Monday, March 12, 2018

Homemade Baked Potato Tots

When I read cookbooks, I keep my eye out for ideas both big and small. Sometimes, it’s the little things that can really change your cooking or spark inspiration. And, some books deliver on both fronts. That was the case with Valerie's Home Cooking: More than 100 Delicious Recipes to Share with Friends and Family of which I received a review copy. Valerie Bertinelli gives you the recipes she cooks at home and recipes she learned from her mother and grandmother, and talks you through the why’s and how’s in a friendly, down-to-earth fashion. This is a book of crowd-pleasing food and drinks with a few healthier options, some decadent dishes, and a lot of good ideas for every meal of the day. Egg in a hole is a classic, but I’d never thought of trying it with a bagel and then topping it with Neufchatel cheese mixed with sriracha. The nostalgic Snack Mix in the Happy Hour chapter, made with wasabi peas and broken ramen noodles, inspired me to seek out new and different ingredients for a gluten-free mix to make for gifts. And, speaking of nostalgia, there’s also a homemade Hamburger Helpa and Tuna Noodle Casserole with Potato Chip Topping. Two dishes that got me looking forward to summer produce were the Roasted Eggplant Pesto Pasta and Vegetarian Minestrone. And among the desserts, the Neapolitan Tacos convinced me I need to get my hands on a pizelle maker. Here, pizelles are draped over the handle of wooden spoon so they set in the shape of a taco shell before they’re filled with vanilla ice cream and chopped strawberries. Why have I never made a dessert taco? The ideas shown here started with the Giardiniera Aioli shown in the book with a beef sandwich. I thought it would also be fantastic on an avocado sandwich or as a dip for baked fries. Next, I re-read the head note for the Homemade Baked Potato Tots recipe. In it, there’s a mention of grating cauliflower in with the potato for a slightly lighter take on the concept. I decided to go one step further and mix sweet potato, russet potato, and cauliflower to make the baked tots and then dip them in giardinera aioli. 

I had a stash of lacto-fermented giardinera that I made weeks ago with local cauliflower, garlic, and chiles and wanted a really good way to use the last bit of it. This was it. The vegetables were drained from the brine, chopped small, and then mixed into a homemade aioli. For the tots, you begin by cooking the potato or in my case the two kinds of potato and cauliflower. The vegetables were boiled until tender and then drained and allowed to cool completely. Once cool, they were each grated with a box grater. An egg, some flour, and cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, and salt were added and mixed into the grated vegetables. The mixture was formed into little cylinders, and it helps to moisten your hands. Every so often, I stopped and washed my hands and left them a bit wet before continuing to form the cylinders. I had drizzled some olive oil on a baking sheet, and as each cylinder was formed, I rolled it through the oil and placed it on the sheet. The tots baked for about 25 minutes and were turned halfway through baking. 

The giardiniera aioli was a revelation. I want that on every sandwich, and I want to dip everything into it now. And, the homemade, lightened-up tots were a lot of fun. They are tender due to baking as opposed to frying, but they did hold up well for dipping. I could also see them going in all sorts of other flavor directions with added chopped herbs or different spices. Being inspired to try new and different things and imagining all the possible variations is my favorite part of home cooking.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Orange and Currant Scones

I was delighted to read a review copy of Skye Gyngell’s latest book How I Cook: An Inspiring Collection of Recipes, Revealing the Secrets of Skye's Home Cooking. As soon as I began reading it, I remembered all the details of her style that I became familiar with in her book My Favorite Ingredients from 2010. The recipes have a relaxed and easy-going feel to them, but quality of seasonal ingredients as a route to their success is always highlighted. She has a way of describing each dish that coaxes me into making plans to make it. For instance, I now can’t let another week go by without mixing oats with lemon and orange zest and orange juice so I can add some yogurt and grated apple to a serving in the morning for Bircher Muesli. I’ve seen several versions of muesli recipes in the past, but somehow this was the first time I’ve decided I really do need to make it. Also, and this helps to explain why I like reading cookbooks like novels, there’s more to the recipes than what appears in their titles. That muesli recipe gives you a way to have muesli for breakfast every day for a week with fresh fruit and yogurt added as it’s served. Then, the Scrambled Eggs with Spinach and Slow-Roasted Tomatoes is actually a special take on scrambled eggs. Grated, cold butter is added incrementally while the eggs are slowly scrambled over low heat. The book is organized by type of meal with full menus for different seasons and times of day. An example from the Alfresco Eating chapter is: A basket of little vegetables with aioli, Poached langostines with green goddess dressing, Salad of Jersey Royal potatoes with herbs and creme fraiche, Swiss chard with Parmesan, Roasted caramelized peaches, and Shortbread. I’d love to plop on a blanket outside on a nice day with that complete menu within reach. There’s also a chapter for Afternoon Tea, and I wanted to make everything in it including Strawberry Sponge Cake and Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake. So far, I’ve only gotten as far as the Orange and Currant Scones, and again there’s a twist to how this is made. The dough is formed into one disk that is scored before baking. It becomes a pull-apart scone experience of sorts, and the center remains deliciously tender. I had seen this way of making scones in Joanne Chang Myers’ Flour cookbook and couldn’t wait to try this version.

The process is the same that's used for all scones, and I do love making scones. Flour, baking soda, a little sugar, and salt were combined, and I used a mix of all-purpose flour and local whole wheat with cultured butter. I always work the butter in by hand so I can feel how much it is breaking down in size and how well it is being incorporated into the flour. Orange zest and currants were added next and mixed by hand into the flour mixture. A well was made in the flour, and egg and milk were added and mixed into the dough. Last, the dough was turned out onto a floured surface and kneaded just to bring any stray currants or crumbs together before forming a thick disk. The round of dough was placed on a lined baking sheet and scored into triangles almost all the way through the dough. The dough was brushed with an egg wash before baking until golden. 

The scones were served with more of the cultured butter used to make them and some local grapefruit jelly. I’ve made a lot of scones over the years and have too many favorites to count, but these just became my newest favorite. The golden, crunchy tops give way to a lovely, yielding middle. I liked that the sweetness came mostly from the currants, and that made the butter and jelly especially good on top. Now, I’m off to make that muesli and mark more pages in the book. 

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Wild Rice Cakes with Smoked Whitefish and Bean Spread

As someone who enjoys seeking out the best of local and seasonal foods, I was interested to learn more about true, indigenous, North American ingredients and recipes made with them. In The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman, everything used would have been available to Native Americans. I recently received a review copy of the book. There are no European-introduced foods like wheat flour, dairy, sugar, or domestic pork or beef. Many of the ingredients used here could be foraged, but there are also suggestions for store-bought versions and substitutions for harder to find items. And, modern conveniences like food processors and other appliances are perfectly welcome in creating these dishes. Still, these recipes result in dishes that are true to the indigenous way of eating which just happens to be low-glycemic, high-protein, low salt, often plant-based, dairy-free, refined sugar-free, and gluten-free. Before reading this book, it hadn’t occurred to me that Native Americans used duck and quail eggs rather than chicken eggs, and that’s what’s used here. Although, large chicken eggs can be substituted for duck. There’s a recipe for Deviled Duck Eggs made with smoked salt and ground sumac and another for Old-Fashioned Cornmeal Mush with Poached (Duck) Eggs that look divine. The three sisters ingredients, corn, beans, and squash, figure prominently and in interesting ways. There’s Stuffed Squash Blossoms dredged in masa, Hominy Cakes served with Smoked Duck, and Hearty Mushroom Sweet Potato and Bean Soup. The proteins include fresh water fish and game like grouse, pheasant, rabbit, venison, and elk. And, there are several sweet treats made with maple syrup, maple sugar, and honey. I can’t wait to try the Maple Squash Sorbet with Cranberry Sauce in which roasted squash is pureed with maple syrup and cider before being churned into sorbet. First though, as a long-time fan of wild rice, I couldn’t pass up the versatile Wild Rice Cakes. They could have been served as a dessert with maple syrup and berries, but I went the savory route with a topping of Smoked Whitefish and Bean Spread. 

To make the wild rice cakes, you first need cooked wild rice. I sometimes have some in my freezer, but not this time. I cooked enough to use for this recipe and to freeze a bit for another day. The cooked wild rice is re-cooked until very soft, and then it’s drained and pureed in a food processor. The resulting dough is then mixed with salt and some cooked wild rice that was reserved before pureeing before being shaped into patties and fried on each side until browned. For the Smoked Whitefish spread, you need some cooked beans, and in this case my freezer came through for me. I had stored away some yellow-eye beans that worked well here but just about any type of bean would be fine. Smoked white fish was prepped by removing the skin and flaking the fish. I started by pureeing the beans in the food processor since they should be made smooth, then I pulsed the fish with some salt, oil, and ground sumac. I wanted the fish to retain some texture. The fish and bean spread was spooned onto the crispy wild rice cakes and topped with some sunflower sprouts. 

The whole grains of rice added to the pureed dough before making the cakes gave them great texture. They were crispy-edged and chewy in the middle. And, they made fantastic vehicles for the smoked whitefish spread. As with all the recipes in this book, straightforward and nutritious ingredients became a flavorful dish that could be served as elegantly or as simply as you wish. These very traditional foods are presented in a way that’s perfectly-suited to the here and now. 

Wild Rice Cakes 
Psíŋ Aǧúyapi Sáka na Hoǧáŋwičhašašni Ašótkaziyapi nakúŋ Waȟpé Skúya Yužápi  
Recipe reprinted from The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen  by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) Copyright 2017 Ghost Dancer, LLC. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the University of Minnesota Press.

Makes about 4 to 6 cakes 

These are our go-to cakes for breakfast, as a snack, and as the base for a well-seasoned bison braise or duck. They’re especially good topped with smoked fish and our bright lemony Sorrel Sauce. Make them tiny for an appetizer or big for dessert slathered in maple-berry sauce. The recipe for these couldn’t be simpler. It’s just overcooked wild rice, pureed into a thick dough. We like to stir in a little cooked wild rice for texture. Once shaped, these will keep several days in the refrigerator, so feel free to make them ahead. Leftovers may be re-crisped in a low oven until warmed through. 

2 cups cooked wild rice 
About 3 cups water 
Pinch salt 
Generous pinch maple sugar 
3 to 4 tablespoons sunflower oil or more as needed 

Put 1 1/2 cups cooked wild rice and water into a saucepan, reserving 1/2 cup. Place over high heat, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the rice is very soft and the water has evaporated. Drain. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree the rice into a sticky dough. Place the dough into a medium bowl and work in the salt, sugar, and the remaining cooked rice. 

Scoop out a scant 1/4 cup dough for each patty and shape to rounds about 1/2 inch thick. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and brown the patties about 5 to 8 minutes per side until lightly browned. Transfer the patties to a baking sheet and place in a warm oven until ready to serve. 

Smoked Whitefish and White Bean Spread 
Hoǧáŋ Ašótkaziyapi na Omníča Ská Iyúltȟuŋ 

Makes 1-1/2 cups 

This creamy spread is great with our Amaranth Crackers, or piled high on Corn Cakes, or Wild Rice Cakes. This is the filling for Stuffed Squash Blossoms. 

1 cup shredded smoked whitefish or trout 
1/2 cup Cedar-Braised Beans, or other cooked beans 
2 tablespoons sunflower oil 
Pinch sumac 
Pinch maple sugar 

Put the whitefish, beans, and oil into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse to create a rough, thick consistency. Season to taste with the sumac and maple sugar. 

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Shitake Mushroom and Spinach Dumplings with Classic Dumpling Sauce

As a fan of Joanne Chang’s cookbooks for years, I was excited to hear about her latest book, Myers+Chang at Home: Recipes from the Beloved Boston Eatery of which I received a review copy. This is from her Boston restaurant co-owned with her husband Christopher Myers. The book includes dishes from the restaurant menu as well as a few favorites from pre-service, family meals. Christopher Myers describes the type of food by saying “We take various Asian styles as our starting-off point, and we apply our own whatchamacallit to it.” There are Sichuan flavors next to Japanese influences along with some Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, and Indonesian elements. And, some of those flavors find their way into very American creations. There’s a Bulgogi BBQ Sloppy “Jo,” Indonesian Fried Chicken and Ginger-Sesame Waffles, and Korean Braised Short Rib Tacos with Kimchi-Sesame Salsa. The book begins with a good explanation of a list of ingredients and possible substitutions and moves into tips for wok cooking, cooking rice, the velveting process, and shaping dumplings. The recipes include everything from Dim Sum and Salads to Dumplings, Noodles, and Rice and Grain dishes. And, of course, Joanne Chang has included some great desserts. I was fascinated to see the Rhubarb Duck Sauce that’s served with Auntie Mia’s Spring Rolls. The sauce is a recreation of the Chinese-American take-out sauce that comes in little packets. This version starts with poaching rhubarb in simple syrup before pureeing it into a vinegary mixture with sriracha and ginger. There’s a note pointing out that they switch out the rhubarb for stone fruits in the summer. I’d love to try this with plums. Some other recipes I look forward to trying are Wild Mushroom Lo Mein, Wok-Charred Udon Noodles with Chicken and Bok Choy, and Vanilla Bean Parfait with Orange Granita. Right away, I made the Sweet-and Sour Brussels Sprouts and now have repeated cravings for them. Then, I got a bit mesmerized by the Dumplings chapter and in a fit of idealism was sure I could make a few different kinds in one day. I ended up only making one filling, but I’ll be visiting other options soon. 

For some background, I had originally intended to follow the book’s suggestion of using store-bought dumpling wrappers. I even found the exact brand recommended in the book. And, then I read the ingredient list. When asked why I cook so much, I always say it’s because I’m picky. This is a perfect example. Those dumpling wrappers are made with sodium benzoate, and that’s something I’d rather not have in my food. Also, I love making dumplings from scratch with homemade dough. Once again, I followed the dough making and shaping process from Andrea Nguyen’s book Asian Dumplings. I wasn’t disappointed at all to make the wrappers from scratch, but since it did take more time, I scrapped my plan for various types of fillings and focused on one. The Shitake Mushroom and Spinach Dumplings with Classic Dumpling Sauce is full of great flavors, and I had local Napa cabbage and spinach to use in them. There are a few steps to making the filling, and it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to make the filling one day and fill the dumplings the next. But, once you’ve filled lots of dumplings, extras can be stored in the freezer for another day. First, boiling water was poured over dried shitakes, and they were left to rehydrate. Next, sliced Napa cabbage was tossed with salt and left for 10 minutes. Oil was heated in a wok or skillet, sliced garlic was added followed by the spinach, and it was cooked until wilted and seasoned with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. The cooked spinach was placed in a colander until cool and then squeezed to removed excess liquid. The rehydrated shitakes were stemmed and finely chopped. The Napa cabbage was squeezed to remove excess liquid and then more finely chopped. Firm tofu was drained and crumbled and ginger was minced. In a large bowl, the shitakes, cabbage, spinach, tofu, were combined with the ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, Chinkiang vinegar, salt, and pepper. The filling mixture went into about 40 dumplings, and I have a great time making the little pleats to close each one. I really do love it. The dough for the wrappers was made with all-purpose flour and boiling water and was left to sit for 30 minutes or so before dividing and shaping. The dumplings were cooked potsticker-style by frying the bottoms before adding a bit of water while quickly covering the pan to finish cooking by steaming. The dipping sauce was a simple mix of soy sauce, minced ginger, Chinkiang black vinegar, sriracha, and sesame oil. 

It was interesting to see that most of the dumplings in the book are cooked as potstickers. I still intend to try the Edamame Wasabi and Mustard Green Dumplings with Black Vinegar-Wasabi Dipping Sauce, the Lemony Shrimp Dumplings with Kimchi-Yogurt Dipping Sauce, and the Juicy Duck and Ginger Dumplings. But, I was very happy with the one version I did complete. I love biting off the very end of the crisp-chewy wrapper and spooning in a bit of dumpling sauce over the shitake, Napa cabbage, and spinach filling. They’re as fun to eat as they are to make.

Shitake Mushroom and Spinach Dumplings with Classic Dumpling Sauce 
Recipes are excerpted from Myers+Chang at Home: Recipes from the Beloved Boston Eatery © 2017 by Joanne Chang with Karen Akunowicz. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. 

Makes 40 to 50 dumplings 
Being a dumpling on the menu at Myers+Chang sitting next to Mama Chang’s Pork and Chive Dumplings is like sitting next to Charlize Theron on your fat day. In other words, when we created this dish, it had to have some jingling! Jingling is something like a Chinese word for “chutzpah.” At least my mom says it is after Christopher described what “chutzpah” meant. Hmmm. Someone might want to Google Translate this. These dumplings are stuffed full of garlicky sautéed spinach and earthy shiitakes with some tofu to bind it all together. They are healthy and full of flavor and they embody jingling. 

2 cups dried shiitake mushrooms 
4 large napa cabbage leaves, thinly sliced (about 2 cups) 
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as canola, plus more as needed 
2 medium garlic cloves, sliced 
1 pound fresh baby spinach 
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
1 cup crumbled firm tofu (about 8 ounces) 
1 tablespoon soy sauce 
1 tablespoon peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger (about 1-inch knob) 
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil 
1 teaspoon black Chinkiang vinegar 
One 16-ounce package round dumpling wrappers (we like Twin Marquis brand) 
1 recipe Classic Dumpling Sauce 

1. In a medium saucepan, bring about 4 cups water to a boil. Place the shiitake mushrooms in a medium bowl and pour the boiling water over them to cover. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the mushrooms to rehydrate. 

2. Place the cabbage in a large bowl with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Toss well and set aside for at least 10 minutes. 

3. Drain the mushrooms and let cool. When they are cool enough to handle, slice off any woody stems and mince the mushrooms very fine. You can do this by hand or pulse them in a food processor if you have one. Set aside. 

4. In a wok or a large, heavy, flat- bottomed skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over high heat until it shimmers, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, give it a quick stir, and then add the spinach. Stir immediately and season with ¼ teaspoon of the salt, 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper, and the red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until the leaves are wilted, about 1 minute, and remove them from the pan. Place in a colander, let cool slightly, and squeeze any excess liquid out with your hands. Coarsely chop the spinach and set aside. 

5. Take the cabbage out of the bowl and squeeze hard with your hands. You will be amazed with the amount of water that comes out. Very finely chop the cabbage. 

6. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, mushrooms, spinach, and tofu. Add the soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, vinegar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Mix very well using your hands; it is really important that all the ingredients are distributed evenly. 

7. Fill a small bowl with warm water. Lay a dumpling wrapper on a clean work surface and scoop about 1 tablespoon of the filling into the center of the wrapper. Dip your finger in the water and paint all around the edge of the wrapper to moisten. Fold the wrapper over in half to look like a half-moon. (This always reminds me of making a taco shell.) Pinch just the top of the wrapper together, leaving the sides exposed and open. Start pleating the left side of the dumpling: Hold the dumpling on the top, fold a pleat on one side of the wrapper about halfway down the arc toward the center of the dumpling, and press it into the facing side of the wrapper. Repeat the pleating almost to the bottom of the arc so that you have two pleats on the left side of the dumpling. Repeat the pleating process on the right side of the dumpling, again pleating toward the center. When the dumpling is completely pleated, you should be able to sit the dumpling on its bottom and it will look like a little love seat. The smooth side of the dumpling will be the seat, and the pleated side will be the back of the couch. Continue with the rest of the dumpling wrappers and filling until the filling has been used up. The dumplings can be made in advance and stored uncooked for up to 3 weeks in an airtight container in the freezer. The easiest way to freeze them is to place them on a flat plate or tray and freeze until dumplings are completely frozen, and then transfer to a resealable freezer bag or an airtight container and return them to the freezer. Thaw in the refrigerator on a flat plate overnight or for at least 6 hours before cooking. 

8. In a large, heavy, flat-bottomed skillet with a lid or a nonstick skillet with a lid, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, carefully lay as many dumplings as will comfortably fit on their bottoms in the skillet and turn the heat down to medium. Cook without moving the pan until the bottoms of the dumplings are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Check by lifting them up with your fingers and peeking underneath. Add about 2 tablespoons water to the pan and immediately cover with the lid. The pan will sizzle and steam up immediately, so don't be startled. Shake the pan from time to time to keep the dumplings from sticking. Let the dumplings steam for 2 minutes, at which point most of the water will have evaporated. Add another 2 tablespoons water to the pan, cover, and steam again. Turn off the heat, keep covered, and let rest for 1 minute. Uncover and turn the heat back to medium-high to crisp up the dumplings. Remove from the pan. Continue in the same manner to cook the remaining dumplings, adding 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to the pan at a time as needed. Serve crispy-side up with the Classic Dumpling Sauce.

Classic Dumpling Sauce
Makes about 3/4 cup 
This classic dumpling sauce can be paired with any of the dumplings in this book. You can also add more or less sriracha or substitute wasabi for a different kind of kick. 

1/2 cup soy sauce 
2 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger (about 2-inch knob) 
1 tablespoon Chinkiang black vinegar 
2 teaspoons sriracha 
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil 

1. In a small bowl, stir together all the ingredients. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. 

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Mussels with Fennel and Saffron

I love cooking and eating Italian food and was sure I already knew quite a lot about it. But, every time I read a cookbook, I find there’s always more to learn. And, who better to learn from about Italian cooking that Lidia Bastianich? Her latest book is Lidia's Celebrate Like an Italian: 220 Foolproof Recipes That Make Every Meal a Party: A Cookbook, and I received a review copy. It’s full of recipes and suggestions for serving crowds big to small at any time of day and in any season. The chapters include Aperitivi, Appetizers, Salads, Soups, Vegetables and Sides, Polenta Risotto and Pasta, Fish and Seafood, Poultry and Meat, and Desserts. Lidia shares how she likes to entertain with a spread of appetizers or stuzzichini from which guests can help themselves before the main meal begins. She makes suggestions for options with and without meat to suit any budget and season as well as any guest’s preferred diet. In the Appetizers chapter, I learned about a type of frico I’d never encountered before. I previously knew frico as a crisp, little round of browned, shredded parmesan cheese that is great on top of a salad or as a snack with a cocktail. Here, Lidia gives a couple of recipes for a larger, layered frico. This Friulian version involves par-cooking potatoes and then slicing them. Then, a mixture of polenta and grated cheese is spread in a large heated skillet; that’s then topped with some of the sliced potatoes; depressions are made and an egg is cracked into each; the remaining potatoes are added on top of the eggs; it’s then topped with more polenta and cheese. This frico is cooked like a Spanish tortilla to brown both sides in the skillet until the eggs are set. It’s cut into slices to serve. There’s also a second similar frico made with ditalini pasta, prosciutto, tomato paste, and peas. I can’t wait to try this kind of frico. Some other dishes that caught my eye include the Polenta Torta with Gorgonzola and Savoy Cabbage. It’s a layered savory cake with melted, lovely cheese within the stacked polenta. In the Vegetables chapter, Lentils with Butternut Squash and Portobellos Stuffed with Quinoa and Kale are on my to-try list. It’s clear that Lidia’s party guests never leave hungry. I had some local fennel and was in the mood for something a little lighter, so the Mussels with Fennel and Saffron was the first thing I tried. 

To begin, you want to make sure your mussels are clean. This time, the mussels I bought needed some debearding, but they often come completely clean. I soaked them in salt water while prepping the other ingredients. The saffron was bloomed by adding it to warming stock. I used a vegetable stock, but chicken stock is suggested. Then, in a Dutch oven, olive oil was heated and finely chopped onion and diced fennel were added. They were left to cook for a few minutes. I had an organic Italian Trebbiano d'Abruzzo I had heard good things about and was excited to use. So, that white wine, salt, and red pepper flakes were added followed by the mussels and hot stock with saffron. The pot was covered, and the mussels were cooked for a few minutes until opened. The mussels were served with the broth with fennel and topped with chopped parsley. 

I have a thing for saffron and always love a broth or sauce perfumed with it. It was delicious with the mussels and fennel. I served the mussels with big slices of focaccia to dip into the broth. For this meal, it was just the two of us. But, I’ll be looking back to this book for ideas and recipes for entertaining bigger groups throughout the year. 

Mussels with Fennel and Saffron 

Cozze con Finocchio e Zafferano 
From the book Lidia's Celebrate Like an Italian: 220 Foolproof Recipes That Make Every Meal a Party: A Cookbook by Lidia Mattichhio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali, copyright 2017 by Tutti a Tavola, LLC. Published by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. 

You can serve this fun yet elegant dish in individual portions, piling the mussels high on each plate with a ladle. Make sure you distribute the sauce evenly and have plenty of grilled bread on the table, as well as some bowls to collect the shells. Even without the saffron, this is a delicious dish, but the saffron adds a luxuriousness that I love. This recipe is easily scaled up; plan on a pound of mussels per person for a first course, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds for an entree. 

Serves 4 as an appetizer 

1 cup chicken stock 
1 teaspoon saffron threads 
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 
1 small onion, thinly sliced 
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, halved, cored, and thinly sliced lengthwise, 1/4 cup chopped tender fronds reserved 
1 cup dry white wine 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes 
4 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded if necessary 
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley 
Crusty country bread, for serving 

In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock to a bare simmer. Add the saffron, and let steep 5 minutes. Keep hot. 

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and fennel. Cook and stir until wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes. 

Add the white wine, salt, and red pepper flakes. Simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the mussels and hot stock. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook about 3 to 4 minutes, until the mussels are done; discard any that haven’t opened. Stir in the parsley and reserved chopped fennel fronds, stir, and serve with bread. 

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Roasted Winter Squash with Toasted Coconut Gremolata

Sometimes it hits me that I read a lot of cookbooks. I love reading cookbooks. And cooking from them. Mostly I love learning new things ranging from the big ideas and amazing flavors to the tiniest details of cooking techniques. As I read my review copy of Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes by Alison Roman, this fact that I read a lot about food became apparent because these vibrant, flavor-packed recipes brought to mind other similar dishes from other books. For instance, I knew the Blistered Green Beans with Creamy Tahini and Fresh Hot Sauce would be great because I’d previously tried the Roasted Green Beans with Tahini and Sesame-Seed Dressing from Brown Sugar Kitchen. The Grilled Corn Salad with Fresh Cheese and Corn Nuts took me back to the Corn, Green Beans, and Parmsesan Salad with corn nuts from Tartine All Day and the summer salad with corn nuts from Curate. Burrata with Tangerines, Shallots, and Watercress reminded me of how well citrus goes with burrata which I learned from trying the Blood Orange, Burrata, and Freekeh Salad from the book Citrus. Inevitably, food brings back memories, and flavors that pair well are seen together again and again. I’ve been eating smoked trout more often as of late, so the Smoked Trout with Mustard and Apples salad made with mustard seeds and frilly mustard green leaves looked delicious. And, the Skillet Chicken with Crushed Olives and Sumac looked like a fantastic result from not too much effort. The first dish I tried presented a new and different idea I’d never seen before. Toasted coconut chips became a central element in a gremolata for sprinkling over roasted winter squash. Turns out, I have added coconut chips to a winter squash salad before, but that was part of a very different dish and had nothing to do with a gremolata. 

Here, winter squash was sliced and roasted after being tossed with melted coconut oil. I used acorn squash, but delicate is shown in the book. For the gremolata, unsweetened coconut chips were toasted in a dry pan and left to cool. Chopped chives and cilantro leaves that I was able to harvest from my herb garden were added to a bowl with lemon zest, Aleppo pepper, and salt. The coconut chips were added and tossed to combine. This gremolata was sprinkled over the roasted squash pieces before serving. 

Winter squash and coconut go great together, and sweet potato wedges would be a delicious alternative as well. The lemon and Aleppo pepper added nice punch to the mix of flavors. It’s fun for me to connect the dots of ingredients and pairings that I encounter from book to book to book, and mostly it’s a lot of fun to eat what ends up on the plate. 

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Pineapple Shrimp Fried Rice

Maybe I’ve been watching too many documentaries lately, but I was intrigued that the introduction to Night + Market: Delicious Thai Food to Facilitate Drinking and Fun-Having Amongst Friends started with a Werner Herzog reference regarding the difference between objective truth and ecstatic truth. The filmmaker defines objective truth as a record of facts while poetic, ecstatic truth is reached through “fabrication and imagination and stylization.” Kris Yenbamroong, the author of the book of which I received a review copy and founder of the LA restaurants, explains that his cooking is the ecstatic truth of Thai food. The recipes are definitely Thai in origin, but they are translated with his preferences. They don’t necessarily fit a strict definition of traditional Thai cuisine. You’ll find classics like Pad Thai and several variations of Larb, but the particular way they’re presented here are the author’s own style. The other intriguing aspect of these dishes is that they are intended to be paired with alcohol. There are no hard and fast rules, just lots of tips for which dishes to serve together as a meal and ideas for drinks to go with them including several wine suggestions. But mostly, the book encourages the cook to try these recipes and discover your own favorite ways to serve them for family and friends. One dish I can’t wait to try and that I will alter slightly is the Jungle Curry Clams. Jungle curries are hotter and more intensely flavored than others that include coconut milk. And, typically they’re made with water fowl, fish, or pork. Here, clams are used along with ground pork which I would skip or replace with chicken. The Hot and Sour Soups all sound great with lemongrass, galangal, and lime leaves. The Banana Blossom Salad is something I’ve wanted to try for ages but have never located banana blossoms to use. Throughout the book, there are practical substitution hints, and here endive is mentioned as a good alternative to banana blossoms. With all the suggestions for various ways to serve each dish, the condiments and the included recipes for those condiments, and the encouragement to find out how you prefer to enjoy each recipe, this book inspires creative freedom with this food. 

Fried rice is one of my all-time favorite things, and I had to try the Pineapple Shrimp Fried Rice. For all the fried rice recipes, a homemade Stir-Fry Sauce is recommended. It’s a simple sauce that’s sweet and savory with oyster sauce and sugar. I took a short cut when I found a bottled Stir-Fry Sauce that’s made with those same ingredients. The other condiment to make in advance for this is the Prik Nam Pla which is a mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, minced bird’s eye chiles, and minced garlic. And, of course, you want to have all the ingredients chopped and ready before you start heating the wok. With hot oil in a very hot wok, you start with onion and garlic before briefly cooking the shrimp. Next, egg is added and scrambled into the onion and garlic. Then, leftover jasmine rice is added with the stir-fry sauce, and you cook while tossing everything together until the rice is dry and browned from the wok if you like. Off the heat, pineapple chunks and toasted cashews were added with sliced green onions and ground white pepper. In the book, this fried rice is shown being served in a hollowed-out pineapple, but I went for a simpler presentation on a platter. The Prik Nam Pla was served on the side to add to each plate as desired. 

I was already a fan of fruity and spicy things mixed with seafood, so this fried rice was a winner for me. There are some distinct flavors here with the sweet-savory stir-fry sauce and white pepper, but my favorite element was the Prik Nam Pla that I generously spooned on top. There’s so much more I want to try from this book, and I love that it not only gives license to but encourages a bit of a break from complete authenticity. 

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