Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tomato Leaf-Egg Pasta

For a thorough look at food history in the South from the mid-twentieth century on, I highly recommend The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South by John T. Edge of which I received a review copy. All angles are covered from the atrocities of segregation and the civil rights movement as they related to restaurant dining to home cooking including how the food being prepared and access to it have changed over time. There’s a moving passage about Edna Lewis and how her family had “embraced agriculture.” “They found joy among the furrows and reveled in the pleasures of the table… In a rapidly urbanizing America, her knowledge of native plants and heritage breed animals, learned on the family farm, set her apart.” Alice Waters regarded Lewis as “an advocate of organic foods and seasonal diets.” Lewis, in fact, spoke of the same principles on which the Slow Food movement would later be founded. The book offers insights into the careers of several famous Southern chefs, food writers, restaurant founders, and producers and also delves into issues of industrial farming and the need for progress for laborers. And, it clearly depicts how a changing population “proved essential in the making of the newest New South, in which expertise in tortilla making mattered as much as biscuit baking, and Indian chefs set the standard for fried okra.” Sadly, that doesn’t mean all problems have been solved, but it is exciting to see the food landscape shift and new dishes become iconic. Edge writes: “Food serves the region as a unifying symbol of the creolized culture we have forged, making explicit connections between the breads made from corn that Native Americans call pone and the breads made from corn that Mexican Americans call tortillas, bonding Louisiana Cajuns of French descent who boil crawfish in water spiked with Tabasco mash and Vietnamese Texans on the Gulf Coast who boil crawfish in pots that bob with lemongrass.” It’s fascinating to experience the varied ways food products of the South can be interpreted. Here in Austin, I look to our local farms for inspiration based on what’s growing from month to month. A few weeks ago as the height of tomato season was coming to an end, I wanted to make use of the less popular part of the plants. The Tomato Leaf-Egg Pasta from The Book of Greens was on my mind, and I had to give it a try.

Springdale Farm was kind enough to harvest a bag full of tomato leaves for me to purchase, and a local restaurant had been purchasing them as well. It’s great to know the plants were being put to such good use. To make the pasta dough, the tomato leaves were blanched, drained, and squeezed in a towel to remove moisture. Next, the leaves were placed in the blender with eggs and pureed. I prefer to make pasta by hand, so I transferred the tomato leaf and egg mixture to a big bowl with some flour. I used a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour. The flour and tomato leaf mixture were stirred together and kneaded on a floured surface until smooth. The dough was covered with plastic wrap and allowed to rest for about an hour before being divided and rolled through a pasta machine. I cut the strands into linguine and cooked them briefly in salted boiling water. For a quick sauce, I followed the suggestion in the book and melted butter in which fresh tomatoes were briefly warmed. Pasta was topped with the sauce, strands of basil, and some parmigiano reggiano. I loved the herby flavor in the rich egg pasta, and the speckled green color was pretty with the fresh tomatoes. I'll definitely make this again when I can get some leaves from tomato plants.

A lot of progress has been made in the South, and I hope it continues. Undeniably, there are still issues to be addressed and problems to be solved, and only time will tell what changes will come next. But, seeing the mix of cultures and its positive affect on what we eat is a positive sign. I’ll keep eating all the new and different dishes that appear and cooking with all the great ingredients grown in this little pocket of the South that I call home. 

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Yellow Coconut Rice Cakes with Scallions and Black Sesame Seeds

I’m an admitted tree hugger and have been for ages. And, my interest in protecting the environment has a direct effect on my food choices. It all started on the campus of the University of Illinois during my first year. There was an Earth Day event at which I learned about how much land around the world was being used for cattle ranching for beef and how much water is used to raise cattle for beef and how negatively the environment is affected by the growing demand for beef. That was the day I made the choice to not eat red meat. Today, there are more food sourcing options. Local, pastured, grass-fed, humanely-raised animals for meat are a much better option than factory-farmed, standard, grocery store fare. Still, growing vegetables is far easier on the earth than raising animals. I continue to not eat red meat, but when I buy it to serve to others, I go with the local, pastured variety. Since I’ve been thinking this way for so long, I was delighted to see a new book about taking some simple steps to reduce our meat intake and improve our health and the planet at the same time. The Reducetarian Solution: How the Surprisingly Simple Act of Reducing the Amount of Meat in Your Diet Can Transform Your Health and the Planet, of which I received a review copy, takes a gentle approach. It doesn’t hit the reader over the head with demands for an end to meat eating. Instead, through a collection of several short essays, the idea of finding easy ways to cut back are presented. My favorite essay was by environmentalist and co-founder of, Bill McKibben, in which he writes: “reducing factory farming of animals would help a lot in the fight against global warming. The Reducetarian movement meets most people on our planet more or less at their level—they enjoy the taste of meat and yet also worry about our planet’s future.” He goes on to explain how reducing rather than eliminating meat could be very effective. Currently, about 0.5 percent of the American population is vegan. It would be very difficult to convince a significant percent of the population to convert to eating only plants. But, if a third or more Americans would cut their meat intake by a third or half, it would make an undeniable difference in the amount of meat being purchased and in many peoples’ quality of health. After reading the book, I’ve been cooking even more vegetarian meals than usual and cutting our dairy more often as well. This has been easy with books like In My Kitchen because I've already placed flags on several pages for meatless recipes to try.

One of the pages I marked was for the Yellow Coconut Rice with Scallions and Black Sesame Seeds recipe. Deborah Madison offered a couple of great suggestions for what to serve with this rice, and I couldn’t wait to try it with the braised sweet peppers. You have options with this rice. It can be served warm right from the saucepan, or it can be pressed into a pan, chilled, cut into shapes, and browned in oil. It’s also pointed out that long grain rice won’t form solid cakes after being pressed into a pan. Short or medium grain rice is needed. The rice was cooked in a mixture of coconut milk and water with saffron and turmeric. Once cooked, thinly sliced green onions were tossed with the rice. The rice was pressed into a small pan that I lined with parchment paper, and black sesame seeds were sprinkled on top. The pan was refrigerated until set. I went with the diamond shape suggested for the rice cakes and browned them in coconut oil. For the braised peppers, I had a few different varieties from local farms in addition to some hot chiles. They were cooked in coconut oil with minced onion, garlic, and ginger plus cumin and more turmeric. A little coconut milk was added after sauteeing. I topped the browned rice cakes with the braised peppers and garnished with a chiffonade of papalo leaves. 

This rice is so delicious and could be used in so many ways, I predict I’ll be making it repeatedly. Leftover rice cakes can be reheated in the oven, or they can be broken apart and heated in a skillet like fried rice. I enjoyed lunches of leftovers both ways. Choosing plants instead of meat a little more often isn’t difficult at all with great ideas this like for flavorful dishes with always changing seasonal vegetables.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Cucumber Umeboshi Salad with Cashew Crunch

I love the idea of collaborating with artists to create food. Everything about cooking is part of a creative process from choosing what to make to gathering the ingredients to the actual preparation and, of course, the presentation. Julia Sherman has been making salads with artists and chronicling the results on her blog Salad for President, and now she has a book of the same name. I received a review copy. In addition to cooking with creative professionals, she also planted the MoMA PS1 Salad Garden on the rooftop of the museum in Queens which became an ideal location for shared meals, performances, and talks. Sherman writes: “An artist reinvents the things you already know. They reframe the details of life and prod us to pay closer attention.” She suggests home cooks do the same by experimenting with ingredients and flavors and finding new ways to compose a meal. And, salads are perfect for experimentation and new composition. In some cases, the concept of a salad is extended to include brothier expressions like soup or cooked combinations like charoset. There’s even a chapter for “Other Abuses of the Format” including cocktails and desserts. But mostly, the book is full of interesting salads both simple and complex. There are also interviews with artists and other well-known personalities, and each one ends with a recipe from the interviewee. Alice Waters was interviewed, and she included her now classic recipe for Baked Goat Cheese with Garden Lettuces. Some other salads that caught my eye include the Tatsoi, Macadamia Nuts, and Shaved Coconut with Yuzu Kosho Dressing; Potato Salad with Sprouted Mung Beans, Yogurt, and Fried Black Mustard Seeds; and Pulled Chicken Salad with Napa Cabbage and Red Curry Puffed Rice. And, the Cucumber Umeboshi Salad with Cashew Crunch sent me off to find umeboshi right away. 

I found umeboshi, or salted plums, at a nearby Japanese market, and they’re often made with MSG. Luckily, I found a brand without it. You need to remove the pits, and then for this recipe, they were minced. I had two different types of locally-grown cucumbers, and they were partially peeled in stripes and chopped into chunks. For the cashew crunch, cashews were chopped and combined with sesame seeds. Nori was cut into skinny shreds and added to the cashews with a paste made from black garlic, fish sauce, and a minced habanero. After stirring, the nut mixture was spread on a baking sheet and toasted in the oven until browned. Once cool, it became a crunchy crumble topping. The minced plums were added to the cucumber chunks and tossed with rice vinegar. To serve, the cucumber mixture was topped with the cashew crunch. 

I loved the flavor of the salted plums with the cucumber. And, the cashew crunch could easily become a daily snack. The crunchy, umami-packed topping will be making frequent appearances in my kitchen. If you’re looking for salad inspiration or just ideas for using all sorts of vegetables, this book will serve you well. 

Cucumber Umeboshi Salad with Cashew Crunch 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Salad for President: A Cookbook Inspired by Artists

Serves 4 to 6 
Prep Time: 20 minutes 

In Japan they say that umeboshi plums possess magical healing powers, the ability to cure everything from ancient Samurai battle fatigue to the modern-day hangover. Umeboshi are shockingly expensive, but a little of their concentrated, salty tartness goes a long way. When I buy cashews for cooking, I always opt for the broken cashew pieces as opposed to whole nuts; they are more affordable and taste just as good. Black garlic is fermented, and has twice as many antioxidants as raw garlic; its flavor is much sweeter and milder, like garlic candy, in a good way. You can find this at your Asian grocer, but it is widely available in mid- range supermarkets as well (they even sell it at Trader Joe’s). If you can’t find it, just substitute roasted garlic cloves with an added pinch of sugar. 

For the cashew crunch 
2 cloves black garlic, peeled 
1 teaspoon fish sauce 
1 teaspoon minced habanero pepper (or more if you love spice) 
1⁄2 cup (65 g) raw cashew pieces 
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds 
1 (8 x 7 1⁄2-inch/20 x 19-cm) sheet unseasoned nori 
1 tablespoon untoasted sesame oil or vegetable oil 

For the salad 
2 pounds small cucumbers (about 6 lemon or Kirby and 10 Persian), chilled 
2 umeboshi plums 
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar 

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). 
2. Using a mortar and pestle, make a paste out of the black garlic, fish sauce, and habanero. 
3. Roughly chop the cashews and toss them in a bowl with the sesame seeds. Cut the nori into thin shreds and add them to the cashew mixture. Add the black garlic paste and stir to combine it with the other ingredients as evenly as possible. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat it evenly with the sesame oil. Spread the nut mixture out on the foil and toast it on the middle rack of the oven for about 10 minutes, until the nuts start to brown lightly. Remove them from the oven and let them cool to room temperature. The nuts should go from sticky and soft to crunchy clusters as they cool. 
4. Working with the cold cucumbers, remove every other strip of the skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and discard (if using Persian cucumbers, you won’t need to do this). Cut the cucumbers into 1-inch (2.5- cm) chunks, as shown, or into ribbons and put them in a salad bowl. 
5. Remove the pits from the plums and discard. Mince the plums into a chunky paste and toss them with the cucumbers. Add the vinegar and toss to coat evenly (you might want to use your hands to break up the plums here). Top with the crunchy cashew topping and gently toss to combine.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Cold-Press Coffee Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Sauce

I’ve been making homemade ice cream for years. And, I thought I had a handle on the parts of a custard and how the ingredients come together to freeze just right for ice cream. Thanks to the new book Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream: The Art and Science of the Scoop by Dana Cree, I now have a much, much better understanding of how all of that works. As I read my review copy, I enjoyed learning specifics like that fat helps to trap air as ice cream is churned and that dairy proteins bind to water in the base and prevent ice crystals from forming. I love this kind of information. I never really knew why some ice cream recipes call for corn syrup in addition to sugar, but here, it’s explained that monosaccharides in corn syrup, as opposed to disaccharides in sugar, bind more water which is again to prevent ice crystals. There are also explanations for the use of texture agents and how they affect the final result. By knowing the science behind what each item contributes, you get a clearer picture of what you could and what you should not change in ice cream recipes. You also learn how to create the creamiest texture and best flavors possible. For instance, fat in an ice cream plays an important role in how flavors are delivered. With a higher fat custard, flavors will develop more slowly as you taste them, and they will last longer on your palate. But, in the case of a lower-fat sherbet, the flavor is experienced more immediately. Depending on the flavor in question, you might want a slow, lingering effect or a quick burst. There’s also information about each step of making ice cream and what happens along the way. By curing or chilling an ice cream base before churning, the emulsion is strengthened and produces a better, less icy texture. The recipes are divided among Custard Ice Creams, Philadelphia-Style Ice Creams, Sherbets, Frozen Yogurts, and Add-Ins. Then, there’s a chapter for Composed Scoops that combine flavors, ripples, sauces, and toppings. There are delicious flavors offered in the book like Bourbon Butterscotch Ice Cream, Cheesecake Ice Cream, Bubblegum Ice Cream, Blood Orange Sherbet, and Key Lime Pie Frozen Yogurt. But, what I really appreciated was learning that a Philadelphia-style ice cream with no eggs is a better choice for flavors like chocolate or mint because you’ll quickly taste the subtleties of those ingredients. For coffee flavor that builds as the ice cream melts in your mouth, a custard base is the way to go. 

I have to explain how I chose the flavor combination shown here. When Kurt and I visit our favorite gelato shop, my go-to order is an affogato with salted caramel gelato. I love the hot espresso with the cold caramel gelato. Here, I kept the same flavors but switched the temperatures. I made the Cold-Press Coffee Ice Cream and topped it with a warm salted caramel sauce. The custard was made with cream, milk, sugar, and glucose. I used light corn syrup for the glucose. Egg yolks were tempered with the hot dairy and sugar mixture, and the custard was cooked until thick. After straining the cooked custard, coffee beans were added and left to steep while refrigerating the base overnight. The next day, the coffee beans were strained out, and creme fraiche was added before churning. The churned ice cream was placed in the freezer to harden for a few hours. I made the salted caramel sauce for serving and topped the scoops with chocolate-covered espresso beans. 

The coffee flavor was lovely in the rich custard, and the texture was perfectly smooth and chewy. Knowing the science behind ice cream making is eye-opening. To understand how all the ingredients interact and what each contributes makes me look at other recipes in a whole new way. It also makes me want to try every flavor in this book with all the ripples and swirls and crunchy, crispy toppings to go with them. 

Cold-Press Coffee Ice Cream 
Reprinted from Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream: The Art and Science of the Scoop . Copyright © 2017 by Dana Cree. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Andrea D’Agosto. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Makes between 1 and 1 1/2 quarts ice cream 

Coffee was my mother’s favorite ice cream flavor, and one I pretended to like as a child out of sheer admiration for her. As I grew into a coffee-swilling adult, though, I too found a deep appreciation for this flavor. Most ice cream shops add concentrated coffee to their ice cream, making a recognizable tan-colored scoop. As a pastry chef, I learned to flavor coffee ice cream by infusing whole coffee beans into the dairy, giving me a pale-colored scoop with a deep coffee flavor. As cold-press came onto the coffee shop scene, promising a smoother, less acidic brew, it too changed the way I thought about flavoring my coffee ice cream. Heat changes coffee’s flavor, and as it brews, bitter, briny, acidic notes come with it. When I started making a cold-press coffee ice cream, I cooled my ice cream base completely before I introduced the beans. I let them infuse slowly, over the course of a full day and night. The resulting ice cream tastes the way coffee smells, and has the unique quality of being white. I stir in a small amount of tart creme fraiche at the end, and its acidic quality makes this coffee ice cream a very special version of a commonplace flavor—one you won’t forget. For a more classic-tasting coffee ice cream, or if you are short on time, go ahead and add the coffee beans to the milk and cream as they are heating up, and let them steep for 10 minutes before straining them out. You can also replace the creme fraiche with an equal amount of cream, added with the milk in the beginning of the recipe. 

Cream (20%)200g | 1 cup 
Milk (40%)400g | 2 cups 
Glucose syrup (5%)50g | 1/4 cup 
Sugar (15%)150g | 3/4 cup 
Egg yolks (10%)100g | about 5 large yolks
Cornstarch 10g | 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon, mixed with 20g | 2 tablespoons of cold milk, whisked into the simmering dairy, then cooked for 1 minute. 
Coffee beans30g | 1/2 cup 
Creme fraiche (10%)100g | 1/2 cup

Prepare an ice bath. Fill a large bowl two-thirds of the way with very icy ice water and place it in the refrigerator. 

Boil the dairy and sugars. Put the cream, milk, glucose, and sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, and place it over medium-high heat. Cook, whisking occasionally to discourage the milk from scorching, until the mixture comes to a full rolling boil, then remove the pot from heat. 

Temper the yolks and cook the custard. In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks. Add 1/2 cup of the hot dairy mixture to the yolks while whisking so the hot milk doesn’t scramble the yolks. Pour the tempered yolks back into the pot of hot milk while whisking. Place the pot over medium-low heat and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot constantly with a rubber spatula to avoid curdling. 

Chill. When you notice the custard thickening, or the temperature reaches 180°F on a kitchen thermometer, immediately pour the custard into a shallow metal or glass bowl. Nest the hot bowl into the ice bath, stirring occasionally until it cools down. Strain. When the custard is cool to the touch (50°F or below), strain it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any bits of egg yolk. (This step is optional, but will help ensure the smoothest ice cream possible.) 

Infuse the coffee. Stir the coffee beans into the cooled custard, and transfer it to the refrigerator to infuse for 12 hours. 

Strain the custard and add the creme fraiche. When you are ready to churn your custard, strain out the coffee beans through a fine-mesh sieve. Take 1/4 cup of the cold custard and stir it into the creme fraiche until smooth, and then stir this back into the custard. 

Churn. Place the base into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The ice cream is ready when it thickens into the texture of soft-serve ice cream and holds its shape, typically 20 to 30 minutes. 

Harden. To freeze your custard ice cream in the American hard-pack style, immediately transfer it to a container with an airtight lid. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream to prevent ice crystals from forming, cover, and store it in your freezer until it hardens completely, between 4 and 12 hours. Or, feel free to enjoy your ice cream immediately; the texture will be similar to soft-serve. 

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