Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Grilled Potato and Leek Salad with Salsa Verde Vinaigrette

If you love to throw parties and are amazing at it or if you’d like to get better at doing it, I have a new book for you. Life Is a Party: Deliciously Doable Recipes to Make Every Day a Celebration from David Burtka is full of festive ideas, and I received a review copy. And, you can win a copy! Just leave a comment on this post before the end of Monday, May 6th including an email address where I can contact you. Two randomly selected winners in the US or Canada will each receive a copy of the book from the publisher. The book begins with handy party planning tips like setting the mood by testing lighting the day before, stocking up on plenty of ice and storing it in the bathtub or washing machine, checking with guests about any food allergies, and more. My favorite of the tips, and one that I live by, is getting as much done in advance as possible. You should enjoy the party too! Then, the party menus are grouped by season. But, there’s more than just menus and recipes. There are also suggestions for table decor, what to wear, how to take the theme to the next level, activities, and even a playlist for each occasion. Everything you need for an incredible party is here, but this is an easy-going book. You’re invited to pick and choose how much you want to do and how you want to shape your party. The recipes tend to serve six to eight, and you can scale up or down as needed. Each menu includes cocktails or mocktails, salads or sides, main dishes, and dessert. Of course, you could also mix and match recipes to create your own menus too. As soon as I opened the book, the Scallops with Peas and Green Oil got my full attention. It’s part of a spring party menu that starts with a Cucumber-Herb Cocktail and ends with a Flourless Chocolate Cake. The Mexican Fiesta looks like a lot of fun, and I would love to find big serving bowls of guacamole and ceviche at a party. I also loved the look of the Chocolate Chunk Hazelnut Bars and the pitcher of Fresh Blueberry Fizz at the Summer Picnic. It was the Sunday Funday menu that got me headed into the kitchen though. It starts with Mojito Slushies and includes Grilled Tofu Skewers with Coconut-Peanut Dipping Sauce, a DIY Sundae Bar, and the Grilled Potato and Leek Salad shown here. 

I did fall for the idea of grilling potatoes for a potato salad, but in truth, I can never pass up salsa verde of the Italian variety. The herby sauce with olive oil sounded like a perfect match for grilled potatoes. I used small, white potatoes, and they were boiled and allowed to cool before grilling. I opted for a grill pan on top of the stove for better heat control with the small potatoes and leeks and onions. I had a collection of local spring bulb onions and leeks, and I had just brought home some shallot scapes that I used here as well. The onions and leeks were halved lengthwise, brushed with oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled on the pan until tender. The cooled potatoes were sliced in half, oiled, seasoned, and grilled for a few minutes on each side. The vinaigrette was made with mustard, white wine vinegar, olive oil, parsley, cilantro, and I added capers. I chopped the grilled onions and leeks because I prefer them finely chopped. They were added to a big bowl with the grilled potatoes to be tossed with the vinaigrette. The salad was garnished with sliced radishes. 

My instincts did not fail me in assuming the salsa verde vinaigrette would be great with potatoes. The mix of alliums with the herbs all worked together fabulously. I would definitely serve this to guests or bring it to a party. Whether your guest lists are family-friendly or grown-ups-only, your gatherings are formal or anything-goes, and you plan every detail to a T or just want some basic ideas, this book has it all for your next party. 

Grilled Potato and Leek Salad with Salsa Verde Vinaigrette 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Life Is a Party: Deliciously Doable Recipes to Make Every Day a Celebration

Serves 6 to 8 

for the potatoes and leeks 
Kosher salt 
3 pounds fingerling potatoes 
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns 
3 large leeks (about 11/2 pounds) 
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil 

for the salsa verde vinaigrette 
1/4 cup whole-grain mustard 
1/4 cup white wine vinegar 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning 
4 scallions, thinly sliced 
Leaves from 1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped 
1 bunch cilantro 
1/4 cup sliced radishes, for garnish 

special equipment 
outdoor grill or grill pan 

1. Cook the potatoes: Bring a large stockpot of heavily salted water to a boil (the water should taste like the sea). Add the potatoes and peppercorns, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes. 
2. While the potatoes are cooking, make the salsa verde vinaigrette: In a medium bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, olive oil, and salt. Stir in the scallions, parsley, and cilantro. 
3. Grill the leeks: Heat the grill or grill pan to medium-high. 
4. Slice off the root ends and dark green tops of the leeks and discard. Halve the leeks lengthwise, then peel back the layers by the base so they are slightly separated. Immerse the leeks in a bowl of cold water and gently shake to dislodge any dirt and grit. Pat dry, then drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt. Grill the leeks cut-side down until dark grill marks form, about 4 minutes, then flip and cook until the leeks no longer feel stiff, about 4 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and let cool. 
5. When the potatoes are tender, drain them and spread them out on a baking sheet to cool, discarding the peppercorns. Once cool enough to touch, slice them in half lengthwise and toss with the remaining 1⁄4 cup olive oil and 2 teaspoons salt. Grill, cut-side down, until dark grill marks appear, 3 to 4 minutes, then flip and grill for 3 minutes more. 
6. Toss the potatoes, leeks, and salsa verde vinaigrette in a large bowl; garnish with the radishes. The salad can be served right away or allowed to sit on the counter for 2 to 3 hours before serving.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Rice Noodle Salad Bowl with Sriracha Tofu

Sometimes I enjoy hunting ingredients. I set aside part of day to drive around town from market to market to find just what I need for some recipes I’m planning to tackle. But, there are definitely times when the convenience of gathering what’s needed at one grocery store is necessary. If you’ve ever backed away from trying any Vietnamese recipes because of the challenge of an ingredient hunt, your worries are over. Andrea Nguyen’s new book, Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors, of which I received a review copy, shows you how to achieve great results with what you can find in any grocery store. This book was inspired by her mother’s resourcefulness when their family first arrived in the US in the 1970s. There weren’t nearly as many Asian products available in grocery stores then, and they had to make do with what they could find. They embraced learning about and becoming part of their new surroundings while continuing to honor Vietnamese culture. Today, many products you would need for Vietnamese dishes like fish sauce, rice noodles, and rice paper are available at most grocery stores. But, she offers some great ideas for substitutes for things that are more difficult to find. For example, if you can’t easily find tamarind, you can use pomegranate molasses for a similar tart flavor. She even includes a recipe to make your own from pomegranate juice. And, if the size of rice noodle you want isn’t on offer with other Asian products, try checking the options among the gluten-free pastas. The recipes cover all types of dishes from snacks to desserts, and I’ve been having fun trying several of them. First, I was excited about the Grilled Trout Rice Paper Rolls. I found brown rice paper and used it for the first time. I also had pretty, dark purple lettuce leaves that I brought home from Boggy Creek Farm and some homegrown cilantro and mint. The mixture was very pretty sitting on the rice paper before I rolled it up and realized that dark purple lettuce under brown rice paper was not photogenic at all. It was delicious, just not great for photos. And, the homemade Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce was fantastic with the rolls. I also tried the Roasted Cauliflower “Wings.” They’re a vegan version of Chile Garlic Chicken Wings. Both recipes appear in the book. The cauliflower became incredibly crunchy after roasting with a rice flour coating, and the dipping sauce was addictive. The Gingery Greens and Shrimp Soup was a marvel. The flavor to effort ratio was unparalleled. Onion was cooked in oil with salt, fish sauce and water were added, and it was boiled for a few minutes. That alone created a flavorful broth for the soup. Incredibly fresh, chopped Swiss chard and snow peas from the farmstand cooked briefly with shrimp in the broth. This was one of the best soups I’ve ever made. In the book, there are also tempting rice and noodle dishes, chicken and fish dishes, egg and tofu dishes, and desserts like No-Churn Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream that I can’t wait to try. But, my next stop in the book was for the Rice Noodle Salad Bowl with Sriracha Tofu. 

There are notes throughout the recipes that offer suggestions for substitutions for some ingredients or ways of making the recipe vegetarian or vegan if it isn't already. The Rice Noodle Salad Bowl is topped with marinated and grilled beef or chicken, but the notes suggest topping it with Sriracha Tofu instead. That’s what I did. To make the tofu, it was first cut into domino-like pieces. In a skillet, water, soy sauce, and sriracha were combined. The tofu pieces were added, and it was cooked until bubbly. The tofu pieces were flipped, and when the liquid in the pan had evaporated a little oil was drizzled over the tofu. It was left to cook for a few minutes before being flipped once again. The tofu pieces took on an orange and brown color from the sauce. For the noodle bowl, rice noodles were cooked, and I found a brand that I really like shown in the photo below. I wanted to include some pickled vegetables and made a quick pickle from carrot and kohlrabi matchsticks. The toppings were prepped including crispy fried shallots, chopped cashews, lettuce leaves, cucumber ribbons, sliced chiles, cilantro, and mint. Homemade Nuoc Cham made with maple syrup, lime juice, water, rice vinegar, fish sauce, and chiles served as the dressing. The noodles, lettuce leaves, and vegetables were arranged in bowls. The chiles, cashews, and herbs were added on top, and the sriracha tofu was the crowning glory. 

The fresh flavors of all the vegetables with the simple, citrusy sauce makes for a light and lovely dish with great texture from the noodles. This way of cooking tofu is one I’ll be using often. It’s a quick and easy process, and the tofu was delicious. I might not bother fitting this book onto the shelves just yet. There’s lots more I want to try as soon as I can.

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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Maple Cake with Maple Espresso Cream Cheese Frosting

Let me begin by admitting that I have no skills whatsoever for decorating cakes. I need practice and patience. When it comes to baking cakes for occasions, I seem to run out of time for filling a pastry bag. But, I know I would enjoy it if I learned. Mostly, I want to bake cakes that taste delicious. Gesine Bullock-Prado is on the same page in that regard. In her latest book of which I received a review copy, Fantastical Cakes: Incredible Creations for the Baker in Anyone, she presents beautifully decorated cakes that are all about the flavor. She begins the introduction with a story about a cake decorating book she was fascinated with as a child. Looking back at the book later in life, she realized all those cakes were made with cake mixes and artificial dyes. So, she set out to create an ultimate book about decorating cakes made from scratch that would teach readers how to achieve great-looking and great-tasting results. And, as always, her humor shines through on every page. Knowing that depending on the convenience of a cake mix is handy, she even includes recipes for making your own dry mixes that can be stored and used as needed. There are explanations for different types of mixing methods that result in different textures. The paste method involves mixing the dry ingredients with fats to form a paste before adding the wet ingredients, and the result is a tender, tightly-crumbed cake. The creaming method is more common in which fats and sugar are creamed before dry ingredients are added. This results in a more stable cake for layering. Last, the foam method is for cakes leavened by whipped eggs to make very airy cakes. The recipes include options for all these methods. There are then fillings, frostings, examples of combinations for incredible cakes, and tips and notes all along the way. Reading about the Salted Caramel Pastry Cream made me want to make it just to eat it from the bowl. Then, learning about Puppet Dust opened a door to decorating without piping frosting into swirls. It’s made from cake trimmings or crumbs or stuck bits from the pan, and it’s baked at a low temperature to dry the pieces before pureeing them into sand. The sand can be colored whatever shade is needed. In the book, cakes are simply frosted and chilled, strips of parchment are applied to the surface, and colored Puppet Dust is pressed into exposed areas of frosting to create a pattern. The Zebra Cake was made this way with pink stripes. There are so many show-stopping cakes and brilliant ideas. There’s a Swiss Roll Sponge with a pretty baked-in pattern of cherries on the stem that cover the outside, and that’s a technique I have to try too. And, the Apple Cider Cake has filled cream puffs layered inside the cake and adorning the top as well. There’s a lot to experiment with here. 

As I read the book, Kurt’s birthday was fast approaching. I suspected he would like the idea of a maple cake, and I liked the idea of trying the paste method of mixing. I think I had made a cake this way once before, but it had been ages. The recipe calls for maple sugar or maple syrup. Sadly, maple sugar is exorbitantly expensive here. I went with maple syrup. To start, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt were added to the mixing bowl. Room temperature butter was added and mixed until sandy. Eggs were added followed by the maple syrup, maple extract, and vanilla. Last, milk was added and incorporated. I baked the layers in eight-inch pans, and there are specific instructions in the book for prepping pans before baking. There’s also a tip about wrapping and freezing cake layers and filling and frosting directly from the freezer. Firm, frozen cake layers are easy to work with, and the cold temperature helps to set the filling and frosting as you work. I baked my cake layers a couple of days in advance and froze them before filling and frosting. What really drew me to the maple cake was the idea of topping it with Maple Espresso Cream Cheese Frosting. In the book, it’s suggested that Instant ClearJel be added to cream cheese frosting to make it set better. Since I wasn’t transporting this cake, I skipped it. Also, since the layers were frozen, the frosting set while being applied. It was a mix of confectioners’ sugar, butter, cream cheese, vanilla, maple extract, maple syrup, and espresso powder. I loved that the recipe made an ample amount to generously fill between layers and cover the outside well. I separated the frosting into two bowls and used one for the crumb coat and the other for the final coat. 

I always fall for cream cheese frosting, but this was hands-down my favorite frosting ever. Espresso and maple make perfect partners. With all the options in this book for filling, topping, adorning, and sprinkling cakes, I’m very inspired to take my cake decorating to the next level. I might still shy away from the piping bag, but puppet dust is definitely in my future.

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