Monday, October 31, 2016

Carrot and Rice Salad with Ginger Sumac Dressing

I feel as though Nancy Silverton and I go way back except that, of course, I’ve never met her. In 2007, I read her Breads from the La Brea Bakery book and soon thereafter made my sourdough starter that I still use today. I’ve made many of the breads from that book and have even gotten comfortable adjusting recipes here and there. I make a whole grain version of the bagels from that book. And, it’s that voice of Nancy Silverton that I think I know, the voice of her writing from 1996 when that book was published. All these years later, the voice of her latest books is a little different. She’s having an amazing culinary career and experience and passage of time have brought clear preferences for certain flavors or techniques. Her latest book is Mozza at Home: More than 150 Crowd-Pleasing Recipes for Relaxed, Family-Style Entertaining, and I received a review copy. It’s full of recipes she turns to for entertaining both at her home in Los Angeles and at her second home in Umbria in Italy. The book includes nineteen different party menus with various side dishes that would go well with each theme or main course. If you’re planning a dinner party, you could pick and choose how many and which side dishes to prepare. Then, Desserts has a chapter all to itself. The idea was that most of the desserts could be paired with multiple menus, and you can choose from the whole collection. For main courses, the menus include dishes like Saturday Night Chicken Thighs with Italian Sausage, Sicilian Swordfish Spiedini, Dean Fearing’s Frito Pie, and Lamb and Chicken Tikka Kebabs. I got caught up in all the various salads as side dishes. The Farro Salad with Fresh Herbs and Feta is like a Greek salad with farro. The Couscous Salad with Root Vegetables and Ricotta Salata is perfect for fall with carrots, parsnips, and radicchio. And, there’s a Mixed Grain and Seed Salad made with quinoa, wild rice, and fregola sarda. I couldn’t resist starting with the Carrot and Rice Salad with Ginger Sumac Dressing for the seasonally appropriate color scheme. 

There are a lot of interesting things going on with this rice salad. Three different types of rice are suggested. You could limit that to one instead, or use two types of rice as I did. I used black rice and red rice and skipped the brown rice. Each type of rice is cooked separately and then cooled by spreading on a baking sheet. The second main ingredient here is the carrots, and they need to be cut into short julienne pieces. The process for cutting the carrots is suggested as follows: “cut the carrots into 3- to 4-inch segments. Using a mandoline, slice the segments into 1/16 inch thick lengthwise. Stack the slices and slice with a knife into 1/16 inch batons.” I employed the carrot slicing trick of making angled cuts that you stack and julienne rather than pulling out the mandoline. I don’t remember where I learned that trick, but it’s a great one. The third main ingredient for this salad is a whole cup of flaxseeds that were toasted in a dry skillet and cooled. The dressing was made with lime juice, sumac, champagne vinegar, grated fresh ginger, and red chile flakes. I believe there’s a typo in the book for the quantity of sumac. I used almost a tablespoon not one half cup. That was whisked together and set aside. The cooled rice was combined in a big bowl with the julienned carrots and flaxseeds. The mixture was drizzled with olive oil and tossed to coat. The dressing was added, and the mixture was tossed again to distribute. 

The bright, zippy dressing livens up the rice and makes this a fun salad. The flaxseeds add a nice nutty richness to go with the freshness of the carrots. I’m not sure if I’ll keep working through all the salads I want to try or maybe move on to the Eggplant Lasagne next. Then, there’s the Desserts chapter to devour. For today, I’m happy to enjoy the orange and black of this dish. Happy Halloween! 

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Port Wine Prunes with Stilton and Walnuts

When I’m looking for recipes that I know will work without any issue, that I know will be crowd-pleasers, and that I know I’ll enjoy cooking, I go to my collection of Ina Garten cookbooks. I’m so happy to add one more book to that category. The latest is Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, and I received a review copy. This one is similar to her other books with soups and salads, dinner entrees, vegetables, and desserts. But this time, there are a few more personal stories included throughout, and there’s a chapter just for the cheese course. Ina occasionally mentions serving a cheese course before or instead of dessert, and it works well for a dinner party since it’s mostly just assembled before serving with any prepped items made in advance. The recipes include a fig jam to serve on goat cheese bruschetta, a roasted plum chutney for serving with Mt. Tam which is one of my favorite cheeses, and English Oat Crackers to go with cheese and fruit. I was so interested in the cheese course chapter I had to make the Port Wine Prunes with Stilton and Walnuts before trying anything else. Some of the many other recipes I want to try soon are the Smoked Salmon Pizzas for cocktails, the “16 Bean” Pasta e Fagioli soup, the Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower, and the Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta with Salted Caramel. And, the Herb and Apple Bread Pudding and Pumpkin Flan with Maple Caramel have me pondering Thanksgiving menu possibilities. Getting back to the cheese course concept though, I like the idea of sometimes ending a meal with something not completely sweet or at least with a mix of sweet and savory. For the Port Wine Prunes, my only concern was that they would be messy to pick up and eat with your fingers. I imagined the wine would drip off the prunes and leave stains on the way to your mouth

To begin, the prunes were plumped by placing them in a single layer in a saucepan and adding Port wine. The wine was brought to a boil and them simmered for a few minutes before removing the pan from the heat, covering it, and leaving the prunes to steep for an hour. Stilton was crumbled and mashed together with some mascarpone. The cheese mixture was left in the refrigerator until serving time. Last, walnut halves were toasted. To assemble, the prunes were placed on a platter. Each prune was topped with a spoonful of the Stilton mixture and then a walnut half. 

I should have known that Ina would have had a solution if these were messy to eat. The prunes weren’t drippy or messy at all. These are one-bite items, and they were easy to pop into your mouth with no issues. The classic flavor pairing of Port with Stilton was lovely, and the toasted walnuts added nice crunch. These were a delicious, simple way to end a meal and would also make a great addition to a larger cheese board. 

Port Wine Prunes with Stilton and Walnuts 
Reprinted from Cooking for Jeffrey. Copyright © 2016 by Ina Garten. Photographs by Quentin Bacon. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC. 

serves 6 to 8 

One of my favorite things to serve for a cheese course or dessert is English Stilton and a glass of Port wine. This recipe combines both of those flavors with sweet prunes, and they’re a really surprising addition to any cheese board. 

24 large pitted prunes 
2/3 cup ruby Port wine
2 1/2 ounces English Stilton, crumbled 
2 tablespoons Italian mascarpone cheese 
24 walnut halves, lightly toasted 

Place the prunes in a saucepan just large enough to hold them in a single layer and add the Port. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for at least an hour for the prunes to become infused with the Port. 

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mash the Stilton and mascarpone together with a fork. Cover and refrigerate. 

When ready to serve, place the slightly warm prunes on a serving platter, place a small mound of the cold Stilton mixture in the hollow of each prune, and top with a toasted walnut, pressing very lightly. Serve as part of a cheese platter. 

make ahead: Prepare the prunes and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Warm slightly, complete the recipe, and serve. 

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Socca with Butternut Squash

I first heard about the restaurant Sqirl in Los Angeles from a magazine article reporting on the long lines of people waiting for toast. Of course, this wasn’t just any toast, and of course, they serve lots of other things too. Sqirl started as a jam company, hence the amazing toast, and now serves breakfast and lunch. The story of the restaurant and all the recipes are in the new book Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking, and I received a review copy. There’s a mention in the introduction about how guests at the restaurant often order items and request all sorts of substitutions, and as it happens, the dishes adapt easily to various, little changes. Several items are already gluten-free, and adapting dishes to make them vegetarian or vegan is very doable. The recipes cover Eggs and Toast, Grains and Beans, Vegetables, Meat, Fish, Jams, Desserts, and Drinks. For the famous toast, there’s actually not a recipe for the bread itself, but one inch thick slices of brioche are suggested for toasting and spreading with ricotta and jam or ganache and nut butter or almond hazelnut butter and jam. There’s a nice mix of decadence and nutritious options throughout the book. I’ve marked the page for a grain bowl with mung bean sprouts, crunchy buckwheat, and roasted squash with pomegranate seeds, labneh, and cilantro pistou. A few pages later, I’ve marked a salad made with a rich and lovely Southern-Style Fresh Cream and Black Mustard Dressing. Every dish is balanced mix of flavors and textures, and in some cases there are sub-recipes to prepare before pulling everything together. But, you can pick and choose the parts of a dish you wish to make and skip elements if you like. I love the look of the baguette toast shown a few times in the book. It’s a long slice from the full length of a baguette. For the Squid Toast, that long, skinny piece of toast is topped with aioli, roasted tomatoes, and seared squid. It looks pretty and delicious. The first recipe I tried was the Socca or chickpea flour pancakes. They’re made with grated vegetables depending on what’s in season. Winter squash is one suggestion, and I had a local butternut squash ready and waiting. 

Step one is to peel, seed, and grate the butternut squash which looked curiously like a pile of grated cheddar cheese. The grated squash was tossed with a little salt and left to drain in a sieve. Cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds were toasted and then ground in a mortar and pestle. Eggs were whisked and the drained squash was added with minced garlic, chopped oregano, cilantro, and basil in my case since I don’t have any mint growing. Chickpea flour was added with the ground spices along with salt and pepper, and the mixture was stirred to combine. Large pancakes were cooked in a hot pan with melted butter. Meanwhile, some arugula leaves were tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. I had started straining some thick yogurt the day before to make labneh, and I seasoned it with salt and a little sumac. The pancakes were served a dollop of labneh, the dressed arugula, and optionally with a fried egg added. 

This was a hearty and flavorful brunch dish. The herbs and spices in the socca added a lot of interest, and the arugula and labneh were just the right added components. Seeing how well this dish came together made me eager to try more things from the book. I’ve got my eye on the Brown Rice Horchata sweetened with dates to try next.

Socca (chickpea flour pancakes) made with your choice of zucchini, carrot, or winter squash 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Everything I Want to Eat. 

Since Sqirl is open for breakfast and lunch, the majority of our customers order one dish, not an appetizer followed by an entrĂ©e and a cheese course. So we are always trying to come up with ways to create a single dish that really satisfies. This socca pancake stemmed from that quest. It’s traditional in that it is a flat pancake made of gluten-free chickpea flour, but it’s also not so traditional in that it is filled with lots of vegetables and topped with greens and creamy labneh. 

Serves 4 

1 pound (455 g) zucchini, carrot, or winter squash (see Notes), peeled and coarsely grated 
Fine sea salt 
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds 
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds 
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds 
4 large eggs 
1 clove garlic, minced 
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint 
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 
2/3 cup (80 g) chickpea flour 
Freshly ground black pepper 
Pinch of ground cinnamon (optional; use with winter squash) 
Pinch of ground ginger (optional; use with winter squash) 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more as needed 
1/2 cup (120 ml) labneh 
3 cups (60 g) spicy greens (such as watercress, arugula, or baby mustard greens) 
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 

Toss the grated vegetable with a few big pinches of salt, then put it in a fine-mesh sieve and let drain, squeezing every so often so that the vegetable releases its water, for at least 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, combine the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium-low heat. Toast the spices, shaking the pan often, until fragrant but not burned, about 3 minutes. Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, grind the toasted spices to a powder. 

Crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk to break them up. Add the drained vegetables, along with the garlic, oregano, mint, cilantro, chickpea flour, and toasted spices. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and mix well. If you are using winter squash, stir in a pinch each of ground cinnamon and ground ginger. (The pancake batter can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge.) 

Heat a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat for a minute or two. Add the butter, then spoon in two overflowing ½ cupfuls (120 ml) of the pancake batter, pressing each to 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick. Cook, rotating the skillet occasionally for even browning, until the pancakes are nicely browned, about 3 minutes. Flip, then cook the second side for another few minutes. Transfer the pancakes to a plate. Repeat to make two more pancakes, adding more butter to the skillet, if needed. 

Season the labneh with salt. 

Just before serving, toss the greens with the lemon juice, oil, and some salt and pepper. Top each socca pancake with a huge dollop of labneh and a tangle of greens. 

NOTE ON THE WINTER SQUASH You can use any kind of winter squash that you like. We usually go for kabocha. If you’re having a hard time grating the squash on one of those handheld box graters, try cutting the squash into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces and then shredding them in a food processor. 

WANT TO MAKE IT HEARTIER? Add a fried egg on top. 

SPICE UP THE LABNEH Have fun with the seasoning. Try mixing in ras el hanout or za’atar. 
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Monday, October 10, 2016

Pineapple Squares

Do you have a favorite homemade treat from your childhood? Maybe a cake your Mom used to make? I was reminded of one while reading my review copy of The Italian Baker: 100 International Baking Recipes with a Modern Twist by Melissa Forti. This book is a collection of sweet treats from Melissa’s Tea Room and Cakes located in Sarzana in northwestern Italy. The recipes have been gathered from all over the world from Forti’s travels and have been adapted to Italian tastes. While reading the book, I couldn’t help feeling more than a little jealous of her life. She bakes wonderful cakes and other sweets, changes the menu daily for a crowd of regulars, and all this happens in a charming area of Italy. It was the recipe for Fette All’Ananas, or Pineapple Squares, that reminded me of a pineapple cake my Mom baked when I was growing up. I haven’t tasted that cake in years, but I was sure I had the recipe filed away somewhere. I started searching for it, thinking I had a hand-written card tucked into my recipe binder, but came up empty handed. Thankfully, a quick text message to my Mom was all that was needed for her to send the recipe to me a few minutes later. I remembered her pineapple sheet cake had coconut in the cream cheese frosting, but I had forgotten that pecans were in the frosting as well. These pineapple squares from the book are a little different and maybe a little less decadent with no frosting, and I’m so glad to now have both recipes in my possession. The book offers a range of sweets from elegant, celebration cakes to cookies and candies. But, the recipes are not difficult to create. I’m so curious to try the Red Wine Doughnut Cookies made with olive oil, red wine, and aniseed and the luscious-looking Semolina and Ricotta cake which is a cheesecake with orange and lemon zest. Also, I’ve done several web searches and made several calls in an attempt to locate the Italian liqueur made with peach leaves called Persichetto. It’s the primary flavoring in a pretty bundt cake, and I’d love to taste it. I have yet to find a way of getting it here, but I’ll keep trying. There are also pound cakes, tarts, and more to try. Of course, the first thing I tried, though, was the Pineapple Squares. 

An eight-inch by twelve-inch pan was suggested for these squares, but I don’t have one that size. Instead, I used a nine by nine-inch pan and lined it with parchment. First, a crumble topping was prepared with flour, sugar, and butter, and sliced almonds were stirred in at the end. I added some unsweetened, grated coconut just to make this more like my Mom’s pineapple cake. Next, a cookie base was made by mixing butter and sugar, and I used coconut palm sugar. Two eggs were added followed by flour, buttermilk, vanilla, and almond extract. This mixture was spread in the bottom of the prepared pan. Next, canned pineapple was supposed to be used, but I used fresh instead. I pulsed chunks of fresh pineapple in a food processor and then transferred it to a strainer to drain away some liquid. If you do this, set the strainer over a bowl so you can drink the drained pineapple juice later. The chopped and drained pineapple was spread over the cookie base. Next, the crumble topping was sprinkled on the top. Because I was using a slightly smaller pan than suggested and because I added coconut, I had plenty of crumb topping. Note: I sometimes double the quantity for a crumb topping to be sure there’s “enough.” This time, that wasn’t necessary. The pan went into the oven for about 40 minutes until the topping was golden. 

I should point out that my cookie base is a darker color than what is seen in the photo in the book because I used coconut palm sugar rather than regular granulated sugar. The pineapple bakes into that cookie base and keeps it very tender resulting in bars that are easy to cut. The flavor of the almond extract with the pineapple is lovely, and the crumb topping is just sweet enough. And now, I’ll return to my daydream about baking different things every morning for a tea room in a charming, small town in Italy

Fette all'Ananas (Pineapple Squares) 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Italian Baker

Pineapple is thought to have amazing effects on our body. If consumed regularly it can burn fat and, even better, it contributes to a positive uplifting mood. So, let’s bake a pineapple slice and smile! 

Makes 6 large slices 

170g (3/4 cup) butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing 
170g (3/4 cup) caster (granulated) sugar 
2 eggs 
250g (2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour 
200ml (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) buttermilk 
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract 
1 teaspoon almond extract 
450g (1lb) canned pineapple in natural juice 

For the almond crumble 
80g (2/3 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour 
60g (1/2 cup) light brown sugar 
55g (1/4 cup) butter, chilled and diced 
30g (1 1/2 oz) flaked (slivered) almonds 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 20 x 30-cm/8 x 12-inch brownie tin and line with baking parchment. Prepare the crumble. In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and butter until crumbly. Stir in the slivered almonds by hand and set aside. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a mixing bowl and using hand-held electric beaters, beat the butter and sugar together until pale. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour, buttermilk, vanilla and almond extract to combine. Spread the mixture into the prepared tin. Open the pineapple can, drain off the juice and roughly chop the pineapple. Spread the pineapple over the top of the mixture in the brownie tin and sprinkle with the almond crumble. 

Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes until the almond crumble is golden, then leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack before cutting into squares or slices. 

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Seared Salmon with Marcona Almond, Olive, and Caper Salsa + GIVEAWAY

I love the simplicity of cooking fish. There isn’t much to it, but as usual when it comes to things that are simple, it has to be done right. Timing is everything, and the timing for cooking fish is directly related to the type of fish and the thickness of the piece being cooked. My preference for most fish is for it to be just cooked through so that the center is less cooked than the edges but not completely raw. Wild salmon is easy to cook because you can keep an eye on the thick edge to see the color change as it cooks through. And, I’m enjoying as much of it as possible right now since the season for fresh, wild salmon is coming to an end. Last weekend, I was thrilled to try a new pan I received from All-Clad that’s perfect for cooking fish. It’s the d3 ARMOR Fish Pan (Retail Price: $199.95), and you could win one of your own! It has a riveted surface on the bottom of the pan that makes it easy for the fish to release after being cooked. It is an oval shape that’s 13 inches long with flared sides to contain splatters, and it has a long handle. I used the pan to sear a salmon fillet and made a chunky, nutty salsa to serve on top. 

I learned a brining tip from the book Ad Hoc at Home that I always use when cooking salmon. It only requires about 10 minutes of brining, and it adds great flavor to the salmon and prevents the white spots of coagulation from forming on the surface when it cooks. You just mix cold water with sea salt at a 10 to one ratio, stir to dissolve the salt, pour the mixture over the salmon, and leave it for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, I dry the salmon, season it, dredge with flour, and it’s ready to sear. After brining, only a very small amount of salt is needed for seasoning, and I also season it with black pepper and piment d’espelettte. For the salsa, I took inspiration from a recipe in The New Spanish Table but made a few changes. I used Marcona almonds, a mix of green and black olives, added lemon zest and juice, and used sherry vinegar. Garlic, parsley, fresh oregano, and olive oil were added to the salsa. Cooking with this new pan was fantastic. It’s just the right size and shape for fish so the heat is focused right where it needs to be. The flesh-side of the fillet released easily after cooking, and turning the piece was a breeze.

Brining makes the salmon deliciously seasoned all the way through, and the nutty olive salsa was crunchy and zesty on top. Now, for a chance to win one of these pans, just leave a comment on this post including your email address so I can contact you. A winner will be randomly selected on Friday October 14th, and the winner must be a US resident. Good luck, you’ll love this pan! 

Seared Salmon with Marcona Almond, Olive, and Caper Salsa 

For the salsa: 
1/3 cup Marcona almonds, chopped 
1/3 cup mixed green and black olives, pitted and chopped 
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained 
2 garlic cloves, minced 
1/4 cup parsley leaves, chopped 
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped 
Zest and juice of one lemon 
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar 
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
Black pepper and piment d’espllette to taste 

For the salmon: 
1 lb. fillet of salmon, bones removed 
Sea salt and cold water for brine 
Salt, black pepper, and piment d’espllette for seasoning 
All-purpose or rice flour for dredging
Olive oil for searing 

To prepare the salsa: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and allow to rest at room temperature while the salmon is brined and cooked. 

To brine the salmon, place the fillet in a baking pan. Combine enough water to cover the fillet with 10% by weight sea salt. I use a digital scale and place a measuring pitcher on the scale and zero it out. I add enough cold water that I’m sure will cover the salmon and check the weight. Then, I add 10% of that weight of salt and let it dissolve in the water. The salt-water mixture is then poured over the salmon, and it’s left to brine for about 10 to 15 minutes. After brining, remove the salmon and pat it dry. Season very lightly with salt, normally with freshly ground black pepper, and to taste if using piment d’espelette. Dredge the top of the fillet with flour and shake off excess. 

Heat the All-Clad d3 ARMOR fish pan over medium heat with enough olive oil to barely, thinly cover the pan. After a few minutes, when you’re sure the pan is hot, carefully place the salmon flesh-side (the side that was dredged in flour) down in the hot pan. Leave it to sear for about five minutes. Shake the pan gently to see if the fillet is loose enough to turn. Use a wide spatula to turn the fillet and guide the cool side of the salmon with your free hand to carefully turn it to skin-side down. Let cook for another four to five minutes depending on the thickness of the fillet. Remove from heat and let the salmon sit for a few minutes before serving. 

Transfer the salmon fillet to a serving platter and spoon the almond and olive salsa over the top. 

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