Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gunkan-maki with Avocado and Charred Jalapeno

I did attempt to make sushi once several years ago. I was no Jiro, and after making a mess of it, I never tried again. I was perfectly happy to just go out for sushi or to bring it home already made by people who know what they’re doing. But now, I’ve changed my mind about sushi-making. Thanks to A Visual Guide to Sushi-Making at Home, I have all the instructions I need to get it right. This is a new book from Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani, and I received a review copy. The book takes you by the hand and walks you through every step for making Nigiri-zushi, Maki-zushi, Sushi Bowls, and even the process of breaking down and slicing fish. There are helpful photos all along the way too. I followed the steps for making sushi rice, adding the sushi vinegar, and fanning the rice to cool it to room temperature and remove some moisture. Next came making Sushi Rice Balls after using water to slightly moisten my hands to prevent the rice from sticking. The photos show exactly how to hold the rice, cup it in your fingers, and press and shape it into an oblong piece. The finished sushi that’s shown in the book is beautiful. Delicate-looking, shimmering halibut Nigiri, a slice of olive-oil marinated sardine draped over a rice ball, and vegetarian options like Nigiri with Grilled Shitake Mushrooms or Dashi-marinated Roasted Bell Pepper are all works of art. I took a stab at making California Rolls, and I was happily surprised at how easy it was to follow the recipe. Flipping the sheet of nori with rice and sesame seeds on it did not result in disaster as I feared. The cucumber- and crab-filled roll came together just as it was described in the book. Up next, I set out to create Gunkan-maki or Warship Rolls. You start with formed rice balls as they’re used for nigiri. Then, you slice nori into strips just taller than the rice balls, and wrap a piece of nori around each. By placing the wrapped pieces of rice right together and touching, the nori is held in place. Then, each can be topped as you choose. Some options include Uni, Poached Oysters, and Salmon Roe, and I went with the charred jalapeno and avocado topping. 

I charred the jalapenos under the broiler, but they could have been grilled. After they cooled, the char was removed, and the chiles were stemmed and seeded. They were cut into long pieces, and one piece was set on each waiting Gunkan-maki. I think the most difficult part of making the Gunkan-maki might have been slicing the nori into strips to wrap around the rice balls. The brittle edges of toasted nori wanted to break and crumble a bit. So, getting a good, clean line at the edge was a challenge. Once the jalapeno slices were in place, avocado was cut into thin slices to fit on the rolls and arranged on top. The jalapeno pieces ended up tucked in and hidden beneath the avocado. For garnish, small lime wedges were placed on top of the avocado. These rolls were served with just soy sauce and no wasabi since the jalapeno added enough zing. 

The roasted flavor of the charred jalapeno was delicious in contrast to the mild, cool avocado. I’m glad to have tried again at sushi-making. The recipes I tried from this book were so easy to follow, and any lacking in the presentation or beauty of the finished pieces is entirely my own fault. But, the good news is that since this is sushi-making at home, it definitely doesn’t have to be perfect. 

Gunkan-maki with Avocado and Charred Jalapeno 
Recipes reprinted with publisher's permission from A Visual Guide to Sushi-Making at Home.

If you think of the flavors of guacamole, you will get a feeling for this sushi. It is surprising how the texture of the rice combined with the creamy richness of the avocado makes the avocado seem even richer. The addition of the charred jalapeno wakes you up the moment you smell it. Because the chile is under the avocado, it is a surprise burst of flavor and heat, so be prepared! 

Makes 4 Gunkan-Maki 

1 small jalapeno chile, about 2 in/5 cm long 
1⁄2 Hass avocado, peeled 
4 pieces gunkan-maki 
1⁄2 slice lime, 1⁄16 in/2 mm thick 
Soy sauce for serving 

Heat a charcoal or gas grill or a stove-top grill pan to medium-high; you should be able to hold your palm 4 in/10 cm above the heat for no more than 5 seconds. Place the chile on the grill rack or pan and grill, turning as needed, until charred and blistered on all sides. Remove from the grill, and when cool enough to handle, remove the charred skin with a small knife. Any areas where the skin is not charred, the skin will not come off easily, and it is fine to leave it on. Cut the stem off of the chile, quarter the chile lengthwise, and remove and discard the seeds. If you prefer less heat, cut away the white membrane that held the seeds, as well. Cut the avocado half in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into slices 1⁄4 in/6 mm thick. Place a jalapeno quarter on the top of the rice in each gunkan-maki. Divide the avocado slices evenly among the gunkan-maki, arranging them attractively on the jalapeno. Cut the lime slice into quarters, and place a lime wedge on the center of the avocado slices on each sushi. Serve with soy sauce. 

How to Make Gunkan-maki (Warship Rolls)
Gunkan-maki, which were invented in Tokyo in the early 1940s, are a relative newcomer to the sushi menu. Gunkan means “warship,” and the oval-shaped rice balls wrapped with strips of nori and served on a geta, the classic wooden sushi serving tray, are thought to look like a fleet of warships. This is a great way to make individual sushi you want to top with a diced ingredient, like chopped tuna, or a slippery ingredient, like salmon roe, that won’t stay on top of a traditional nigiri. 

1⁄2 cup/80 g sushi rice at body temperature, covered with a damp kitchen towel 
1 sheet nori, toasted, cut into 4 strips each 6 by 1 in/15 by 2.5 cm 
Wasabi, as specified in individual recipes 
Topping(s), as specified in individual recipes 

Following the directions for How to Make Sushi Rice Balls, make 4 rice balls (1). With the rough side of the nori facing inward, wrap a nori strip around the perimeter of the rice ball, starting at the middle of a long side (2). Continue wrapping until it overlaps the other end of the nori (3,4). Wrap the next rice ball and place it right next to the first one, with the overlapped side against the overlapped side of the first roll. This will hold the end of the nori strip attached to the roll. Repeat the process for the remaining two rolls, always keeping the overlapped side against the side of the previous ball (5). Top as directed in individual recipes (6) before serving. Note: Do not make gunkan-maki too far in advance. The moisture in the rice will wilt the nori and make it tough. If you are assembling a selection of sushi, make the gunkan-maki last. 

How to Make Sushi Rice Balls 


Hand water 
1⁄2 cup/80 g sushi rice at body temperature, covered with a damp kitchen towel 

Moisten the palm side of one hand lightly with hand water, then rub your hands together to moisten them. (Remoisten your hands as necessary to keep the rice from sticking to your hands.) Be careful, however, as too much water will cause the rice to lose its stickiness. These directions are written for a right-handed person. If you are left-handed, reverse the references. Using your right hand, pick up one-fourth of the rice (about 3⁄4 oz/20 g) and make an egg-shaped ball within your palm (1) compressing gently but not crushing the rice, and using your fingers to turn the ball in your palm a couple of times. Cup your left hand and place the ball between the second and third joints of the fingers on your left hand. With your left thumb, gently press the center of the rice a bit to introduce some air into it (2). Still holding your thumb on the rice, turn your left hand over so your thumb is supporting the rice ball and the ball is now upside down (3). Now, with the thumb and index finger of your right hand, hold the ball along its length and remove the ball from your left hand (4). Turn your left hand palm-up and quickly place the rice ball back in your left hand along the second and third joints of your fingers, with the center that you pressed facedown (5). To finish forming the rice ball you need to perform three actions together (6): 1. Allow your left hand to relax naturally and your wrist to bend down, so that the rice ball rests in your cupped fingers. 2. Use the thumb of your left hand to hold and press the end of the rice ball. 3. With the index finger of your right hand, press down gently on the top of the rice ball. All three actions are done simultaneously in a quick, gentle pressing motion. Then, with your right hand, use your index and middle fingers on one side and your thumb on the other to pick up the rice ball by its sides and turn it in your left hand 180 degrees (7,8). Repeat the previous three actions with the rice ball in this position. You should have a well-shaped sushi rice ball. Repeat the steps to make three more rice balls. When you have finished the balls (9), go to the recipe in which you will be using the rice ball to complete the sushi. 

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Saffron Pavlovas with Mango Curd and Mascarpone Whipped Cream + Giveaway

UPDATE: A winner was selected via a random number generator. Congratulations to Grace from A Southern Grace who won the cookbook!

When I was asked to submit a mango recipe for a cookbook being created by the National Mango Board, I was delighted to do so. Now, you could win a copy of that cookbook! Just leave a comment on this post, and I’ll randomly pick a winner at noon Austin time on Monday June 23rd. (You must provide a US mailing address where the book will be shipped.) In case you don’t win, the recipes from the book are also available online. As I started thinking about what type of recipe to submit for the cookbook, I realized I use mangoes in a lot of different kinds of dishes. I make a Mango Dressing for salad with grilled chicken, there was a Peach and Mango Chutney that was so good with chevre, and I’ve made Flax Coconut Pancakes topped with chunks of mango. But, this time, I wanted to make a dessert. I had visions of a pretty, crunchy meringue filled with sunny, yellow mango curd with slices of mango on top. As usual, I turned to my cookbook collection for inspiration. I remembered a Saffron Pavolova from Demolition Desserts by Elizabeth Falkner, and there’s a Fig Pavlova with Lemon Mascarpone Whipped Cream in Malouf by Greg and Lucy Malouf. I mixed and matched ideas, added my own spin here and there, and the result is what you see here. The saffron turns the egg whites for the meringues a barely golden color. Although, after baking, they look brighter-white. The mango curd looks like lemon curd, but the flavor is softer with less acidity. And, adding mascarpone to whipped cream just makes it even richer tasting. All of those parts were given a fresh pop of fruitiness with the added sliced mango. 

The meringues and mango curd can be made a day in advance, the whipped cream can be made a few hours early, and the dessert can be assembled when ready. For meringues, when I’m using organic granulated sugar, I’ve learned that it needs to be pulverized in a blender or food processor to make the grains finer. Otherwise, the meringues will have a grainy look. So, step one for me is to process the sugar to give it a finer texture. For these meringues, saffron threads were placed in some Champagne vinegar while the rest of the ingredients were assembled. Egg whites were whisked in a stand mixer, sugars were sifted and added slowly, cornstarch was sprinkled over the mixture and mixed in, and last, the saffron-vinegar was carefully folded into the meringue. I transferred the mixture to a piping bag to make circles, but the meringues could also be spooned into pillow shapes. The meringues were baked and left to cool. Next, the mango curd was an easy puree of peeled and chopped mango, sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Egg yolks were added and pureed, and the mixture was strained into a heat-proof bowl. The bowl was set over a saucepan of simmering water, and the puree was whisked while cooking for about 12 to 15 minutes until thickened. Off the heat, butter was added one piece at a time while whisking. The curd was chilled overnight. For the whipped cream, some mascarpone and lemon zest were added to heavy cream before whipping. And, last but not least, more mango was sliced for the topping. 

The saffron adds a lovely layer of flavor that to me is like wildflower honey only slightly different, and it’s a nice pairing with the mango curd nestled in the meringue circles. But, this is just dessert, and there are so many other great uses for mangoes too. Leave a comment for a chance to win the book that’s full of mango dishes for every meal of the day. 

Saffron Pavlovas with Mango Curd and Mascarpone Whipped Cream

Serves 6 

For Meringues: 
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads 
1 teaspoon Champagne vinegar 
1/4 cup granulated sugar *see note if using organic sugar 
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar 
4 large egg whites 
Pinch of salt 
1 tablespoon cornstarch 

For Mango Curd: 
1 large mango, peeled and cut from pit into cubes 
1/4 cup sugar 
Pinch of salt 
3 tablespoons lemon juice 
4 egg yolks 
4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces 

For Mascarpone Whipped Cream: 
1 cup cream 
1/4 cup mascarpone 
Zest of one lemon 
2 tablespoons granulated sugar or to taste
Extra sliced mango for garnish 

TO MAKE MERINGUES Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and draw six four-inch circles on the parchment. Turn the parchment over so the pencil marks are on the back. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees F. 

Place the saffron threads in a small bowl or ramekin, and add the vinegar. Press the threads with a spoon and swirl them into the vinegar, and then set aside. Sift together the granulated sugar and powdered sugar in a separate bowl. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, add egg whites and salt. Beat egg whites on medium speed with a whisk attachment for about three minutes. Soft peaks should just begin to form. Slowly sprinkle the combined sugars over the egg whites while continuing to mix. Turn the mixing speed to high and whip for three to five minutes. The egg whites will form stiff peaks and become glossy. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the egg whites and mix just to combine. Using a large rubber or silicone spatula, fold in the saffron-vinegar mixture. 

Transfer the meringue mixture to a large piping bag fitted with a wide tip or place meringue mixture in a large plastic storage bag and snip off one corner. Pipe circular meringue shapes in the circles drawn on the parchment paper. If you’d rather not use a piping bag, the meringue can be spooned into pillow shapes on the parchment-lined baking sheet. If using a spoon, make an indentation in each meringue pillow. 

Bake the meringues for two hours. Then, turn off the oven without opening it, and leave the meringues in the oven for an additional four hours or overnight. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and leave meringues until completely dry. Meringues can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for a few days, but humidity can cause them to become sticky. 

*Organic, granulated sugar tends to be of a larger grain than conventional granulated sugar, and this produces meringues with a grainy texture. You can reduce the grain size of the sugar by processing it in a blender or food processor. The sugar doesn’t need to be processed to the point of becoming powdered sugar, it just needs to be processed until the grain feels more fine in texture. 

TO MAKE MANGO CURD: Place mango chunks, sugar, salt, and lemon juice in a blender and process until smooth, scraping down sides of blender pitcher as needed. Add egg yolks to blender and puree for another 15 seconds. Pour puree through a sieve to strain. Place strained puree in a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, and whisk constantly until thickened, about 12-15 minutes. Remove the bowl from the saucepan, and add butter one piece at a time while continuing to whisk. Incorporate each piece of butter before adding the next piece. Cover bowl with plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface of the mango curd, and chill the curd before using. The mango curd can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. 

TO MAKE MASCARPONE WHIPPED CREAM: Place all ingredients for the mascarpone whipped cream in a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with a whisk or whisk attachment until thickened. 

TO ASSEMBLE: Place meringues on dessert plates. Spoon mango curd into center of each meringue and top with mascarpone whipped cream. Garnish each plate with sliced mango. 

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Buckwheat Crepes with Gruyere, Sage, and Sunny-Side-Up Egg

I’ve never been to Buvette, but I’ve decided I want to live there or at least right upstairs. It’s a dreamy thought to imagine waking up to breakfast there every morning. And, I'm not picky. I would live at either the New York City or Paris location. After reading a review copy I received of the new book, Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food, by Jody Williams, it’s clear that there’s more to this restaurant than just the lovely food. There’s a sense of hospitality that runs through the uncomplicated but perfectly prepared things chosen for the menu, the way they’re served on antique silver trays and pedestals, and the care in all those details. Just reading about the coffees and teas convinced me I would be quite comfortable here. From classic cappuccinos, lattes, and the Bicerin which is espresso with shaved bittersweet chocolate melted into it with barely whipped cream on top to the Russian samovar used to keep hot water at the ready for teas and tisanes, every aspect of the service has been considered to set the right mood. That mood seems to be unfussy but with a sense that things have been made special. For breakfast, I’d want the custardy Oeufs Brouilles served with smoked salmon and creme fraiche or the Asparagus Milanese with eggs and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The menu is equally influenced by French and Italian cuisine. For lunch, the Pan Bagnat with diced bell pepper, cucumber, and fennel would be my choice or maybe the Carciofi alla Romana. The list of Aperitifs and Cocktails is classic and edited including Lillet, a perfect Martini, Pimm’s Cup, and a Manhattan. And, there are snacks to go with the drinks like freshly made Rosemary Potato Chips, Marinated Olives with Orange Zest and Red Chili, and Tartinettes and Crostini with various toppings. For dinner, there’s Scallops with Brown Butter and Capers, simply perfect Poulet Roti, and a few options for Risotto. Dessert might be Tarte Tatin or Espresso Granita topped with whipped cream. Yes, I would be quite happy living here. 

Every page in the book has something I want to try, but first, I had to face my ongoing fear of crepes. There’s something about thin crepe batter and its refusal to spread itself into a nice circle in my pan that puts the fear in me every time. I’ve realized while making crepes that my stove isn’t perfectly level. The batter always runs more to the back of the pan. So, that’s one problem. And, I don’t seem to have the skill to swirl the pan in a way that makes pretty crepes. I still need more practice. Some actually from circles, and others look more like state shapes like Michigan or New York. I made the Buckwheat Crepe variation and left the batter to rest in the refrigerator overnight. Using the crepes I managed to make into proper circles, I filled them with grated Gruyere, sage leaves from my garden, and sunny-side-up eggs. Each crepe was folded around the fillings and placed on a baking sheet. The filled crepes were baked for about ten minutes until the edges were crisp and the cheese had melted. It was a rich and delicious dish for brunch. 

Some other suggestions for serving crepes were: to spread them with butter, sprinkle with sugar, squeeze on some lemon juice, and roll them and top with powdered sugar; or to julienne an apple and saute in butter with walnuts, cinnamon, and sugar and then add crepes cut into ribbons and cook until crisp. Until I get a chance to see about moving into Buvette, I’ll keep trying to create the experience at home. 

Excerpted from the book Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food by Jody Williams. © 2014 by Jody Williams. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved. 

[Makes a generous pint of batter; about a dozen 8-inch crêpes] 

3⁄4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour 
Pinch coarse salt 
2 large eggs 
4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for cooking the crepes 
1 1⁄4 cups whole milk 

Directions: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and eggs to make a paste. Whisk in the butter. Slowly whisk in the milk, being sure to take your time so that you avoid lumps. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, or transfer the batter to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days before cooking. 

Once the batter has rested, heat up a slick of butter in a small skillet, preferably nonstick (if not, just use more butter!) over medium heat. Pour in just a little less than 1⁄4 cup of batter. Tilt the pan in a circular motion so that the batter finds itself in an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Cook the crepe until the bottom is just golden brown, about 1 1⁄2 minutes, loosen the edges with a spatula, and turn the crepe. Cook until it’s nicely browned on the opposite side, about 1 minute more. Transfer the crepe to a warm plate and fill it or garnish it however you’d like. Repeat the process until you’ve used up all of the batter. 

Buckwheat Crepes: 
Prepare the Crepes as directed, but substitute 1/4 cup buckwheat flour for 1/4 cup of the unbleached all-purpose flour. Fill each crepe with a slice of good ham (prosciutto cotto if you can find it), a small handful of grated Gruyere, or a slice of Brie or other soft cheese (Epoisses is really lovely here), and a sage leaf and fold the crepe into quarters. Transfer the filled crepes to a buttered baking dish and bake in a 400 degree F oven until crisp and golden brown, about 10 minutes. These can also happily get a sunny-side-up egg tucked inside as well. 

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fresh Corn Queso Fundido

I blame it on my upbringing in Illinois, otherwise known as the land of corn, but I get excited when fresh, sweet corn comes into season. I was delighted when our first corn of the year from our CSA appeared a couple of weeks ago. Oddly enough, the recipe I couldn’t wait to use it in was actually intended for frozen corn. It was Corn Queso Fundido from the December issue of Food and Wine, and the purpose of the dish was to use some produce that had been frozen at the peak of the season. I took a different approach, but the result would be great either way. Not only did I have the first-of-season corn, I also had the first locally-grown chiles from Springdale Farm that I’d spotted this year. This is a fun queso for dipping chips, but I made more of a meal of it by dipping grilled zucchini and chunks of grilled chicken as well. The queso can be cooked entirely on top of the stove as instructed in the recipe, or you can go for some browning on the cheese as I did by popping it under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Local fresh corn and chiles are a great start to our summer produce. 

I started by cutting the kernels from a couple of ears of corn. Half of the corn was pureed in the blender with some water. The recipe suggests straining the puree, but I didn’t. Meanwhile, I roasted a poblano and some jalapeno chiles. When cool, the charred skin was removed, and the chiles were stemmed, seeded, and chopped. The chopped chiles were cooked with minced onion in a skillet, and the remaining corn was added. It’s important to cook the vegetables until slightly browned and any water has evaporated. Next, minced garlic was added and cooked for a couple of minutes. The corn puree was then added and allowed to reduce for a few minutes. Shredded Monterey Jack cheese was stirred into the vegetable mix until melted. At this point, I transferred the queso to a baking dish and placed it under the broiler until browned. I garnished with sliced jalapenos and chopped cilantro and served it with baked tortilla chips. I’ve developed the habit of cutting corn tortillas into long, skinny wedges for baking after learning the technique in a Rick Bayless book. The tortilla pieces were brushed with grape seed oil and seasoned with salt, ancho powder, and cayenne. 

Now that I’ve looked back at this recipe from December, I should take a lesson from it and freeze some of our lovely, fresh corn right now. It always disappears so quickly when we have it, I usually don’t even have a chance to think about preserving some for later in the year. Whether you cut it from fresh ears or pull it from the freezer, you have to try this spicy queso with corn. 

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