Sunday, January 29, 2017

Smoked Trout Spread with Homemade Crackers

I couldn’t agree more with the message Maria Rodale puts forth in her new cookbook, Scratch: Home Cooking for Everyone Made Simple, Fun, and Totally Delicious, of which I received a review copy. In the Introduction, she writes “I believe that a home-cooked meal made from scratch – preferably with organic ingredients (and maybe even homegrown) – is one of the greatest pleasures in life.” She goes on with “Cooking from scratch isn’t about impressing friends and neighbors (although you probably will); it’s about nourishing our families and ourselves. And the truth is, when it comes to making delicious and easy food from scratch, it truly is freaking easy!” She happens to be the granddaughter of the founder of the organic movement in the US and grew up on the first official organic farm in the country, but she’s also very open-minded and practical about what will and won’t work for everyone. There’s nothing preachy or judgmental about her advice and suggestions. Her hope is to inspire readers to make the most nourishing food they can with the freshest, healthiest ingredients they can get. The recipes are simple enough for beginner cooks tackle for the first time or for practiced cooks to make part of a routine. There are several salads to choose from, and one that got my attention was the American-style Antipasto Salad with red peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, olives, pickled cauliflower and more. The Noodle Love chapter includes a couple of options for mac-and-cheese along with other sauces for pasta and even instructions for making fresh pasta if you want. Lots of variety is found in the recipes for main dishes. I’m interested in the Red Beans and Rice since this version is a little different than what I’ve seen before. Smoked turkey wings are used to make a broth, and the meat is taken from the bones and added to the beans later, and the rice is cooked with coconut milk. Some other great-looking dishes include Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls, Chicken Cacciatore, and Crispy-skin Salmon with Herb Dressing. There are also side dishes and sweets in the book, but I got side-tracked by the Snack Time chapter. 

I love making homemade crackers and have made a few different types over the years. The promise of this recipe being the quickest and easiest convinced me I had to try it. It is a simple mix of whole wheat pastry flour, water, and olive oil. I found I needed to add some extra flour to get the dough to a consistency for easy rolling. And, in usual fashion, I made the recipe more complicated than it needed to be. In the book, the dough is placed on a baking sheet and simply rolled or pressed out to the corners. Then, the dough is cut into squares or whatever shape, sprinkled with salt or whatever desired toppings and baked. Instead, I rolled the dough on a floured surface, cut even shapes with a fluted pastry cutter, transferred the cut pieces to a baking sheet, and sprinkled with salt, pepper, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds. I actually enjoy pulling out my kitchen ruler and measuring dough to cut it. The purpose of making homemade crackers was to use them as delivery mechanisms for Smoked Trout Spread. Before making this, I was telling a few friends about my cooking plans for the weekend. I’m so glad I mentioned it because my friend told me about Ducktrap River smoked trout from Maine. I wasn’t familiar with it, but it’s sold at our Whole Foods Market, and it’s incredibly delicious. I’ll be thinking of all sorts of ways to use it now. The spread is made with softened cream cheese, lemon juice, minced onion, chopped herbs, and flaked smoked trout and I added some lemon zest as well. I combined everything except the trout and mixed until smooth and then stirred in the flaked trout. 

If you’re looking for snack ideas for a big football game in the near future, may I suggest Smoked Trout Spread with Homemade Crackers? The smoky flavor with the lemon and onion make this a savory delight, and crunchy homemade crackers that you can customize to your liking are perfect with it. And, if you’re in need of some simple recipes to make for your family or friends, this book would be a great place to look. 

Smoked Trout Spread
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Scratch: Home Cooking for Everyone Made Simple, Fun, and Totally Delicious.

I’ve always wanted to make a trout spread and finally came up with this recipe, which is so simple and easy. My youngest sniffed it suspiciously the first time before trying it. After tasting it, she closed her eyes and smiled. “That’s good,” she said. Mission accomplished. 

Serves 4 

8 ounces smoked trout, skin removed 
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature 
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion 
Salt and freshly ground pepper 
Finely chopped chives or parsley, for garnish 
Toasted bread or Homemade Crackers, for serving 

1. Flake or chop the trout into little pieces and place in a bowl. 

2. Add the cream cheese, lemon juice, onion, and salt and pepper to taste and mix until combined. (I find using my hands works best as it helps soften the cheese.) 

3. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with the herbs, and serve with bread or crackers. 

Homemade Crackers 
It started with a picture I saw in the local paper about making crackers from scratch. I saved it, but then never found it again. So I decided to experiment. A quick search online and I was disturbed by the complexity of the recipes I found. I wanted the quickest, easiest, no-fuss option, so I pulled the essence out of the recipes I saw and came up with these simple crackers. My kids now ask for them constantly; a batch never lasts more than 24 hours. 

Serves 6 to 8 

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour 
2/3 cup warm water 
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for the pan 
sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or other toppings

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 17 3 11-inch rimmed baking sheet with oil. 

2. In a bowl, combine the flour, water, oil, and 1 teaspoon salt and stir until combined and a dough forms. Place the dough in the center of the prepared baking sheet and roll out roughly with a rolling pin or use your hands, and press it into the corners. No need to be fussy here, rustic is great! 

3. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut even squares, rectangles, or whatever shape takes your fancy. Sprinkle with salt and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden. Set aside to cool (the crackers will harden as they cool). Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days. 

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Cumin-Coriander Roast Carrots with Pomegranates and Avocado

Who wouldn’t want more ideas for cooking simple meals at home? This is the goal of the latest book from Diana Henry, Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors, and I received a review copy. I agree completely with her statement that “You don’t need many skills to feed yourself, your friends, and family well… What we mostly lack are ideas.” This book is full of great ones for quick, weeknight meals. There are a few dishes that take a little longer to prepare, but they’re not difficult. She repeatedly offers suggestions for substitutions or things that can be omitted to further simplify or personalize the recipes without sacrificing flavor. From Eggs to Salads to Pulses to Chicken, Vegetables, and more, the chapters cover a broad range of meals and parts of meals. As often happens as I read cookbooks, I ended up with sticky flags marking several pages. I marked the recipe for Linguine All’Amalfitana because I’d never before seen this particular pasta sauce with garlic, anchovies, and walnuts. The Smoky Couscous sounds fabulous with smoked paprika, lemon, green olives, almonds, and roasted red peppers. Then, the sauce for the Pork Chops with Mustard and Capers is so simple to make but sounds so delicious, I want to try it on roasted chicken. There are some tempting, easy desserts as well with a whole chapter of Fruit Desserts followed by Other Sweet Things. The Bitter Flourless Chocolate Cake with Coffee Cream got my attention, and now I’m going to want espresso in my whipped cream all the time. Next, I turned to the Salads chapter where I couldn’t decide where to start. 

My indecision was due to two different salads involving roasted carrots. In the Harissa Roast Carrots, White Beans, and Dill recipe, the carrots are roasted with harissa, and lemon slices are roasted with them and added to the salad. I loved the idea of the roasted lemon slices. In the recipe for Cumin-Coriander Roast Carrots with Pomegranates and Avocado, the carrots are roasted with a drizzle of olive oil, cumin seeds, crushed coriander seeds, and crushed red chile flakes. I ended up going with the second option and adding lemon slices to the pan while the carrots roasted. This salad was a bright mix of pomegranate seeds, avocado slices, a tangy dressing with pomegranate molasses, and crunchy walnuts. I used frisee that I found at Boggy Creek Farm rather than watercress for the salad greens. And, I had some pretty and colorful carrots from my CSA. My carrots were different sizes. So, some of them were halved and other quartered lengthwise before roasting. Also, I don't have cilantro growing in my herb garden right now, but I do have parsley and used that instead. 

As promised, there was nothing difficult about making this. It was all about the ideas, and I was delighted to combine some from two different recipes. In between the pages for the two salads with carrots, there’s one for Burrata with Citrus, Fennel, and Olives that kept making me stop and think about it as well. With so much inspiration here, I won’t run out of ideas for what to have for dinner for a long time. 

Cumin-Coriander Roast Carrots with Pomegranates and Avocado 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors

Serves 6 as an appetizer, or 8 as a side dish 

For the salad 
30 young carrots, ideally slim 
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
2 teaspoons cumin seeds 
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed 
1 teaspoon chili flakes 
salt and pepper 
3 ripe avocados 
3 1/2 tablespoons walnut pieces, toasted 
3 1/2 oz watercress, coarse stalks removed leaves from a small bunch of cilantro 
1 cup Greek yogurt 
1 garlic clove, crushed 
seeds from 1/2 pomegranate 

For the dressing 
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses 
1 garlic clove, crushed 
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard 
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 
1/4 teaspoon honey 
squeeze of lemon juice 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Trim the carrots at the top but leave a little of the green tuft on. If you can’t find slim carrots, halve or quarter large ones. Don’t peel the; just wash them well. Put in a roasting pan in which they can lie in a single layer. Add the olive oil, spices, and seasoning. Turn the carrots over in this to ensure they are all well coated. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes; they will become tender and shrink slightly. Be careful not to overcook them. 

To make the dressing, just beat everything together with a fork. Halve and pit the avocados, cut into slices, then carefully peel each slice. Put everything except the yogurt, garlic, and pomegranates into a broad shallow bowl (or onto a platter) and gently toss in three-quarters of the dressing. Mix the yogurt with the garlic and dot spoonfuls of this among the vegetables, then scatter with the pomegranate seeds. Spoon on the rest of the dressing and serve. 

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Za’atar Twists

Bread baking books get me every time. I always want to jump in and bake everything. It was no different with Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking--Flatbreads, Stuffed Breads, Challahs, Cookies, and the Legendary Chocolate Babka by Uri Scheft, and I received a review copy. He brings an international perspective to his baking as an Israeli who has worked in Denmark, Italy, and France and has learned from Moroccan, Yemenite, and Turkish family and friends. He opened his own bakery, Lehamim Bakery which means “breads” bakery, in Tel Aviv in 2002, and expanded the business by opening Breads Bakery in New York City in 2013. His babka is famous, and the various recipes for that dough in the book all look delicious. There are careful instructions for filling, rolling, twisting, and shaping all the different flavors and types of loaves. And, the chapter for Challah shows some beautiful creativity. The dough is fashioned into braided, twisted, and stacked shapes, and there are even some loaves with cups baked into them for holding dipping sauces. The Black Tie Challah has a small braid covered in black sesame seeds along the length, on top of the larger braided loaf. Some of the flavors of challah include Chocolate and Orange Confit Challah, Marzipan Challah, and Sticky Pull-Apart Cinnamon Challah Braid. It’s inspiring to see a basic bread recipe taken in so many directions, and the reader is encouraged to experiment and try whatever shapes you fancy. Other breads include Brioche, Ciabatta, Pan de Mie, and an incredible Dill Bread that’s formed into a coil and snipped with scissors to make a flower shape before baking. There are cookies in the book too. I have the page marked for Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Krembos which are made with a coconut macaroon base topped with a stable meringue that gets dipped into chocolate. I also marked the page for Parmesan Cookies that are a slice-and-bake savory snack with sesame seeds on the outside edge. Before baking those cookies, I had to try the Za’atar Twists first. 

The twists are made with babka dough, and there is a Basic Babka Dough recipe and an Advanced Babka Dough recipe. Both start the same way with a rich dough made with eggs and butter. The advanced version becomes even richer with a process of layering in more butter in the way puff pastry is made. I opted for the leaner, basic option here. The dough was mixed and then left to chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. These savory twists are filled with a buffet of delicious things. And, now that I look more closely at a photo in the book, I realize that I probably left my filling a bit too chunky. In the photo, it appears that the feta was very finely crumbled to make a smoother, flatter layer. After the dough chilled, it was rolled out into a large rectangle. Labne was spread across the surface followed by finely chopped fresno chiles, a drizzle of olive oil, crumbled feta, toasted sesame seeds and pine nuts, chopped fresh oregano, and za’atar. I was delighted to find my oregano plants hadn’t been affected by our below freezing weather, and I was able to harvest plenty for the whole cup of leaves needed. The dough was then cut horizontally to make two long pieces. Each piece was rolled up as tightly as possible the same way cinnamon rolls are made. Then, each roll was pulled to tighten and lengthen. The rolls each ended up about 35 inches long. Those long rolls were then cut in half along the length and then cut crosswise to make seven pieces from each of the four long strips. Those cut strips were then joined in pairs and twisted. The twists were left to proof for a few hours before being brushed with egg wash and baked. 

My twists are a bit less tidy than the ones pictured in the book since my filling wasn’t quite as smooth. But, as the author points out, no matter how your results look, they will taste great—and they did. These are kind of a meal unto themselves due to all the flavor from the feta, oregano, and za’atar and the added texture from the nuts and seeds. And, the dough was a lot of fun to work with and form into twists. As always with bread books, I’m going to be baking more things from this.  

Za’atar Twists 
Excerpted with publisher's permission from Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft (Artisan Books). Copyright 2016. 

Makes 14 twists 

A savory babka? And why not? I got the idea to make a za’atar babka when I was making a za’atar-seasoned bread. To fill the babka, I use labne, which is ultra-rich strained yogurt that has a wonderfully creamy texture and tangy flavor—not unlike sour cream. Chiles, feta cheese, and pine nuts add to the savory appeal. Here you take the babka dough and instead of twisting it and placing it in a loaf pan, you bake it free-form for individual twists or sticks. (You can follow the twist-shaping method for just about any of the babkas—some of the filling may ooze out onto the sheet pan, but those crispy bits are often the best.) 

Sesame seeds 30 grams (3 tablespoons) 
1 recipe Basic Babka Dough, chilled 24 hours 
All-purpose flour - for rolling and shaping 
Labne - 400 grams (11/3 cups) 
Red jalapeno or Fresno chile - 1, finely chopped (seeded for less heat) 
Extra-virgin olive oil - 20 grams (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon), plus extra for finishing 
Feta cheese - 110 grams (1 cup), crumbled 
Pine nuts - 60 grams (1/2 cup) 
Fresh oregano leaves 50 grams (1 cup) 
Za’atar - 25 grams (2 1/2 tablespoons), plus extra for finishing 
Egg Wash Large egg - 1 
Water - 1 tablespoon 
Fine salt - Pinch 

1. Toast the sesame seeds: Place the sesame seeds in a small skillet over medium-high heat and toast them, shaking the pan often, until they are golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a small plate and set aside. 

2. Roll the cold babka dough: Unwrap the cold babka dough and set it on a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough into a 12-by-28-inch rectangle (it should be just a little shy of ¼ inch thick) with a long side facing you. Pull and shape the corners into a rectangle. 

 3. Fill and roll the dough: Spread the labne over the dough in a thin, even layer. Sprinkle it with the jalapeño, olive oil, feta, toasted sesame seeds, pine nuts, oregano, and za’atar. Divide the dough in half horizontally so you now have two 6-by-28-inch pieces. Working from the long bottom edge of one of the pieces, roll the dough up into a tight cylinder, pushing back on the cylinder with each roll to make it even tighter. Lift the cylinder, holding one end in each hand, and gently stretch and pull to tighten it even more (it will stretch to about 35 inches long). Repeat with the second piece of dough. 

4. Divide the dough into strips and make the twists: Use a bread knife to slice each cylinder in half lengthwise so you have 4 long pieces, and then slice those pieces crosswise into 7 equal sections (about 5 inches each) to make a total of 28 strips. Cross 2 equal-size pieces to create an X, keeping the exposed filling facing up. Twist the ends together like the threads on a screw so you have at least 1 twist on each side of the X (3 twists total). Repeat with the remaining pieces. Set 7 twists on one parchment paper–lined rimmed sheet pan and 7 twists on a second parchment paper–lined sheet pan. 

5. Let the twists proof: Cover the sheet pans with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free spot until the twists have doubled in volume and are very soft and jiggly to the touch, 2 to 3 hours, depending on how warm your room is. 

6. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

7. Bake the twists: Make the egg wash by whisking the egg, water, and salt together in a small bowl. Brush egg wash over each twist, and bake until they are dark brown and baked through, about 20 minutes; check the twists after 15 minutes, and if they are getting too dark, tent them loosely with a piece of parchment paper. Remove the twists from the oven and, while they are still warm, brush with more olive oil and sprinkle with a little za’atar. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Basic Babka Dough 

Whole milk (at room temperature) - 120 grams (1/2 cup) 
Fresh yeast - 20 grams (2 1/2 tablespoons) or active dry yeast - 6 grams (2 teaspoons) 
All-purpose flour (sifted, 11.7%) - 280 grams (2 1/4 cups), plus extra for dusting and kneading 
Pastry or cake flour (sifted, 8.5 to 9%) - 220 grams (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) 
Large eggs - 2 Granulated sugar - 75 grams (1/3 cup) 
Fine salt - Large pinch 
Unsalted butter (at room temperature) - 80 grams (5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) 

1. Make the dough: Whisk the vanilla into the milk in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Use a fork or your fingers to lightly mix the yeast into the milk. Then, in this order, add the flours, eggs, sugar, salt, and finally the butter in small pinches. 

2. Mix on the lowest speed, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed, and to pull the dough off the hook as it accumulates there and break it apart so it mixes evenly, until the dough is well combined, about 2 minutes. If the dough is very dry, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time; if the dough looks wet, add more all-purpose flour, 1 table-spoon at a time, until the dough comes together. Increase the mixer speed to medium, and mix until the dough is smooth and has good elasticity, 4 minutes. 

3. Stretch and fold the dough: Lightly dust your work surface with flour and turn the dough out on top; lightly dust the top of the dough and the interior of a large bowl with flour. Grab the top portion of the dough and stretch it away from you, tearing the dough. Then fold it on top of the middle of the dough. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the stretch, tear, and fold. Continue to do this until you can stretch a small piece of dough very thin without it tearing, about 5 minutes. Then use your hands to push and pull the dough against the work surface and in a circular motion to create a nice round of dough. Set the ball in the floured bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set it aside at room temperature for 30 minutes. 

4. Chill the dough: Set the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a 1-inch-thick rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Fresh Cod with Tomato Sauce and Garbanzos

I’m declaring this cod dish a perfect recipe for January. It’s lean and not too indulgent, but the smoky pimenton will help warm you up if your weather is a bit chilly as it is here. Just smelling the lovely pimenton in the simmering sauce makes the house seem warmer. And, this is a pretty quick dish to prepare if you’re looking for simpler meals after lots of holiday cooking. It’s from Cúrate: Authentic Spanish Food from an American Kitchen by Katie Button, and I received a review copy. Katie Button’s career in cooking began after she first studied biomolecular engineering. Rather than completing her PhD program, she opted to go to work for Jose Andres in Washington D.C. That position led to a stage in elBulli’s pastry kitchen which was followed by opening a Spanish restaurant with her husband in North Carolina. The book is named after the restaurant, and both offer home-cooking from all the regions of Spain with some interpretations for what’s available here in the US. There are classic dishes like Gazpacho, Tortilla Espanola, and Sauteed Shrimp with Garlic as well as fresh ideas like Roasted Beet Salad with Candied Orange, Manchego, and Marcona Almonds. One section that really got my attention was Sandwiches. The wonderful preserved products from Spain are mentioned in a few places in the book, and they come into play with some of the sandwiches. For instance, the Tuna Sandwich is made with homemade Arbequina Olive Oil Mayonnaise, canned Navarra white asparagus, roasted piquillo peppers, tuna jarred in olive oil, and sliced hard-boiled egg on split baguette, and it looks delicious. The very next chapter is Desserts, and I’d love to try them all. The White Chocolate Saffron Roulade may become my birthday cake this year. And, the Frozen Meringue with Candied Marcona Almonds and Grand Marnier sounds delightful. First, I tried the flaky cod with the hearty, chunky sauce with garbanzos. 

Seafood stock is called for in the recipe for the sauce. I usually have some shrimp shells in the freezer and whip up some seafood stock fairly quickly. However, there is a lot of great flavor in the other ingredients, and water would work instead of stock. To begin, garlic and onion were sauteed in olive oil until golden, and canned crushed tomatoes, a bay leaf, and a sprig of rosemary were added and left to simmer for a few minutes. Next, the stock or water and rinsed and drained canned garbanzo beans were added with smoked pimenton. The mixture was brought to a boil and then reduced to a simmer for another few minutes. Last, chopped parsley was added. The cod was simply seared in a skillet until just cooked through. The fish was served with the sauce spooned over and around each piece.

Sauteeing onion and garlic makes the kitchen smell amazing, but adding the smoked pimenton took it to another level. With the garbanzos in the sauce, this was a hearty but not too filling dish all at once. Like the other recipes in this book, this was straightforward to prepare with some smart touches to bring about great flavor. It’s a nice guide for bringing Spanish dishes to your table. 

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