Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Indian-Spiced Chicken Salad with Mixed Lettuces, Walnuts, and Preserved Lemon

It’s true. To my mind, Nancy Silverton can do no wrong. I’ve been a fan of hers for years. However, her new book, Chi Spacca: A New Approach to American Cooking of which I received a review copy, had me feeling uncertain. Chi Spacca is Italian for “the butcher” and is the name of her very meat-focused restaurant in Los Angeles. And, my cooking isn’t very meat-focused. Regardless, I wanted to read it because it’s from Nancy Silverton, and I dove in with an open mind. Despite the name, the food isn’t entirely Italian nor is it entirely meat-based. The salads and vegetables are treated with the same degree of care. From the start, from the very first recipe in the book, I was hooked. That recipe is for Focaccia di Recco, and Silverton provides a detailed explanation of what it is and why she became interested in it. I had heard about this thin, cheese-filled, crispy type of focaccia before but was never inspired to make it until I read about it again here. The recipe is also extremely detailed and includes specific recommendations for the type of pan to use, the type of cheese buy, and how to stretch the dough as thin as it needs to be. I jumped right into making it. The dough stretching process was a lot like make strudel, and it was as fun as I expected it to be. The result was delicious too. Of course, I got detoured by the crispy bread recipe, but for meat lovers, there are detailed instructions for seasoning, grilling, and cooking on the stovetop with recipes covering beef and veal, pork, lamb, duck, rabbit, and chicken. I’m especially interested in the Pollo alla Diavola on Toast recipe in which a halved chicken is roasted on thick slices of toast. There’s also a chapter just for fish, and it was delightful to see salmon steaks being used rather than filets. The chapters for contorni and salads got my full attention as did the dolci chapter. One of Silverton’s recipes that has been in my head for years is the butterscotch budino. In this new book, it’s recreated in a simpler, family-style form. Before getting to that though, the Indian-Spiced Chicken Salad with Mixed Lettuces, Walnuts, and Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette called to me. 

I’d been craving Indian flavors, and the thought of satisfying that craving in salad form sounded ideal. Every recipe in this book includes careful, step-by-step instructions with guidance for plating and serving. In fact, in the head note of each recipe, you’ll even find suggestions for what type or types of platters and/or bowls you’ll need for serving. I do appreciate that kind of specificity, but you can take it or leave it. For this salad, chicken was roasted with garam masala, allowed to cool, and then shredded into long pieces. I love using preserved lemons and might have added a bit more than called for to the shredded chicken and toasted walnuts. The mixed lettuces were to include escarole, but I wasn’t able to find it that day. I used frisee and little gem lettuces along with cilantro leaves. Following the instructions, the salad was built up in layers of dressed lettuces, chicken and walnuts, chopped preserved lemon, and cilantro. 

The tall, layered salad was full of flavor with the Indian-spiced chicken and bursts of preserved lemon, and the crunchy walnuts were a nice addition. There are more salads for every season that I want to try like the Roasted Beets with Chicories, Yogurt, and Lemon Zest. And, there are vegetable dishes like the Roasted Cabbage with Bagna Cauda Yogurt and Crunchy Grains on my list as well. Yes, it’s a meat-focused book, but there’s a lot here for me too. 

Indian-Spiced Chicken Salad with Mixed Lettuces, Walnuts, and Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette 
Excerpted from Chi Spacca: A New Approach to American Cooking by Nancy Silverton, Ryan DeNicola, and Carolynn Carreno. Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Silverton. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. 

When I am in San Francisco, I always try to make time to eat at Boulettes Larder, a one-of- a-kind food shop/restaurant in the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. I have never eaten there and not been inspired. When I ordered their Indian chicken salad, I loved it so much I basically tried to replicate it as closely as possible, right down to the mix of escarole and Little Gem lettuces that are the base of the salad. When shopping for escarole, look for “blanched escarole” at farmers’ markets and specialty food stores. Blanched escarole is light green, almost white, in color, and sweeter and crunchier than traditional escarole. It is grown the same way white endive and white asparagus are grown, by shielding the young plants from direct sunlight, so they don’t go through photosynthesis, which is what gives all plants their green color. If you can’t find blanched escarole, buy conventional escarole and remove the dark, floppy outer leaves as described in the recipe. You will need a large platter or large wide-mouth bowl to serve this salad. 

Serves 4 

For the Chicken Salad 
1/4 cup shelled walnuts, halves or pieces 
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 3/4 pound) 
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
2 tablespoons Garam Masala 
4 preserved lemon halves 
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
1 teaspoon finishing-quality extra-virgin olive oil 
For the Vinaigrette 
1/4 cup peeled and minced shallots 
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar 
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
Fresh coarsely ground black pepper 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
For the Green Salad 
1 head escarole (preferably “blanched” escarole) 
1 head Little Gem lettuce 
1/2 lemon 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/4 cup micro cilantro (or finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves) 

To prepare the chicken salad, adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 325°F. 

Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until they’re toasted and fragrant, shaking the baking sheet and rotating it from front to back halfway through that time so the nuts brown evenly. Remove the walnuts from the oven and set aside until they are cool enough to touch. Finely chop the walnuts. 

Increase the oven temperature to 350°F. 

While the nuts are toasting, to make the vinaigrette, combine the shallots, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, and a few turns of black pepper in a small bowl. Gradually add the extra-virgin olive oil, whisking constantly. 

Season the chicken breast on both sides with the salt. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the garam masala on the chicken breast, rubbing it to coat both l sides evenly. Lay the chicken on a baking sheet and roast it in the oven for about 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet from front to back halfway through that time so the chicken browns evenly, until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with a sharp knife. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set aside for the chicken to cool to room temperature. Shred the chicken into the longest shreds possible into a medium bowl. 

Rinse the preserved lemons to remove the sugar and salt and drain well. Use a paring knife to remove the pulp, pith, and seeds and discard, so you are left with only the bright yellow peel. Finely chop the peel and add 1 tablespoon to the bowl with the chicken. Add half of the walnuts, the remaining 1 tablespoon of the garam masala, and the red pepper flakes. Drizzle with the finishing-quality olive oil and toss to distribute the ingredients and coat them with the oil. Taste and add more salt if desired. 

To prepare the green salad, cut off and discard the root end of the escarole. Remove the dark green outer leaves until only the tender, light yellow leaves remain. Tear the remaining leaves from the core and put them into a large wide-mouth bowl. Remove and discard any unappealing outer leaves from the head of the Little Gem lettuce. Tear the remaining leaves from the core and drop the leaves into the bowl with the escarole, discarding the core. Squeeze the lemon half over the lettuces, sprinkle with the salt, and toss to coat the lettuces. Drizzle 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette over the salad and toss to coat, gently massaging the leaves with your hands to coat them with the vinaigrette. Add the remaining chopped preserved lemon peel and half of the cilantro and toss gently to distribute them. 

To serve, building the salad in three layers and choosing the largest leaves first, arrange one-third of the leaves to cover the surface of a large platter or wide-mouth bowl. Scatter one-third of the chicken-walnut mixture over the lettuces, leaving the edges of the lettuce layer visible. Scatter one-third of the remaining chopped walnuts, one-third of the chopped preserved lemon, and one-third of the cilantro from the bowl the salad was tossed in over the salad. Continue, building two more layers the same as the first one, using the medium leaves for the second layer and the smallest leaves for the top layer, and making each layer smaller than the one before. Sprinkle the reserved undressed cilantro over the salad.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Sesame Seed Breadsticks

Welcoming, comfort-food cooking is what we all need right now. The new book from Joey Campanaro of Little Owl in New York, Big Love Cooking: 75 Recipes for Satisfying, Shareable Comfort Food, delivers just that. I recently received a review copy. He writes in the introduction: “There is nothing fragile or careful about these recipes. They are not a peck on the cheek. They are a warm embrace.” How timely is that? I was intrigued to see that Calvin Trillin had written the Foreward. I finally, after having the book for ages, actually read his The Tummy Trilogy earlier this year. Little Owl opened in 2006 half a block from Trilin’s home in Greenwich Village, and it was a dream come true for him. He sings the praises of the gravy meatball sliders and how despite Campanaro’s experience at fine dining restaurants he chose to put this dish served to him by his grandmother in South Philly on the menu. His mother and grandmother are two sources of inspiration for the Little Owl menu and for the recipes in this book. The chapters cover Brunch, Soups and Salads, Pasta, Meat and Poultry, Fish and Seafood, Sunday Supper, and Desserts. And, it’s not all strictly Italian-American food. You’ll find Cinnamon Sugar Beignets, Sesame Green Beans, and Citrus and Palm Hearts Salad among other chosen dishes. Campanaro didn’t want to be restricted to solely Italian-American fare at the restaurant, and the name of the business allows room to offer a broader array. The Baked Ricotta Crespelle caught my eye as soon as I opened the book. I can’t wait to attempt making the crepes and filling them. Next, I made the quick and easy Monday Baked Ziti, but since I didn’t have Sunday gravy handy I made a simple marinara for the sauce. And, the Sesame Seed Breadsticks looked irresistible. I had to try them next. 

One other book I want to mention today is Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It by Tom Philpott whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting here in Austin. I received a review copy of this book as well. This is a critical look at American agriculture and how reliant we are on California’s Central Valley and the Midwest. The vast majority of our vegetables, fruits, and nuts come from California where water sources and weather generally have a frighteningly uncertain future. The Midwest is now wall-to-wall monocrops of corn and soybeans with a variety of problems related to soil, seed sourcing, chemicals, federal policies, and demand for these crops. A large part of the harvests from Midwestern fields is fed to factory-farmed cattle and hogs, and the meat industry brings a plethora of its own problems to the mix. The book presents some grim realities but also ideas for positive changes in agriculture processes in both regions. And, one very actionable way forward is to start relying more on other regions of the country for food supply whenever possible. Buying from local and regional farms and ranches takes some burden off those over-worked areas of the country. I’m always happy to support our local food system however I can. For instance, for these breadsticks, I used locally-milled flour from Texas wheat growers. 

A few pages before this recipe in the book, there’s a recipe for the meatball slider buns. For that bread dough, roasted garlic is mashed and mixed into it. I loved that idea and added it to the breadsticks recipe. Mixing the dough and letting is rise is a straightforward process. Then, the dough was rolled into a large rectangle and transferred to a baking sheet. The breadsticks were cut from the rectangle and moved apart. The baking sheet was very full, and I think next time I might split the dough in half and use two sheets for more space to separate them. They were brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with sesame seeds before baking. And, they were as delicious as expected. We couldn’t stop eating them. I’m looking forward to cooking a lot more comforting foods during this holiday season. Wishing you all very happy holidays! 

Sesame Seed Breadsticks 
Reprinted from Big Love Cooking: 75 Recipes for Satisfying, Shareable Comfort Food by Joey Campanaro with permission by Chronicle Books, 2020 

The place to be for bread on Sundays in South Philly was Sarcone’s Bakery on South Ninth Street—a fifth-generation Italian bakery that is still as great today as when I was a kid. Our family’s Sunday supper table wasn’t complete without their sesame seed bread that my grandmother would pick up and tote home in a paper bag. If I was with her, that bread never made it home intact—it was just too good to resist eating off the heel (or more) before we’d reach the door. My mother would have some things to say about it that I can’t repeat. The slider bun recipe makes terrific Sarcone’s Bakery– inspired breadsticks, just eliminate the garlic and the second rise. 

Makes 18 Breadsticks 

1 Tbsp olive oil 
1 Tbsp molasses 
1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast 
2 1/4 cups [315 g] all-purpose flour 
1 tsp kosher salt 
1 egg white, beaten 
1/4 cup [35 g] toasted sesame seeds 

Prepare a large baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Brush the inside of a medium mixing bowl with olive oil and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 1 cup [240 ml] of warm water, the olive oil, molasses, and yeast. Mix on low speed to incorporate. Slowly add the flour and salt and mix at low speed first, so that the flour doesn’t fly everywhere, then increase to medium speed, mixing until it comes together as a sticky dough mixture, 2 minutes. Transfer the dough ball to the prepared bowl and double wrap it all around like a tight package (so tight that you can bounce a quarter off the top) and set in a warm place or at room temperature until the dough is doubled in size and becomes soft and elastic, about 1 hour. 

Midway through the 1 hour rise, preheat the oven to 400°F [200°C]. Lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough out. Using a rolling pin, roll it out to a ¼ in [6 mm] thick rectangle or oblong shape roughly 9 in by 13 in [23 cm by 33 cm] in size. The beauty of an oblong shape is that the sticks on the end are shorter than the ones in the middle—a little something for everyone. 

Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into about 18 breadsticks that are about the width of your pointer finger (just eyeball the width as best you can so that they bake evenly). Be sure to separate the sticks a bit so that they don’t stick together when they expand in the oven. Use a pastry brush or a flat rubber spatula to lightly brush the tops of the breadsticks with the egg wash and sprinkle the sesame seeds over them to coat them completely. Bake until golden brown and crispy, 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Radish and Cucumber Salad with Chipotle Peanuts

I have to admit, the new Ottolenghi Flavor cookbook, of which I received a review copy, took me by surprise. It is, of course, focused on developing big flavors in every dish, but some of those flavors are a bit of a departure from what we’ve come to expect from Ottolenghi recipes. It’s particularly fun to see more chiles being used with inspiration from Mexican cuisine. This book expands on Plenty and Plenty More by continuing the vegetarian theme, and all the recipes can easily be made vegan if preferred. The goal here was to distinguish each vegetable with cooking techniques and paired ingredients to maximize flavor potential. There are three sections that focus on Process, Pairing, and Produce, and all three are filled with exciting dishes I want to try. One example is the White Bean Mash with Garlic Aioli. At first glance, this looks like a fun take on hummus made with white beans and topped with aioli, whole white beans, herbs, and oil. But reading through the recipe reveals that the aioli is a nontraditional version made from cooked and softened garlic, cooked white beans, Dijon, anchovies if you wish, and lemon juice. I’m already making plans for some cooked cannellini beans I have stored in the freezer. Another is the Lime and Coconut Potato Gratin that looks like a typical potato gratin but is completely vegan with coconut cream and bright-flavored with lime, chiles, ginger, and green onion. Vegetables take on deep flavor from slow roasting in some cases and smoky char from grilling in others. A whole roasted celery root is sliced into steaks and topped with CafĂ© de Paris Sauce. Eggplant is charred for a soup with lots of herbs that looks delightful. And, Smoked Cascabel Oil sounds like something I want to drizzle on everything. There really are too many things I want to try to mention them all, but Tofu Meatball Korma, Olive Oil Flatbreads with Three-Garlic Butter, and Udon Noodles with Fried Tofu and Orange Nam Jim are at the top of my list. Right away, I had to try the Stuffed Eggplant in Curry and Coconut Dal, and it did not disappoint. And before that, I made the Radish and Cucumber Salad with Chipotle Peanuts. 

For this salad you start by making the spiced peanuts, and I highly recommend making more than the suggested amount. They make a terrific snack and disappear quickly while working the remaining ingredients. A dried chipotle was ground to a powder in a spice grinder. Some of that was combined with peanuts, cayenne, maple syrup, salt, lime juice, and olive oil in a saute pan in which the mixture was cooked while stirring until the peanuts were coated. The mixture was then transferred to a baking sheet and allowed to cool before being broken into pieces. For the salad, sliced cucumber, daikon, and cilantro leaves were tossed with a dressing made from minced garlic, jalapeno, cumin, lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. The salad was served on a platter topped with the spiced peanuts. 

This salad was big on texture and flavor. I had cucumber, purple daikon, and jalapeno from local farms to use here. The freshness of the vegetables and spicy kick from the dressing and peanuts made for a great combination. It reminded me of a Thai salad I’ve made before that also brought together cucumber, chiles, and peanuts, but here the smoked chipotle and jalapeno took it in a new direction. I can't wait to taste all the other new directions found in dishes throughout the book.

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Willa Jean Cornbread

In case there could be any doubt as to the credence of The Good Book of Southern Baking: A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread, there are no fewer than seven biscuit recipes. That even includes one dog biscuit. I received a review copy of this new book by Kelly Fields of Willa Jean bakery in New Orleans. This cookbook is written specifically for the home cook and for baking the best versions of several well-loved recipes. It is definitely not a pastry chef’s ego trip. Through anecdotes and asides shared throughout, you get a sense of Fields’ extensive experience and capabilities, but the recipes shared are for straightforward baking in a home kitchen. And, right away, I learned a few game-changer tips while baking from it. Yes, I’m showing you cornbread today, but it’s not just any cornbread. This cornbread involved one of those game-changers. It is hands-down the best cornbread I have ever made. I also have to tell you a bit about the chocolate chip cookie recipe in the book. I was introduced to a type of chocolate I had never encountered before but will now be using often. 

For the Willa Jean Chocolate Chip Cookies, Fields experimented with ingredients to arrive at a cookie that’s “chewy, crispy, and crunchy with ample chocolate in every bite.” There are three kinds of chocolate used in the dough: Valrhona Caramelia, Valrhona Dulcey, and Valrhona Guanaja. The Caramelia and Dulcey are both made with pre-caramelized sugars that lend a lovely depth to the sweetness. I wasn’t able to find Dulcey locally, so I used more of the Caramelia and had to work hard not to eat it all out of hand before it went into the cookie dough. I bought feves of both the Caramelia and Guanaja, which are a little big for cookies, and cut them all in half. The cookie dough was mixed, portioned into big rounds, and placed on a baking sheet that went into the freezer. The frozen-solid dough was then sprinkled with flaky salt and baked at a lower oven temperature for a little longer than usual. They were magnificent. And, you can bake just what you need as you need it and have more in the freezer for later. 

Some other recipes I have my eye on from the book include the Glazed Lemon-Cornmeal Muffins, the Sweet Potato Biscuits, the Moon Pies, and the Spiced Rum Bundt Cake. I should point out there’s a primer on hand pies with several filling options in addition to turnovers. And, thinking ahead to Thanksgiving, I’m already considering the Sweet Potato and Toasted Honey Marshmallow Pie or the Pumpkin Pie with Roasted White Chocolate Cream. 

But, back to the cornbread. It’s made with corn flour (not cornstarch but corn flour) and cornmeal. Both are pre-soaked in buttermilk overnight before mixing the batter. The corn flour and cornmeal become fully hydrated and bring about an incredibly tender crumb. Regarding the issue of sugar, I disagree with Fields on this point. She likes her cornbread a bit sweet, and I do not. I omitted the granulated and brown sugars in the recipe and added just a bit of the honey. The cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet until golden. 

First, the texture of this cornbread is unlike any other I’ve made. It’s crumbly from the cornmeal but tender and not at all dry. It was delicious the day it was baked and the next day and the day after that. It was a treat with a pat of butter and better than some cakes I’ve had with a dollop of jam. It’s clearly a keeper of a recipe, and I look forward to getting just as hooked on others from this book. 

Willa Jean Cornbread 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Good Book of Southern Baking: A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread.

Makes one 10-inch round or one 9 by 5-inch loaf 

3⁄4 cup corn flour (I like using Bob’s Red Mill) 
3⁄4 cup coarse cornmeal 
2 1⁄3 cups buttermilk, at room temperature 
3 tablespoons plus 
1 1⁄2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted 
2 1⁄3 cups all-purpose flour 
4 teaspoons baking powder 
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda 
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar 
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar 
4 eggs, at room temperature 
2 1⁄2 tablespoons honey 
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt 
Butter for serving 
Cane syrup for serving (optional) 

This cornbread recipe is a testament to what happens when multiple folks put their heads together and collaborate on a seemingly simple project. The fantastic team at Willa Jean and I dissected cornbread—what we love about it and what we don’t—and became absolutely maniacal about creating a version that spoke to all the different things we imagined the perfect cornbread to be. First and foremost, it’s about achieving great corn flavor. But almost equally important is texture—we hate dry cornbread. This version—the best version ever—blurs the lines between the texture of traditional cornbread and that of a tender quick bread. Then there’s the issue of sweetness, about which there is an ongoing decades-long debate. Some folks believe that cornbread is just cake if you add sugar to it. Folks in the South are real serious about their position on this. I can tell you that I’ve debated it a hundred times over (and often with the same folks over and over again), and I will l stand behind and defend my stance: I like a little sugar in my cornbread. But in truth, I believe there is room in this world for all the cornbreads! 

At the end of the day, I think the real jewel is the cornbread that you can and will eat all by itself for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and that you are equally happy crumbling on top of things like red beans and chili. The trick to this perfect cornbread is letting the cornmeal, corn flour, and buttermilk sit overnight; this allows the corn flour to fully hydrate, while the acid from the buttermilk tenderizes the cornmeal, helping to create a tender, almost cakey bread that still retains that slightly gritty texture you expect. The beauty of this cornbread is that you can leave the fully prepared batter in the refrigerator for 2 days before baking it. 

1. In a medium bowl, using a wooden spoon, stir the corn flour and cornmeal with the buttermilk until there are no dry pockets remaining. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or for as little as 1 hour if you want to make the cornbread right now). 
2. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with the 1 1⁄2 teaspoons butter. In another medium bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour with the baking powder and baking soda. In a large bowl, whisk the granulated sugar and brown sugar with the eggs, honey, and salt. Whisk in the cornmeal mixture until well combined. Add the flour mixture, stirring just until combined, and then stir in 3 tablespoons of the butter. 
3. Pour the batter in to the prepared skillet or pan. Bake for about 35 minutes, if using a skillet, or 50 to 55 minutes if using a loaf pan, rotating the skillet or pan after 25 minutes, until the cornbread is golden and irresistible and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. 
4. Slather with butter and cane syrup, if using, cut, and enjoy immediately. Store leftovers loosely wrapped in foil at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Anchovy Dip

With most cookbooks, there are chapters that just aren’t for me since I don’t eat red meat. I like reading cookbooks all the way through to see what new things I learn, but I don’t end up using the meat recipes unless there’s a sauce that I repurpose with a different protein. It’s a completely different experience when I read a cookbook focused on fish. I received a review copy of Foolproof Fish: Modern Recipes for Everyone, Everywhere from America’s Test Kitchen and quickly fell for this book filled with recipe after recipe that I wanted to try. As is customary with America’s Test Kitchen, you can rest assured that every technique in every recipe has been investigated to arrive at the best procedure for each dish. There are instructions for everything from removing bones and skin to properly flipping delicate fillets in the pan. Each recipe begins with a description of “Why this recipe works.” One of the first recipes in the book, the Miso-Marinated Salmon, caught my eye because the “why it works” description explained how the miso cures the salmon if you marinate it long enough. I also realized that other miso salmon recipes I used in the past never recommended scraping the marinade off the fish before cooking. Right away, I realized what a better approach that is. After enough time marinating, the flavor has been absorbed by the salmon, and the excess ingredients will be too thick for a nicely lacquered finish. And, then I just wanted to make everything as I turned the pages of the book. Baked Halibut with Cherry Tomatoes and Chickpeas and Israeli Couscous with Clams Leeks and Tomatoes are two examples of quick, one-pot meals but there are several. I loved the idea of poaching cod fillets in a Thai-inspired coconut broth with lemongrass and ginger. There’s also a Hot-and-Sour Soup with Shrimp and Rice Vermicelli that sounds delicious. Classics abound like a lobster roll, shrimp po’ boy, gumbo, crab cakes, and clam chowder. I got distracted by the Peruvian Ceviche with Oranges and Radishes but then started cooking from the book by making the Shrimp Burgers topped with classic tartar sauce before I set about making the Anchovy Dip. 

When I announced I was making anchovy dip, Kurt was uncertain. He likes anchovies; he just wasn’t sure that making a dip of them would be a good idea. I, on the other hand, knew it would be good. I had the gall to make a couple of small changes to the recipe despite the testing it had already undergone. The recipe calls for blanched almonds, but I used raw cashews because I had them on hand. And, I skipped the suggested raisins for sweetness. To start, the nuts were boiled until soft, about 20 minutes, and then they were drained and rinsed. The nuts along with anchovies that I had soaked and drained and water, lemon juice, lemon zest, fresh garlic, Dijon mustard, pepper, and a pinch of salt were pureed in a food processor until smooth. To go with the dip, I returned to one of my favorite ways of making chips. I slowly baked thin slices of sweet potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes. 

By pairing the anchovy dip with homemade, baked potato chips, the snack became fish and chips. And, the dip was a smooth, savory delight. It was like bagna cauda made thick with the cashew puree. The anchovies gave it lots of great flavor that wasn’t overpowering at all. Whether you’re looking for the best approach to cook your favorite seafood dishes at home or for something new and different, this book has you covered.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Spinach, Ricotta, and Mushroom Tartlets

I’ve always enjoyed playing with pastry dough. But, crimping the edges of a pie crust, cutting and weaving lattice pieces, or making leaf shapes of pastry for the top of a pumpkin pie is about as far as I’ve taken it. When I received a review copy of The Pastry School: Sweet and Savoury Pies, Tarts and Treats to Bake at Home, I soon realized how much more could be done. These pies and tarts are works of art. For Julie Jones, pastry is her medium of choice, and she’s practiced the skills to produce masterpieces. There are recipes for different types of pastry including shortcrust, puff pastry, choux pastry, gluten-free, and vegan followed by tips for rolling, baking, blind-baking, and decorating. I appreciated the tip for blind-baking a tart shell with overhanging pastry beyond the edge of the tart pan. I’ve seen many pastry shells shrink down below the top edge of tart pans over the years. By leaving extra in place, you’ll have a full height of pastry in the tart pan when you trim the baked excess. And, the suggestion for trimming the edge is to slide a vegetable peeler along it until it’s level with the edge of the tart pan. Such a great idea. Another great tip is to use a pasta rolling machine to get extra smooth, thin pastry. A lot of the decorations are achieved by using very thin sheets of pastry cut and shaped into designs that are then adhered with egg wash to a very thin pastry lid cut to the size of the top needed. So smart. In some cases, the filling becomes part of the design as well. The Apple Rose Tart is made with curled apple slice roses and pretty flower- and leaf-shaped pastry pieces. For the little Mango and Coconut Cream Tartlets, the decorations are very thinly sliced grapes and tiny coriander flowers. The Pistachio Tart with Rhurbarb Tiles, shown on the book cover, is particularly stunning with perfectly lined-up rectangular pieces of rhubarb topped with a pretty profusion of swirling apple slices, blackberries, and pastry pieces. There are also savory pastries, and the Griddled Greens, Cauliflower, and Lemon Triangles made with sheet pastry and baked until shatteringly crisp look delicious. It was the parquet look of the Chicken, Chorizo, and Spinach Pie that I had to try. I decided to limit my first attempt at this type of decorative pastry to smaller tartlets, and I filled mine with a vegetarian mixture. 

I made the shortcrust pastry and let it chill while working on the filling. I sauteed a mix of mushrooms and set it aside. Next, spinach was sauteed with garlic and allowed to cool. I mixed the spinach with ricotta. Next, I rolled out half of the pastry and cut and filled tartlet pans with overhanging pastry. I cut parchment paper to fit into each pan, and filled them pie weights for blind-baking. After 20 minutes, the pie weights and parchment were removed, and the tartlet shells baked for another 15 minutes. Once cool, the overhanging edges of pastry were trimmed with a vegetable peeler, and the pastry shells were cleaned of crumbs with a pastry brush. For the decorative tartlet tops, I rolled the other half of the pastry through my pasta machine. I cut thin sheets of pastry into circles to fit the tops of the tartlets. Those base tops were chilled to firm them up. Next, I used more of the thin, pasta machine rolled pastry to make tile shapes. I measured and cut the rectangles and then placed them in the parquet design on the chilled thin pastry lids. I worked on top of parchment paper, and flipped the whole assembly over onto another piece of parchment paper so I could trim the tiles to the edge of the bottom layer of pastry. I flipped the whole assembly back to parquet-side-up and chilled the finished tops. While the tops were chilling, I filled the tartlet shells with the ricotta and spinach mixture and topped that with mushrooms. I ended feeling like the day had gotten away from me, and I only topped two tartlets with the parquet effect. The other two received plain pastry lids. The chilled pastry tops were set in place and brushed with egg wash and the tartlets went back into the oven until golden and crisp. 

Let me tell you what I’ll do differently next time: I won’t attempt to do all of these steps on the same day. The pastry can be made in advance and refrigerated. The tartlet shells can be blind-baked and trimmed in advance. The thin pastry lids on which the decorative layer is placed can be cut and chilled in advance. And, of course, the filling can be made in advance. With everything prepped and ready, more time and attention can be focused on the fun, decorative layer. I loved learning these tips for working with pastry; I especially loved all the inspiration for amazing pastry art; and I look forward to getting more practice.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Flautas de Rajas con Queso with Salsa de Aguacate

As soon as I opened my review copy of Chicano Eats: Recipes from My Mexican-American Kitchen by Esteban Castillo, I knew I was going to have fun cooking from this book. This is a collection of Mexican food and flavors transformed by time and place. Castillo has been inspired by the cooking of his mother while growing up in California and by his grandparents whom he visited as often as he could in Colima, Mexico. And now, he puts his own stamp on family favorite recipes and creates new takes of his own. First, the book has a joyful feel to it from the layout and use of color to the many, richly saturated photos. The recipes start with basics like salsas, beans, rice, and sauces and move on to everything from appetizers to desserts and drinks. There are so many things I want to try; this book will be at my side in the kitchen for the foreseeable future. I fell for the book when I flipped it open to the page with a torta filled with delicata squash seasoned with a spice mix based on chorizo flavors. A few pages later, there’s a Rigatoni with Cilantro Pesto and Sauteed Oyster Mushrooms and then the Shrimp Ceviche Tostadas. Of course, I was hooked. There are a few versions of pozole, lots of options for tacos, and delicious drinks with and without alcohol. In the head note for the BBQ sauces, there’s a mention of grilling quail which I think would be fantastic with the Hibiscus BBQ Sauce. That sauce is also used to marinate the Tequila BBQ Chicken Skewers. I’ll have to try both. I also predict I’ll be trying several options in the Drinks chapter. I’ve never made homemade horchata, but I want to try it. There are three versions here: classic, matcha, and coconut, and all can easily be made dairy-free. And, the aguas frescas all look incredibly refreshing especially the Cherry Lime Chia Agua Fresca and the Strawberry-Jamaica Agua Fresca. The Desserts chapter reminded me that I’ve been meaning try a chocoflan for ages. It’s a layered dessert that’s made with chocolate cake batter topped with flan custard. As it bakes, the layers switch places, and the flan moves to the bottom of the pan. It sounds like magic, and I want to see it happen. To get started cooking, the Flautas de Rajas con Queso looked like a surefire hit, and I had a craving for the accompanying Salsa de Aguacate. 

I don’t know why I had never made avocado salsa before. It’s a perfect mix of guacamole and salsa verde. The day I made it, I declared it was my favorite thing I’d made lately. I keep making it now so it’s always in supply in my refrigerator. It’s a simple puree of avocados, garlic, green onion, tomatillo, cilantro leaves, serrano, lime juice, and salt. It couldn’t be easier. For the flautas, I had some locally-grown poblanos on hand, and they were seeded, sliced, and cooked with chopped crimini mushrooms, and minced onion. Garlic was added, and the mixture was seasoned with salt, pepper, ground coriander, and ground cumin. Then, I strayed from the recipe just a bit. Strips of panela cheese were suggested. With a strip of cheese, you could just add one piece to each tortilla before rolling it up with the filling. I opted for an aged goat cheese that I shredded. Corn tortillas were filled with the rajas and mushroom mixture and some shredded cheese, and my tip is to use a toothpick to hold the rolled tortillas closed. Once they were all filled, they were fried, seam side down with the toothpicks removed, until golden and crispy. I topped them with cilantro leaves, sliced jalapeno, and that delicious salsa. 

I always love bright, spicy, bold flavors like what’s found throughout this book, and the flautas and salsa were two great examples of them. And, I was right. This book is a lot of fun with its mix of traditional and creative approaches. I need to get back to the kitchen. I have lots more cooking to do.

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