovely dish with great texture from the noodles. This way of cooking tofu is one I’ll be using often. It’s a quick and easy process, and the tofu was delicious. I might not bother fitting this book onto the shelves just yet. There’s lots more I want to try as soon as I can.

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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Maple Cake with Maple Espresso Cream Cheese Frosting

Let me begin by admitting that I have no skills whatsoever for decorating cakes. I need practice and patience. When it comes to baking cakes for occasions, I seem to run out of time for filling a pastry bag. But, I know I would enjoy it if I learned. Mostly, I want to bake cakes that taste delicious. Gesine Bullock-Prado is on the same page in that regard. In her latest book of which I received a review copy, Fantastical Cakes: Incredible Creations for the Baker in Anyone, she presents beautifully decorated cakes that are all about the flavor. She begins the introduction with a story about a cake decorating book she was fascinated with as a child. Looking back at the book later in life, she realized all those cakes were made with cake mixes and artificial dyes. So, she set out to create an ultimate book about decorating cakes made from scratch that would teach readers how to achieve great-looking and great-tasting results. And, as always, her humor shines through on every page. Knowing that depending on the convenience of a cake mix is handy, she even includes recipes for making your own dry mixes that can be stored and used as needed. There are explanations for different types of mixing methods that result in different textures. The paste method involves mixing the dry ingredients with fats to form a paste before adding the wet ingredients, and the result is a tender, tightly-crumbed cake. The creaming method is more common in which fats and sugar are creamed before dry ingredients are added. This results in a more stable cake for layering. Last, the foam method is for cakes leavened by whipped eggs to make very airy cakes. The recipes include options for all these methods. There are then fillings, frostings, examples of combinations for incredible cakes, and tips and notes all along the way. Reading about the Salted Caramel Pastry Cream made me want to make it just to eat it from the bowl. Then, learning about Puppet Dust opened a door to decorating without piping frosting into swirls. It’s made from cake trimmings or crumbs or stuck bits from the pan, and it’s baked at a low temperature to dry the pieces before pureeing them into sand. The sand can be colored whatever shade is needed. In the book, cakes are simply frosted and chilled, strips of parchment are applied to the surface, and colored Puppet Dust is pressed into exposed areas of frosting to create a pattern. The Zebra Cake was made this way with pink stripes. There are so many show-stopping cakes and brilliant ideas. There’s a Swiss Roll Sponge with a pretty baked-in pattern of cherries on the stem that cover the outside, and that’s a technique I have to try too. And, the Apple Cider Cake has filled cream puffs layered inside the cake and adorning the top as well. There’s a lot to experiment with here. 

As I read the book, Kurt’s birthday was fast approaching. I suspected he would like the idea of a maple cake, and I liked the idea of trying the paste method of mixing. I think I had made a cake this way once before, but it had been ages. The recipe calls for maple sugar or maple syrup. Sadly, maple sugar is exorbitantly expensive here. I went with maple syrup. To start, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt were added to the mixing bowl. Room temperature butter was added and mixed until sandy. Eggs were added followed by the maple syrup, maple extract, and vanilla. Last, milk was added and incorporated. I baked the layers in eight-inch pans, and there are specific instructions in the book for prepping pans before baking. There’s also a tip about wrapping and freezing cake layers and filling and frosting directly from the freezer. Firm, frozen cake layers are easy to work with, and the cold temperature helps to set the filling and frosting as you work. I baked my cake layers a couple of days in advance and froze them before filling and frosting. What really drew me to the maple cake was the idea of topping it with Maple Espresso Cream Cheese Frosting. In the book, it’s suggested that Instant ClearJel be added to cream cheese frosting to make it set better. Since I wasn’t transporting this cake, I skipped it. Also, since the layers were frozen, the frosting set while being applied. It was a mix of confectioners’ sugar, butter, cream cheese, vanilla, maple extract, maple syrup, and espresso powder. I loved that the recipe made an ample amount to generously fill between layers and cover the outside well. I separated the frosting into two bowls and used one for the crumb coat and the other for the final coat. 

I always fall for cream cheese frosting, but this was hands-down my favorite frosting ever. Espresso and maple make perfect partners. With all the options in this book for filling, topping, adorning, and sprinkling cakes, I’m very inspired to take my cake decorating to the next level. I might still shy away from the piping bag, but puppet dust is definitely in my future.

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Friday, March 8, 2019


Back in 2011, I attended a class at the Central Market Cooking School taught by Daniel Olivella. It was a seafood-focused class, and I fondly remember the octopus dish with potatoes and smoked paprika. I also remember the paella and learning about Bomba rice, and I remember the Xato salad. Chef Olivella told us about the popularity of this salad in Catalonia. There’s a competition every winter among towns to see who makes the best version. It’s a salt cod salad with a dressing made with Romesco sauce, but I’ll get to more of the specifics of it shortly. At the time of that class, Chef Olivella was operating a Spanish tapas restaurant in Oakland. He mentioned that he’d like to open a restaurant in Austin and was considering it. Soon thereafter, Barlata changed its address from California to Texas, and Austin had a new tapas restaurant. And now, recipes from the Austin restaurant and from Olivella’s upbringing in Spain can be found in the new book Catalan Food: Culture and Flavors from the Mediterranean of which I received a review copy. The chapters cover everything from starters to desserts with vegetables, rice and noodle dishes, seafood, and meat. It’s some of the simplest dishes that really got my attention. The Wrinkly Potatoes are cooked in an abundance of salt before being halved and served with allioli, and they look completely irresistible. The Biquini Mallorque is a grilled cheese sandwich made with Manchego cheese, but the twist is the addition of Romesco sauce and sausage—and cooking the sandwiches in olive oil. I made some with just the cheese and Romesco, and it’s my new favorite grilled cheese. The Warm Octopus with Potatoes dish from the class is in the book, and I can’t wait to revisit it. There’s also a Chicken with Shrimp dish made with an almond and hazelnut picada with sherry that’s on my to-try list. And, despite the churros, doughnuts, and Crema Catalana in the desserts chapter, my first stop there was for the Chocolate-Covered Marcona Almonds. That’s such a good combination with the roasted, salted nuts. Then, I flipped back to the page with the salt cod salad. The main elements are the big flakes of salt cod and the dressing made with a mix of Romesco sauce, olive oil, and sherry vinegar. I still have my recipe list and notes from the cooking class, and I see that the version made that night included a black olive puree and no salad greens. So, there are options for how to proceed, but I mostly followed the instructions in the book. 

Something I learned about Xato from the book is that frisee is the salad green of choice for it. This makes sense since frisee is a sturdy salad green, and the dressing is on the thicker side. The day I planned to make it, frisee wasn’t available at the farm stand I visit every week or even at the grocery store. I used a mix of local salad greens and radicchio instead. I started by making the Romesco sauce. I can never locate nora chiles and used anchos instead. They were stemmed and seeded and rehydrated in boiling water. Tomatoes were broiled until charred, and almonds were toasted. Bread was fried in olive oil, allowed to cool and cut into small pieces. Then, the garlic was cooked in the olive oil. I pureed everything in a food processor with some sherry vinegar. Some of the finished Romesco was whisked with olive oil and more vinegar to create the dressing. The salt cod had been soaking for a day in the refrigerator. I drained it and broke it into chunks. The mixed greens were tossed with the dressing and placed on plates before being topped with salt cod chunks, black olives, anchovies, and chopped herbs. Canned tuna is also listed among the ingredients in the book, but I skipped it and added extra salt cod. 

I made a meal out of this salad with lots of salt cod on each serving. There are a lot of big flavors going on in this mix of ingredients, but they all go together well. I also served the Manchego and Romesco grilled cheese sandwiches on the side, and those are so good after browning in olive oil. It’s easy to make meals from the snacks and salads in this book, and eating Catalan food is never disappointing.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Pea and Shitake Orange Risotto

One of the best consequences of writing this blog for about 11 years is the number of fellow food bloggers I’ve met in real life and online. In my very early days of food blogging, I encountered Jamie Schler’s lovely blog, Life’s a Feast. I always loved to see what she was baking each time I visited, and I was inspired by her adventures with macarons. We visited each other’s sites and got to know one another through blog posts and comments. I’m so proud to now be blogging about her first cookbook, Orange Appeal: Savory and Sweet. Congratulations to Jamie! Because she’s a native of Florida, it’s fitting that she’s brought us a collection of recipes focused on oranges. Of course, she now lives in France and notes in the book that she wanted these recipes to be very usable no matter where the reader resides. The ingredients used are all common enough to be found just about anywhere. And, the variety of recipes includes sweet and savory, starters and mains, and sauces and relishes. I’ve been having fun trying some things from the book while citrus season is upon us. The first recipe I tried was the Orange, Date, and Pecan Muffins. They are deliciously sweetened with chopped dates, honey, and maple syrup and no refined sugar. Chestnut flour is called for, but there is a note that all-purpose can be substituted. As luck would have it, I had some chestnut flour among my stash of various flours and grains and was delighted to use it. I’ll be turning back to this recipe often. There’s an intriguing recipe in the first chapter for Orange Avocado Salad Dressing or Dip. You begin by making a homemade mayonnaise and then add mashed avocado, orange and lime juice, chipotle powder, and cilantro. It sounds perfect for dipping fresh vegetables or using as a sauce for seafood or mixing into salad greens, and I’d like to always have a bowl of it in my refrigerator. The Savory Orange, Onion, and Olive Focaccia also caught my eye. What a great combination of flavors for a savory bread. And, the sweets all sound irresistible. There’s a Glazed Blood Orange Yogurt Loaf Cake, the Orange Panna Cotta with Orange Compote, and Orange Curd Tartlets in a Coconut Pastry Crust that also appear on the book cover. Despite all the cravings of my sweet tooth, the next dish I made was the Pea and Shitake Orange Risotto. 

To start, the shitakes were sauteed in butter and olive oil and then glazed with some orange juice before being removed from the pan and set aside. Next, minced onion was sauteed before the Arborio rice was added and toasted. I used a homemade vegetable stock, and I actually enjoy the process of making risotto. I remember the first time I ever made risotto and how I was re-reading the recipe as I cooked and stirred and watched the clock closely to check the timing. It seems so easy now. You don’t really need to check the clock at all. You can see when the rice has absorbed the stock, and you add more. And, you keep stirring. But, you can stir with one hand and sip wine with the other. For this risotto, after the rice was cooked, more orange juice was added and incorporated. Then, frozen peas were added with the cooked shitakes. I added lots of chopped parsley from my garden. I served it with some roasted shrimp on top. 

The orange flavor with the shitakes and peas was a fantastic combination. I’m so happy to have some of this leftover risotto in my freezer. I’m planning to make arancini stuffed with fresh mozzarella. For even more decadence, those little crispy arancini would be great with the Orange Avocado Dip. Then, I’m going to have to stock up on blood oranges before the season ends. I have more cooking with citrus to do.

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