Saturday, June 30, 2012

Slow Roasted Salmon with Cherry Tomatoes and Farro

Fresh, wild salmon is my chateaubriand or prime rib or whatever meat lovers think of as the pinnacle of protein. I’ve read a lot about salmon fishing and the sustainability standards that protect future populations of wild salmon, and I’ll include a list of a few of those books below. What I’ve learned is that one of the best things consumers can do is to support fisheries that operate sustainably. I get excited for the start of wild salmon season and to see the first-of-the-season salmon at our fish counters in May. This year, I was contacted by the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association and asked to help spread the word about fresh, wild, Copper River Salmon and where it’s available. I was happy to do so, and I was thrilled to receive some Copper River King salmon. On Facebook, there’s an app for locating and tagging locations of Copper River Salmon at both stores and restaurants. And, there are links to recipes and information about the current fishing season. Some info about King salmon: the season is a little shorter than that of Sockeye since it ends in June rather than August, and Kings are higher in omega-3 fatty acids than any other type of salmon. That gives the fish a buttery richness and great flavor. I prefer to cook it just enough to leave the very middle a good, dark, reddish pink, and a great way to do that is by slow roasting. In the June issue of Bon Appetit, there was a dish that matched just how I wanted to cook this King salmon. Some big pieces of salmon were roasted at a low temperature in olive oil with herbs and cherry tomatoes. Since the fish cooks slowly this way, you can easily check it from time to time to see how it’s progressing. The salmon was served with a yogurt sauce with herbs and lemon zest. In the magazine, there was a couscous dish with tomatoes to go with the salmon, but I changed it a little. I used farro instead and added some fresh, local corn along with cherry tomatoes and herbs.

I used two big pieces of King salmon, and they were set in a roasting dish on a layer of herbs including basil, thyme, oregano, and chives. There was olive oil beneath the herbs, and more was drizzled over the salmon. The salmon was seasoned, and cherry tomatoes were added to the pan before it went into 325 degree F oven. Depending on the thickness of the fish and the desired doneness, it could take from 20 to 35 minutes to roast. Meanwhile, I simmered farro in water and sauteed kernals cut from a few ears of corn in melted butter. More cherry tomatoes were halved and tossed with chopped parsley, olive oil, za’atar, and salt. The farro was drained and then topped with the marinated tomatoes and sauteed corn, more olive oil was added, and the mix was tossed to combine. I cut servings of the roasted salmon and served them on mounds of farro topped with yogurt herb sauce.

I hope that top photo shows the texture of the salmon well enough. I’ve already called it buttery, and that’s the best word for it. With tomatoes and fresh corn, this meal says summer. I don’t have a good photo of how the leftovers were used, but I can highly recommend making panini with flaked pieces of roasted salmon, some arugula leaves, and lemon-caper-mayonnaise. Enjoy the wild salmon season while it’s here, and check back for more salmon dishes coming soon.

Salmon-related reading list:

Red Summer: The Danger and Madness of Commercial Salmon Fishing in Alaska
Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food
For Cod and Country: Simple, Delicious, Sustainable Cooking

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Beer Nut Ice Cream

As I've been telling people about the flavors in the Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book, I keep hearing: "Wait, ice cream?" Yes, ice cream. This is the first book from the San Francisco ice cream shop, and I received a review copy. I first heard of Humphry Slocombe when I read Mission Street Food since their ice cream was served for dessert when MSF moved from the taco truck into the first restaurant. I knew they were known for unique flavors, and it was these recipes that sent me off in search of vadouvan curry and cubeb pepper. The curry powder is used in the Peanut Butter Curry ice cream, and the cubeb pepper is in Pepper and Mint Chip. Several of the flavors include a savory angle to accent the sweetness like Chocolate Smoked Salt, Strawberry Candied Jalapeno, and Candy Cap which is made with dried candy cap mushrooms. The thrill of this book is the surprising flavor combinations, but there are a few conventional options as well. There's a Tahitian V*nill@, Here's Your Damn Chocolate Ice Cream, Malted Milk Chocolate, and Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee. The shop's signature flavor is Secret Breakfast which combines bourbon and corn flakes in the form of chopped corn flake cookies. I can't wait to try that one. Since I couldn't decide which flavor to make first, I handed the book to Kurt and asked him to choose one. No surprise, he handed the book back opened to the Stout page. It's an ice cream made with reduced stout, brown sugar, and molasses, and there's a variation for turning it into Beer Nut Ice Cream by adding Frosted Peanuts. I congratulated Kurt on a great choice and put the ice cream canister in the freezer. 

In the recipe introduction, it's explained that they didn't expect this flavor to be as popular as it is. They write that the beer geeks keep asking for it and go on to describe the beer geeks as "the Trekkies of the food world." I loved relaying that quote to Kurt. It's also noted that this ice cream could be made with any beer, but stout becomes syrupy when reduced and works especially well. I chose a chocolate stout, but the chocolate flavor wasn't a part of the finished ice cream. After reducing with brown sugar, the stout tasted like butterscotch. Molasses and salt were added followed by milk and cream. When the mixture was back to barely a simmer, it was slowly poured into a bowl of egg yolks and sugar while whisking to temper the yolks. The custard-to-be was poured back into the saucepan and heated while stirring until thickened. It was poured through a strainer into a measuring pitcher set in an ice bath, allowed to cool, chilled in the refrigerator, and then churned in an ice cream maker. Meanwhile, I made the Frosted Peanuts. You just whisk together an egg white, some sugar, vanilla extract, and salt, and then add nuts. I used both peanuts and almonds, and coated them with the egg white mixture. Then, they were spread on a baking sheet and baked in a low oven for about half an hour. The nuts were stirred every 10 minutes while baking to prevent them from clumping. 

As the stout and brown sugar cooked and reduced, it smelled like delicious, malty butterscotch, and that's how the ice cream tasted too. The sweet-salty, crunchy nuts fit the flavor perfectly. For more beer ice cream, there's also a Guinness Gingerbread flavor in the book, and I'm already planning to serve that for dessert for Thanksgiving this year. And while I wait for fall, there are sorbets to try like Thai Chile Lime, Cayenne Cantaloupe, and Hibiscus Beet. For frozen desserts beyond the ordinary, this is the book for inspiration. 

Recipes reprinted with publisher's permission from Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book

One 12-oz bottle stout, or any other strong beer you love 
1/2 cup brown sugar 
2 tbsp molasses (Note: If not using stout beer, skip the molasses.) 
2 tsp salt 
2 cups heavy cream 
1 cup whole milk 
3 egg yolks 
1 cup granulated sugar 

No, you can’t get drunk from beer ice cream. 

Well, maybe you can if you eat a few gallons of it, but in that scenario, you’d throw up from the fat and dairy well before getting a buzz from the beer. 

We mostly use stout in the shop—it gets rich and syrupy when reduced, permeating the air with a great yeasty smell—but you can use this basic recipe with any kind of beer. We like cheap beer, medium-priced wine, and expensive bourbon. Unfortunately, cheap, watery beer like PBR or Bud Light won’t work too well, because the lighter the beer, the less pronounced the flavor. We’ve come to favor any variation of stout, but if you’re a real beer fanboy, you can try other kinds of beers that have strong, distinct flavors. (For example, IPA gets its own flavor during Beer Week; we don’t offer it during the rest of the year, though, because the hops are very pronounced. It’s not for everyone, but beer geeks love it. 

We thought beer ice cream would be more or less a novelty that comes and goes, but the legions of beer geeks proved us wrong. They’re like the Trekkies of the food world, and their passion never ceases to amaze. Now beer is in our regular rotation. Lick your beer; we promise to hold your hair back if you have too much. 

In a large, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, combine the beer and brown sugar and cook, stirring often, until reduced by half, 15 to 20 minutes. It should be slightly sticky to the touch. 

Add the molasses (if using) and salt and stir to dissolve the salt. Add the cream and milk and cook, stirring occasionally, until hot but not boiling. 

Fill a large bowl or pan with ice and water. Place a large, clean bowl in the ice bath and fit the bowl with a fine-mesh strainer. 

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until well blended. 

Remove the cream mixture from the heat. Slowly pour about half of the hot cream mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Transfer the yolk mixture back to the saucepan with the remaining cream mixture and return to medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula and being sure to scrape the bottom of the saucepan so it doesn’t scorch, until the liquid begins to steam and you can feel the spatula scrape against the bottom of the pan, 2 to 3 minutes. 

Remove the custard from the heat and immediately pour it through the strainer into the clean bowl you set up in the ice bath. Let cool, stirring occasionally. 

When the custard has totally cooled, cover the bowl tightly and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or preferably overnight. When you are ready to freeze the custard, transfer it to an ice cream maker and spin according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Eat immediately or freeze for up to 1 week. 

Fun Fact: Before the New York Times profile on Humphry Slocombe was published, we had to submit to a bunch of fact-checking. Jake spent hours on the phone with the marvelous Anaheed Alani. Somewhere along the way, she mentioned that her favorite ice cream was a beer-and-peanut flavor from a Manhattan shop. To thank her for her work, Jake sent a pint of the ice cream that would later become, in tribute, Anaheed’s Beer Nut. We hope it’s her new favorite. To make it for yourself, prepare Stout as directed and stir in ½ cup Frosted Peanuts after spinning the custard in your ice cream maker. 

Free Advice: Since the beer ice creams are all so high in alcohol (compared to other ice creams that is), they probably won’t freeze completely in your ice cream machine—depending on what kind of machine you have, of course. Don’t fret; freeze as best as you can in the machine and finish it off in the freezer. Transfer to an airtight container, cover, and freeze until it reaches the desired consistency. 

Frosted Peanuts 

Makes 2 cups 

1/2 cup sugar 
1 egg white 
1/2 tsp vanilla extract 
Pinch of salt 
2 cups roasted, unsalted peanuts 

We use Frosted Peanuts in our Tin Roof sundae and in our Beer Nut ice cream, but there are about 391 other uses for them, including just snacking on them. 

Preheat the oven to 250°F. 

In a medium bowl, lightly whisk together the sugar, egg white, vanilla, and salt. When everything is smooth and mixed, stir in the peanuts. 

Spread out the coated peanuts on a Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. 

Bake, stirring every 10 minutes so the nuts separate and do not stick together in one big clump, until the nuts are dry, about 30 minutes. Transfer immediately to a plate to cool. Keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. 

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup

A bowl of tomato soup and a crispy, grilled cheese sandwich is an all-time, classic, American comfort food combination. And, the best version of it involves homemade soup made from just-picked, ripe tomatoes. Comfort food that captures the best of summer seemed like a good idea for a new-mom-to-be looking to stock her freezer with meals before the baby arrives. Ilke from Ilke’s Kitchen has organized a virtual baby shower for Shelley from Franish Nonspeaker. For the shower, a group of us are posting recipe ideas for either freezer-friendly dishes that can be made in advance and stored or dishes that are quick and easy for a busy, new parent. This tomato soup is fairly quick and easy to prepare, but mostly, I thought it would be a great thing to pull from the freezer on a day when there’s no time to cook. The recipe is from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, and it’s also available online. Crunchy, parmesan croutons take the place of a grilled cheese sandwich here, and they are a delicious topping on the soup along with some fresh basil. Regarding the soup’s texture, it’s really up to you. Ina recommended passing it through a food mill after cooking, but I used an immersion blender. For a smoother puree, you could use a regular blender or a food processor and work in batches. Then, depending on the weather or your mood, you can decide if you’d rather serve the soup hot or cold.

To make the soup, you need four pounds of fresh tomatoes. I used a mix of varieties including big beefsteak tomatoes, smaller yellow taxi tomatoes, and a few San Marzanos from the farmers’ market. The tomatoes should be cored and coarsely chopped. The best thing about a pureed soup is that the ingredients are just quickly chopped for cooking since the shape doesn’t matter in the end. The recipe calls for red onion, but I used some locally grown sweet 1015’s instead. To begin, the onions were sauteed in a large pot with a couple of chopped carrots. When the vegetables had become tender, some garlic was added and cooked for a minute. Next, the tomatoes were added with tomato paste, stock, basil, and salt and pepper. Sugar was supposed to have been added, but I skipped it since the tomatoes were so flavorful, and I used a sweet onion. Also, rather than using the suggested chicken stock, I made a quick vegetable stock to use instead. Even water would work here, but some extra salt and maybe a little more tomato paste would be needed in that case. The soup was brought to a boil and then left to simmer for about half an hour. Just before being pureed, three quarters of a cup of cream was added to the soup. To top the soup, a baguette was cut into chunks, the pieces were tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper, and they were sprinkled with grated parmesan. The croutons were baked until golden and crunchy.

It’s actually a sign of a new chapter in my food life that I suggested serving this soup hot or cold. Until recently, I wasn’t a fan of cold tomato soup. While on vacation during the week of Memorial Day, I tried a chilled, smooth tomato soup for lunch one day and actually loved it. Just like this soup, it had some added cream for richness, but the flavor was really all about the tomatoes. And, that soup had some lemon in it that worked to point up the flavors. So, just to test this recipe for all possible uses, I’ve tasted it hot off the stove, chilled from the refrigerator with a little added lemon juice, and thawed and re-heated from the freezer. I can report that it was fantastic every which way and that having a supply in the freezer makes this comfort food meal an easy option whenever you want it.

For more quick dishes or freezer-friendly meals, check for recipes that will be posted for Shelley on these other sites throughout this week:

Anna from Keep It Luce
Carrie from Bakeaholic Mama
Kristina from Girl Gone Grits
Elaine from California Living
Esra from Irmik Hanim
Ilke from Ilke’s Kitchen
Jennie from Pastry Chef Online
Jennifer from Scissors and Spatulas
Lana from Bibberche
Renee from Sweet Sugar Bean
Robin from A Chow Life
Sarah from Snippets of Thyme

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Asian-Flavored Kale and Cabbage Slaw

Things do change over time. Several years ago, when Kurt and I signed up for our first CSA, we both dreaded the mounds of greens that appeared each time we picked up our share. I used to have to rack my brain trying to think of ways to use them all. Then, at some point, I changed my mind about greens. I became a kale advocate, a collards enthusiast, an escarole devotee. Now, when they're out of season during the hottest part of the summer, I actually miss them. To me, a pasta dish doesn't seem complete without some sauteed greens, and even fried eggs look lonely on the plate without something green and leafy accompanying them. Needless to say, I was delighted to receive a review copy of the new book Wild About Greens by Nava Atlas because I now feel the same way. This book covers everything from cleaning and prepping greens to hearty dishes, salads, soups, and juices and smoothies. Even though I've been using greens and enjoying them for a while now, I found several intriguing new ideas to try. Next time I receive mustard greens from our CSA, they'll go into Balsamic-Glazed Chickpeas and Mustard Greens. Other dishes I can't wait to try include the Vietnamese-Style Bean-Thread Noodles with Spinach and Napa Cabbage, simply sauteed greens with Spicy Peanut Sauce, and Italian-Style Braised Chard with Tomatoes. I'm already a convert to putting greens in a berry smoothie, and next I want to try the Spinach Pina Colada Smoothie and the Kale and Pear Smoothie with hemp seeds. First though, I had to make use of some local kale before it's gone for the summer, and the Asian-Flavored Kale and Cabbage Slaw was a great place to start. 

This is an easy, raw salad that would fit nicely into a picnic menu. I followed the recipe and left things simple, but I kept thinking of all the things that could be added to this. One change I did make was to use savoy cabbage rather than the suggested napa cabbage, and that was only because savoy was available the day I was shopping and napa wasn't. The dressing for the slaw was made first, and that was a mix of olive oil, dark sesame oil, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, and agave nectar. Next, the kale leaves were cleaned and chopped into thin strips. For a raw kale salad, the leaves need to be squeezed a bit or massaged to soften them. You just oil your hands and work the oil into the chopped kale until the kale turns a bright green. It only takes a minute or two. Then, the rest of the vegetables were added, and those included shredded savoy cabbage, grated carrots, and some sprouts and I used radish sprouts. The vegetables were tossed with the dressing, sesame seeds were added and combined into the slaw, and then the slaw was topped with pumpkin seeds. As I spooned the slaw into a serving bowl, I thought about how next time I might add some sliced red bell pepper or some slivers of spicy serrano chiles. Some chopped green onions wouldn't be out of place here, and cubes of tofu on top would make a meal of it. Or, leave it just as it is for a fresh, crunchy slaw with big flavor from the sesame oil and soy sauce in the dressing.

It wasn't so long ago that rushing to the farmers' market in hopes of getting some late-season kale would have seemed crazy to me, but I'm glad to be a greens fan now. If I'd had this book back when we started our first CSA, I probably would have become a fan much sooner. 

Asian-Flavored Kale and Napa Cabbage Slaw 
Recipe reprinted with permission from Wild About Greens © 2012 by Nava Atlas, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photographs by Susan Voisin.

6 to 8 servings 

This salad was inspired by Barbara Pollack, a longtime reader of my books. She forewarned me that it’s addictive, and she’s right. 

For the dressing: 
1 tablespoon olive oil or other healthy vegetable oil 
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil 
2 tablespoons vinegar (apple cider, rice, or white wine) 
2 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari 
2 tablespoons agave nectar or other liquid sweetener 
5 or 6 Leaves kale, preferably lacinato (curly kale will work too) 
3 cups firmly packed thinly shredded napa cabbage 
1 cup grated carrots 
1 cup sprouts, any variety 
1⁄4 cup toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds, or 1⁄8 cup of each 
3 tablespoons sesame seeds 
Freshly ground pepper to taste 

Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together. Strip the kale leaves from the stems. Slice the stems very thinly or discard. Cut the kale leaves into very thin strips and place in a large serving bowl. Oil your hands lightly and massage the kale for 30 to 45 seconds, until the leaves are bright green and soft. 

Add the remaining salad ingredients, then toss well with the dressing. Let the salad stand for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the tang, saltiness, and sweetness with more vinegar, soy sauce, or sweetener to your liking, then serve. 

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Coconut Flans with Muscovado Sugar Sauce

Recipes from Alice Medrich are always precise and work like a charm, and now she's given us some really easy ones too. Her latest book is Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts, and I received a review copy. It's a guide to building great desserts from a well-stocked pantry. There are recipes for baked desserts, custards, and sauces, but there are also numerous tips for combining different kinds of fruit or store-bought ingredients like ice cream with other components or sauces. And, most recipes come with suggested variations. This book teaches you to be a dessert-MacGyver. The list of "Things to do with vanilla ice cream" alone could fill all of your dessert menus for the rest of the summer. Some of those suggestions include: serving ice cream on cinnamon toast with chocolate or caramel sauce, and Medrich provides three different chocolate sauce recipes and four caramel sauces from which to choose; drizzling the ice cream with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkling with flaky sea salt, and adding dessert croutons; and topping ice cream with Bourbon-Brown Sugar Pecans and peach slices. In the Starting with Fruit chapter, there's a Saucy Cranberry Maple Pudding Cake that I can't wait to try this fall, a Blueberry Cornmeal Cobbler that I'll try very soon, and a list of various fruit sauces both chunky and smooth to add to other desserts. The ideas continue with cakes, cookies, and other sweet bites, and they're all completely simple to do. 

As I read about the flans in the book, I was intrigued by the idea of placing a layer of muscovado sugar in the base of ramekins rather than making caramelized sugar for the sauce. The dark, brown sugar mixed with a little salt, melts easily and becomes a flavorful caramel sauce once the flans have been chilled. The molasses flavor of muscovado sugar sounded perfect for the Coconut Flans. A simple custard was made with coconut milk that had been warmed before being whisked into eggs, sugar, vanilla, rum, and salt. Of course, the recipe suggests using vanilla or rum, and of course I used both. Why choose? The flans were baked in a water bath until the custard was only slightly wobbly in the center. Mine took five minutes longer than the suggested baking time to set. So, pick up a ramekin with an oven mitt and wiggle it a bit to see how the custard is setting as it bakes, and remove from the oven when the wobble seems just right. After baking, the custards have to be chilled, and it's the chilling that makes the muscovado sugar dissolve. So, they need a minimum of four hours in the refrigerator. Then, the flans can be turned out onto dessert plates and topped with lime zest and cinnamon grated from a stick. 

These flans were cool and creamy with lovely tropical flavor. With all of the great ideas in this book, dinner party-worthy desserts for any season can be whipped up at a moment's notice. For that matter, there's no reason to wait for a dinner party. These recipes make it easy enough to have dessert every day of the week. 

Coconut Flans with Muscovado Sugar Sauce 
Excerpted from Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012.

Serves 8 

Dark muscovado sugar is a deep mahogany color and very flavorful. It easily takes the place of the traditional caramelized sugar in these flans; all you have to do is press it into the bottom of each cup, then ladle the flan mixture on top of it. The sugar dissolves into a sauce when the flans are chilled. These are extra good with a little grated lime zest and cinnamon stick added just before serving. For old-school flans with caramelized sugar, see the variation. 

For the sugar sauce 
2/3 cup (4.625 ounces) firmly packed dark muscovado sugar 
1/4 teaspoon salt 

For the flans 
5 large eggs 
3/4 cup (5.25 ounces) sugar 
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon rum 
1/8 teaspoon salt 
3 cups unsweetened coconut milk (from two 14- to 15-ounce cans) 
A cinnamon stick (optional) 
A lime or two, preferably unsprayed or organic (optional) 

Eight 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins Baking pan large enough to hold the custard cups with space between them 
Fine-mesh strainer 
Microplane zester (optional) 

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Put a kettle of water on to boil. 

To line the cups with sugar: combine the muscovado sugar thoroughly with the salt, pinching or mashing the sugar to eliminate lumps. Divide the mixture among the custard cups or ramekins and press lightly on the sugar with another small cup to even it out and compact it. Set the cups in the baking pan. 

To make the flans: whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla or rum, and salt together in a large bowl, without creating a lot of froth or bubbles. 

Heat the coconut milk in a saucepan over medium heat until steaming. Gradually whisk the coconut milk into the eggs, again trying not to raise a froth. Pour the mixture through the strainer into another bowl to eliminate any bits of egg. 

Ladle the flan mixture very gently into the custard cups or ramekins, disturbing the sugar as little as possible. Some of the sugar may float up, but it will eventually settle back down in the bottom. Put the baking pan in the oven, pull out the rack, and carefully pour enough boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the custard cups. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the custard is just a little wobbly in the center. 

Remove the pan from the oven and remove the cups with tongs. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then refrigerate, for at least 4 hours, or preferably for 12 to 24 hours. 

To serve, run a thin knife around the edges of each cup and invert the flan onto a rimmed plate or into a shallow bowl. Or, serve the flans in their cups—the sauce will be on the bottom. Either way, you can grate a little of the cinnamon stick and some lime zest over each flan before serving, if desired. 

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rye Crust Blackberry Tartlets

Every time I leave the house lately, I return with more berries. I can’t stop myself. The season is too short here. Strawberries make a brief appearance at farmers’ markets, and blackberries come and go almost as quickly. When I see them, I grab them. The last bag full of blackberries I brought home were destined for little, rustic tartlets, and I knew I’d find a good option for the crusts in Good to the Grain. There’s a Rustic Rye Dough that’s used for Apricot Boysenberry Tarts in the book, and that was just the kind of whole grain dough I had in mind. The dough is made like a rough puff pastry. It’s rolled into a rectangle, folded into thirds like a letter, turned and rolled and folded two more times before being chilled. The result was flaky crusts with the added flavor of whole grain rye flour that made nice containers for fresh blackberries mixed with berry jam.

I mixed the dough by hand, but it could also be made in a food processor. Rye flour, all-purpose flour, a little sugar, and salt were sifted together in a bowl. Cold butter was worked into the flour mixture, and then apple cider vinegar and ice water were added. At that point, the dough was wrapped in plastic wrap and chilled for an hour. Next, the dough was rolled into a rectangle and folded into thirds. For the first fold, the dough was a little crumbly, but it came together during the next turns and folds. The seam of the folded dough was turned 90 degrees, and it was rolled into a rectangle and folded again. This was repeated one more time before wrapping the dough in plastic and chilling it again. While the dough chilled, the blackberries were combined with some berry jam. Since I was making little tartlets, I worked with half the dough at a time, rolled it out, and cut it into five-inch circles. The blackberry and jam mixture was spooned into the center of each dough circle, and the dough was gathered around the fruit. The tartlets were placed on a baking sheet which went into the freezer before being baked. Just before going into the oven, the tartlet edges were brushed with egg wash, a mix of turbinado sugar and cinnamon was sprinkled on the egg wash, and I added a few thyme leaves.

For serving, I topped the tartlets with fresh thyme sprigs from my herb garden for a pop of green on the sticky, dark, blackberry filling. I’ll still have blueberries for a bit when the local blackberries are gone. And, when all of this year’s berries are gone and I can no longer get my fix, at least there will still be peaches.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Lemongrass Tofu with Chiles

I happen to really, actually like tofu. I like it in all forms whether silken, firm, or extra firm. I like the flavor, and there is a flavor to tofu albeit very mild. It’s versatile enough to be used in endless ways and can be incorporated into dishes both savory and sweet. However, the one way I still have never tried tofu is in its homemade state. Andrea Nguyen’s new book Asian Tofu will change that. After reading the book recently I couldn’t wait to get cooking, so the dish I’m showing here was made with store-bought tofu. Soon enough though, I’ll be turning back to the complete tutorial at the beginning of the book for making homemade tofu from dried soybeans. Obviously, it’s not necessary to make your own tofu for the recipes in the book, but the instructions are there if you want to experiment. There’s also a buying guide to inform you about the varieties typically available in stores. The recipes cover everything from starters and soups to main dishes and salads and even sweets. Not all of the dishes are vegetarian but many are, and there’s usually a simple way to adapt dishes with meat to make them vegetarian if you’d like. For instance, the Grilled Crisp Tofu Pockets from Malaysia are made with a sauce that includes dried shrimp paste, but a sweet chile sauce could be used instead. Some pages I marked show dishes like Silken Tofu and Edamame Soup, Twice-Cooked Coriander Tofu, Pressed Tofu and Peanuts in Spicy Bean Sauce, Spicy-Sweet Fried Tofu Buns, and Spiced Chickpea Crepes with Soybean Paneer. When I finally make my very own homemade tofu, I’ll use it for Japanese Chilled Tofu. To get started using the book, I wanted to try the technique of briefly brining tofu before frying it which both flavors the tofu and gives it a firmer texture. The Lemongrass Tofu with Chiles dish includes that step, and since asparagus was a suggested ingredient, the time was right.

In the tips section at the beginning of the book, Nguyen explains that soaking pieces of tofu in hot, salted water allows the surface of each piece to firm up after being dried. Then, when the pieces are fried, the oil drains from them more easily. The salted water also seasons the tofu pieces giving them even better flavor. The cut tofu pieces only need to sit in the hot, salted water for about 15 minutes. Then, they’re drained and dried before being fried. Once the tofu pieces have all been fried and are left to drain of excess oil, the rest of the dish is a snap to prepare. Finely chopped shallot, chiles, and lemongrass were stir-fried briefly before sliced bell pepper and asparagus were added. The recipe includes green beans as it's written, but asparagus is mentioned as an option. After a couple of minutes, the fried tofu was added followed by a mixture of sugar and curry powder. A scant quarter cup of coconut milk and a bit of fish sauce were added, and that was all there was to it.

The fried tofu was crispy and chewy with a good, golden crust. Since the crust formed quickly as the tofu fried, there was no chance for oil to soak in and lend heaviness. The dish was just rich enough with the tofu and the small amount of coconut milk, and the flavor with the added lemongrass and heat of the chiles was miles beyond what you’d expect from a plate of tofu and vegetables. I can already tell that with this book, I’ll be an even bigger fan of tofu than I was before.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Flax-Coconut Pancakes

I used to make pancakes almost every weekend. Stacks of simple buttermilk cakes dripping with maple syrup was a Sunday morning thing. Then, I think I developed pancake-guilt. I decided even weekend breakfasts should be a little healthier at least most of the time. If a pancake has some fruit in it or whole wheat flour or nuts, I feel better about serving it. So, of course I had to try the Flax-Coconut Pancakes from the March issue of Food and Wine. The recipe is from Elisabeth Prueitt of San Francisco’s Tartine. She too likes the idea of a healthier pancake, and she’s recently been using grains other than white flour since developing gluten-intolerance. For myself, I’m not concerned about the gluten content in baked goods, but I was happy to pull out my bin of various flours and starches and use some ingredients other than white flour. And mostly, these pancakes sounded like they’d be delicious with the coconut flour in the batter and the coconut oil on the griddle. I pushed the coconut flavor even further by adding some unsweetened, grated coconut. For serving, I couldn’t resist the usual drizzle of pure maple syrup, but I topped that with some chunks of fresh mango as well.

The recipe follows the typical pancake-making procedure but uses a few more ingredients. Brown rice flour, white rice flour, sugar, potato starch, tapioca starch, coconut flour, flaxseed meal, baking powder, and salt were combined in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, eggs, milk, and melted coconut oil were whisked before being poured into the dry ingredients. I added a half cup or so of grated coconut and a little more milk to prevent the batter from being too thick. I spread melted coconut oil on a hot griddle with a silicone brush, and then the pancakes were cooked for a few minutes per side. Just like any other kind of pancake, when the surface bubbles, it’s time to turn the cake.

The pancakes had a subtle, warm, tropical flavor from coconut in three forms which was fitting with the mango chunks on top. The coconut and flax make these heartier than plain buttermilk pancakes, but most important, I was pancake-guilt-free serving these for a weekend breakfast treat covered in maple syrup.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Kale Omelet-Stuffed Tomatoes

Did you take part in Food Revolution Day? It was on Saturday May 19, created by the Jamie Oliver Foundation, and it was a day devoted to educating everyone about cooking fresh, healthy food. Slow Food Austin organized a brunch event where we shared food that matched the theme of the day. I wanted to make something simple with mostly local ingredients. The first ripe tomatoes of the year had just started appearing at farm stands and markets, and I couldn’t wait to use them. I brought home a few different varieties of tomatoes and a bunch of kale from Springdale Farm, and then I stole an omelet idea from Virginia Willis’s Basic to Brilliant, Y'all. In the book, a kale omelet is baked in a hollowed out, big, round loaf of bread, and it makes a beautiful presentation. But, for a potluck brunch party, I thought individual omelets would be handy, and I was also thinking back to a stuffed tomato recipe I used to make for summer breakfasts. The dish I used to make involved cutting the tops off tomatoes, removing the seeds, and cracking an egg into each tomato, and then the tomatoes were baked. They’re cute with an intact yolk in the middle, but the problem with the whole egg in a tomato thing is that each tomato needs to be just the right size to fit each egg. By whisking eggs with some sauteed kale, an omelet mixture could be poured to fill tomatoes of any size, and the fitting problem was solved. That’s how the dish you see here was born.

I’ll include the amounts I used in the recipe below, but to make this again, the quantities might have to be changed depending on the size of the tomatoes. First, I sauteed chopped kale with a little minced garlic and red chile flakes in olive oil. Next, tomato tops were cut off and seeds were removed. I sprinkled salt and pepper into each tomato, drizzled in some olive oil, and added a pinch of shredded parmesan. The tomatoes were placed in a baking dish. Eggs were whisked, and the cooled, sauteed kale was added. I used a small ladle to pour the omelet mixture into the tomatoes and filled them almost to the top. More parmesan was strewn about on top before the tomatoes were baked for about 45 minutes.

I’m thinking back to cracking eggs and watching them overflow smaller tomatoes or only filliing bigger ones halfway, and I’m wondering why it never occurred to me before to whisk the eggs into an omelet to use in a stuffed tomato. It’s really a better idea. And, it's easy. It makes a homemade, healthy, and vegetable-forward dish full of fresh, local ingredients for a food revolution or just for a good, summer meal.

Kale Omelet-Stuffed Tomatoes

3 tablespoons olive oil 
1/2 bunch kale, washed, stems removed, and leaves chopped
1 teaspoon red chile flakes or to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
12 medium tomatoes
4 oz. parmigiano reggiano, shredded
7 large eggs

-Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.

-In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, heat two tablespoons of the olive oil and add the red chile flakes. Add the chopped kale and cook until wilted and tender about five minutes. Set aside to cool.

-Cut the tops off each tomato, and using a paring knife or small spoon, remove the seeds to hollow the tomatoes. Choose a baking dish that will hold the tomatoes snuggly so they don’t roll around when the dish is moved, and drizzle a few drops of the remaining olive oil in the bottom of the dish. With the last bit of olive oil, drizzle it in the tomatoes. Season the tomatoes with salt and black pepper, and sprinkle some of the parmigiano reggiano in each tomato.

-In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and season them with salt and black pepper. Add the cooled kale and whisk to combine. Using a small ladle, pour the egg mixture into the tomatoes and fill each almost to the top. Sprinkle the tops of the tomatoes with the remaining parmigiano reggiano, and place baking dish in the oven for about 45 minutes or until the omelets in each tomato are set and the cheese on top is golden.

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