Tuesday, April 22, 2014

White Chocolate-Macadamia Nut-Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries

At some point last year, I was talking with my mom on the phone on a day when I was trying to decide what kind of cookies to bake. Her first suggestion was White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Cookies. I ended up not making them at the time, but I did stop to wonder: why haven’t I ever made those? Fast forward to a year later, and I knew exactly what kind of cookies to bake for my mom after she fell and broke her ankle. It’s a proven fact that cookies help with all recoveries, I think. I had a recipe from the December 2012 issue of Saveur for exactly this type of cookie. But, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I wanted chunky cookies with oats in them and maybe some dried fruit as well. In Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies, there is a version with oats. However, in that recipe, the oats are chopped to bits in a food processor. I followed the recipe for quantities but stirred everything together by hand and kept the oats whole for maximum chunkiness. And, then I added dried sour cherries. The result was a dangerous thing. I like baking cookies to share, but I kind of wanted to keep all of these for myself. 

I started by roasting two cups of macadamia nuts. I sprinkled on sea salt, and it sticks to the nuts as the oils are released while roasting. They roasted at 350 degrees F for about eight minutes and then were coarsely chopped. This cookie dough is easy to stir together because melted butter is used. Two sticks, or 16 tablespoons, of butter was melted and set aside. One and a half cups of flour were sifted with a teaspoon of baking soda and a half teaspoon of salt. One and a half cups of oats were added to the flour mixture. In a separate bowl, the melted butter was combined with two-thirds cup of granulated sugar, two-thirds cup of brown sugar, and two teaspoons of vanilla extract. The flour mixture was added to the egg mixture and was stirred to combine. The chopped nuts, two cups of white chocolate chips, and two cups of dried sour cherries were added to the dough. Then, the dough was refrigerated for a couple of hours. Because of the melted butter in the dough, it needs some chilling time before baking. Heaping tablespoons of dough were baked on sheets at 325 degrees F for about 15 minutes, and sheet pans were rotated halfway through baking. 

These were indeed chunky cookies just as I’d hoped, and they were packed with great flavors. The salted, buttery macadamia nuts contrasted with the sweetness of the white chocolate, and the chewy pieces of dried sour cherries were a nice fruity addition. I can’t prove they’ll help Mom’s ankle heal faster, but cookies are always good medicine. 

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Artichoke and White Bean Dip

Today, I have for you, a tale of two artichoke dips. At Christmastime, I tried a new-to-me recipe for a baked artichoke dip. Shallots, garlic, and artichoke hearts were sauteed in olive oil and then simmered in white wine until it reduced. Softened cream cheese was mixed with grated Gruyere, lemon juice, and hot sauce, and the vegetables were folded into that mixture. It went into a little baking dish and was sprinkled with panko and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. The dip was baked until bubbly, and then topped with crispy, fried shallots. It was spooned onto pieces of toasted bread while still steaming. This dip was deliciously savory and layered with flavors; it was gooey and rich. In fact, it was so rich that after one bite, I was done. From now on, I’ll think of it as the extra-decadent, wintertime artichoke dip. For spring, I wanted something different. And, after learning how good for you artichokes are, I wanted something that I could enjoy more often. While flipping through River Cottage Veg, I found it. It’s Artichoke and Bean Dip, and there’s no heavy cheese in it at all. It’s not entirely spartan since the vegetables are sauteed in olive oil before being added to the dip, and some thick yogurt helps bind the mixture. But, it’s made up of things you can feel good about eating without feeling stuffed after one bite. 

Step one should be to finely chop a few garlic cloves and let them sit for about ten minutes while prepping the other ingredients. (Chopped garlic should sit for ten minutes before being cooked to allow time for allicin to form which is a very good for you antioxidant.) Meanwhile, finely chop a small onion. I used a small amount of red onion, and some young shallots from my CSA as well. Seven ounces of artichoke hearts in brine should be drained. The onion and shallot were sauteed in a small amount of olive oil, and the garlic was added. Next, chopped fresh oregano leaves were added, and I was happy to get to use some from my herb garden where it’s growing like crazy. Rinsed and drained, canned cannellini beans were added next and just cooked until warm. The entire mixture was transferred to the food processor. I chose to hold back the artichoke hearts rather than add them with the bean mixture at this point. My thinking was that I wanted a somewhat smooth bean mixture with larger chunks of artichoke hearts. So, I pulsed the bean mixture until it looked almost smooth, and then added the artichokes for just a pulse or two. Lemon juice, chile flakes, and a couple of tablespoons of yogurt were added and folded into the dip. The vegetables should be seasoned while sauteing, but taste for seasoning after adding everything. In the serving bowl, the dip was topped with chopped, toasted walnuts. 

I baked some pita wedges for scooping up the dip and enjoyed a snack that lasted for more than one bite. It was a tasty mix of flavors while still warm, but it got even better after all those flavors mingled while it sat in the refrigerator for a few hours. It’s perfect for dipping pita wedges, tortilla chips, or vegetables, and this would make a great filling for a wrap or a spread for a sandwich. Now, I have a go-to artichoke dip for spring or anytime I want something a little lighter. 

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Brown Sugar Angel Food Cake

Can we talk birthday cakes? Choosing what cakes to bake for Kurt’s birthday and my birthday is a lot of fun, and this year, the two cakes kind of worked together. I went with classics this year. For Kurt’s birthday in February, I made a Boston Cream Pie from the Baked Explorations book. It was filled with both vanilla and chocolate pastry cream and required seven egg yolks. At that point, I already started planning ahead for my birthday which was last week. I saved the seven egg whites, whisked them together in a small container, and stashed them in the freezer. I knew they’d come in handy for making my angel food cake. As my birthday approached, I just had to decide exactly which kind of angel food cake to make. There’s a Black and White Angel Food Cake in Barefoot Contessa at Home that’s made with chocolate chips and topped with a chocolate ganache. I want to try that one someday, but it wasn’t what I wanted for my birthday. In the book Flour by Joanne Chang, there’s a Toasted Coconut Angel Food Cake that became a serious contender. In Ruhlman’s Twenty, he shows a classic angel food cake covered in whipped cream and topped with chopped homemade toffee and shards of chocolate. I always veer toward toffee, so that one had my attention. But, I had visions of fresh, local strawberries on the plate with each piece of cake. For a moment, I thought maybe I should stick to a lemony angel food which is one of my favorite cakes. No, wait, hold everything, I thought I remembered from years ago on an early version of the Martha Stewart show, she made a Brown Sugar Angel Food Cake. I’d never made one or tasted one before. That needed to be my birthday cake this year. The recipe I used is found in The Martha Stewart Cookbook, and that version is cut and layered with whipped cream and blackberries. The same recipe for the cake itself is also online where it’s served with candied citrus. I did neither of those things because strawberries simply had to be involved. 

The most difficult thing about this cake is sifting the brown sugar. I don’t know if my sifter is too fine or if my brown sugar was particularly coarse, but it took a bit of work to get it all sifted. The cake flour needs to be sifted as well, but that was much simpler. Half of the sifted brown sugar was then combined with the cake flour, and that mixture was sifted together twice. Next, fourteen egg whites were needed, and I was glad to have seven ready and waiting that I had pulled from the freezer and thawed. To bring the egg whites to room temperature, I set the mixing bowl into a larger bowl of hot water and stirred the egg whites around until they warmed up some. The room temperature egg whites were whisked using a stand mixer until foamy, and then cream of tartar was added. The mixer speed was increased, and the egg whites were whisked until very thick. Half of the sugar was added, and the whisking continued. The remaining sugar was added and whisked until the egg whites were stiff. The flour and sugar mixture was folded in in three additions. Lemon zest was to be added with the last addition of the flour mixture, and I worked the zest into the flour to be sure there were no clumps before adding. The batter was spooned into a tube pan and baked for about 45 minutes. I hulled and chopped strawberries and sprinkled them with vanilla sugar to get the juices running. The cake was served with whipped cream and those sweet, juicy berries. 

The light, airy texture of this cake is the same as any other angel food, but the crumb has a delightfully honey-like color. The lemon flavor is subtle here, and the brown sugar gives the cake just the slightest hint of butterscotch. It’s like a sweet angel food cake with a little something extra. It was exactly what I wanted for my birthday cake. And now, I want to try all those other versions too. 

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Gumbo z’Herbes with Fried Oysters

The first time I made gumbo, I remember wondering if there was such thing as a vegetarian version. Years later I learned that, yes, there is actually a tradition of a vegetarian gumbo. It’s called Gumbo z’Herbes or Green Gumbo. It’s less common than meat- and seafood-filled gumbos, but it came about as a type of gumbo to serve during Lent or specifically on Good Friday. I’d been thinking about making this while local greens are in season, and I finally did it, fittingly during Lent. This is more of a soup than thicker gumbos, and it’s filled with whatever greens you have on hand, herbs, green onions, and in this case, chopped turnips. The recipe I followed is from Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer, and every time I use this book I find more dishes from it that I need to try. I liked that she gilded the dish a bit with the addition of fried oysters. And, why not? You wouldn’t want to serve a gumbo that’s entirely virtuous, right? Naturally, it starts with the trinity of vegetables which includes onion, celery, and green bell peppers. And, this is where things get scandalous. I prefer just about any other possible color of bell pepper to green. Here, I used a mix of green and orange, and I don’t feel too guilty about it. Chef John Besh recommends red bell pepper for his etouffee; so I’m not alone in this. Now, for the turnips, I was hoping it wasn’t too late in the season to find some at the farmers’ market, and luck was on my side. At our Wednesday market, I found the cutest, little white, Japanese turnips grown by Animal Farm. The flavor is mild and lovely, and they were perfect for the gumbo. 

Although this is a Lenten, vegetable-based kind of gumbo, the recipe does call for chicken stock. I made some vegetable stock to use instead. To begin, you need to make a roux in a wide, heavy pan like a Dutch oven, and making roux is one of those cooking-related tasks that I really enjoy. I love watching the color slowly transform from beige to brown while stirring and stirring. For this recipe, the roux was taken to a peanut butter color. At that point, the trinity of finely chopped onion, celery, and bell pepper was added. Next, finely chopped garlic, those lovely little chopped turnips, and some chopped green onions were added and allowed to cook for about five minutes. For the greens, I used washed and torn kale leaves and spinach leaves along with the leaves from the turnips. All the greens nearly overflowed from the pan, but they cook down in no time. Once the greens were wilted, thyme leaves and file powder were added followed by the vegetable stock. The stock was added slowly, brought to a boil, and reduced to a simmer. A bouquet garni of parsley stems, a bay leaf, and thyme sprigs was added to the stock, and it was left to cook for an hour. If you’re making the fried oysters, the oyster liquor can be added, and Worcestershire sauce is suggested for seasoning as well. To make the oysters, they were first dusted with cornmeal and then quickly fried just until golden. The oysters I brought home for this were tiny, so they only cooked in the hot oil for about two minutes. The gumbo was served with white rice, the fried oysters, some extra chopped green onions, and hot sauce on the side. 

I now know that regardless of the main ingredient in a gumbo, it’s always a fun and delicious dish. The trinity cooked in a brown roux never fails, and I never get enough of liberally dousing a gumbo with Crystal hot sauce. The greens and turnips cooked to a completely tender state and took on the flavors of the herbs and aromatics. I still love a good seafood gumbo, but I think this vegetable version, with or without the oysters, deserves more attention than it gets. 

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Pistachio Cake

I love eating sweets, making sweets, learning new types of sweets to make, and sharing homemade sweets. It was a given that I was going to enjoy the new book A la Mere de Famille from the Parisian shop of the same name, and I recently received a review copy. It first opened in 1761 as a grocery shop on land that at the time was a farm. Today, that property is on the Rue de Provence in the Faubourg-Montmartre quarter, and there are other locations as well. A timeline of the shop’s owners and its evolution is given in pieces spread throughout the book. There are also profiles of customers revealing how long they’ve shopped at A la Mere de Famille, which location they frequent, their favorite treats, etc. It’s clear that the clientele cherish the shop, the confections, the window displays, and the pretty, orange packaging. I hope to visit the original location one of these days. The recipes include cakes, chocolates, candies, jams, cookies, frozen treats, and syrups. There are delicate-looking Chocolate-Mendiant Lollipops which are swirls of piped, tempered chocolate onto which dried fruits and pistachios have been set. Speaking of pops, there are also Vanilla, Milk Chocolate, and Hazelnut Marshmallow Pops which are homemade vanilla marshmallows on a stick dipped in chocolate and then topped with nuts. There are caramels in various flavors, and I can’t wait to try the Cherry Caramels. And, there are nougats which I’ve wanted to attempt for the longest time but never seem to be ready to do so on a low-humidity day. The candied fruits and pate de fruits are delightfully colorful, and the ice cream sundaes and ice pops look impossible to resist. The first recipe I tried was the Pistachio Cake baked in a loaf pan with a crunchy topping of chopped nuts. 

The cake is made with pistachio paste which was made by toasting shelled pistachios and grinding them in a food processor. A sugar syrup was made and added to the ground nuts while pureeing. The pistachio paste recipe calls for orgeat syrup which I love, but I was out at the time and since such a small amount was needed, I used some almond extract instead. The paste can be made in advance and refrigerated for about a month. To begin the cake, eggs and sugar were whisked together in a mixing bowl, and cream and pistachio paste were added. Flour and baking powder were folded into the batter before melted butter was added, and it was poured into a parchment-lined loaf pan. Chopped pistachios were sprinkled on top. It was placed in a 400 degree F oven for five minutes, and then a lengthwise incision was made in the top of the cake. It was to be placed back in the oven with the temperature reduced to 300. I think there was a typo in the recipe because the baking time of 35 minutes at 300 degrees F was off. It needed more like 55 minutes and/or a higher temperature. The cake baked into a pretty arched top studded with chopped nuts. 

First, I have to tell you that the pistachio paste will not win any beauty contests, but the aroma and flavor are truly lovely. And, I’m glad to have enough of it leftover to use in the Pistachio Nougat. It gave the crumb of this cake a pretty, pale green color. It’s a buttery, nutty, delicious pound cake that’s easy to make. I can tell I’m going to have fun with all the recipes in this book. 

Pistachio Cake 
Recipes reprinted with publisher’s permission from A la Mere de Famille

Preparation time: 15 minutes 

Makes two 6-by-4-inch cakes or one 9-by-4-inch cake 

4 eggs 
1 1/2 cups sugar 
1/3 cup whipping cream, warmed 
3 1/2 tbsp pistachio paste 
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted 
1 1/2 tsp baking powder 
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted 
Handful of chopped pistachios 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until the mixture is pale and thick. Add the cream and pistachio paste and whisk until combined. Fold in the flour and baking powder. Finally, stir in the butter. The batter should be smooth and shiny. 

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two 6-by-4-inch or one 9-by-4-inch loaf pan(s) with parchment paper. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and scatter the chopped pistachios over the top. Bake for 5 minutes, then make a lengthwise incision in the top of the cake with a sharp knife. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F, then return the cake to the oven for about 35 minutes (mine required a longer baking time of about 55 minutes), until the cake is golden-brown and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out of the pan. Cool completely before serving. (The cake will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.) 

Chef’s tip: To keep the cake moister, wrap it in plastic wrap as soon as it comes out of the oven and allow it to cool like that. 

Pistachio Paste 

Makes about 1 pound 

Preparation: about 15 minutes 

1 1/2 cups blanched pistachios 
1/2 cup sugar 
2 tbsp water 
1 1/2 tbsp orgeat syrup (see chef’s tip) 
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp hazelnut oil 

PREPARING THE SUGAR SYRUP Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place the pistachios on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water and cook over medium-high heat until the syrup registers 250°F on a candy thermometer. 

MAKING THE PASTE Put the pistachios in a food processor and process until they are finely ground. With the food processor running, slowly pour the hot sugar syrup through the feed tube and continue to process until combined. Add the orgeat syrup and hazelnut oil and continue to process until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Transfer to an airtight container. Store the pistachio paste in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. 

 Chef’s tip: Orgeat syrup is an almond-flavored syrup that is often used in cocktails. It is available in most good liquor stores. You can use this pistachio paste in many ways—try making a pistachio-based cream instead of an almond-based frangipane in a pear tart. Mmm. . . 

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pickled Gulf Shrimp with Celery Root Sauce

We love our food trailers in Austin, and now it’s easier than ever to try some of their best dishes right at home. Tiffany Harelik has written a series of cookbooks with their recipes. I received a review copy of the latest, Trailer Food Diaries Cookbook: Austin Edition, Vol. 3 , and there are also versions from Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston and a new one on the way from Portland. The Austin Edition, Volume 3 is a fun collection including Drinks, Breakfast, Appetizers and Sides, Sandwiches and Handhelds, Sauces and Jams, Main Courses, and Sweets. Most of the trailers represented are from the city of Austin, but there are a few “Road Trip” locations in Pflugerville, San Marcos, Round Rock, and San Antonio. A few things I can’t wait to try are The Carrot Top from the Blenders and Bowls trailer which is a smoothie with carrot juice and ginger; Dock and Roll Diner’s Tsunami Sauce for sandwiches with jalapenos, lime, garlic, and oils; the Cabbage and Mint Salad with Poached Shrimp and Red Chile-Caramel Fish Sauce and Fried Prawn Chips from Fresh Off the Truck; and the Pineapple Cinnamon MMMpanadas from mmmpanadas. One of our food trailers that does a great job of offering each season’s best is The Seedling Truck. They offer a “revolving menu that is dictated by local farms and purveyors.” I was delighted to find their recipes for Braised Short Ribs with Brown Butter Carrot Puree, Grilled Lamb Chops with Red Peperonata Jam, and Pickled Gulf Shrimp with Celery Root Sauce in the book. I’d made pickled shrimp once before, and I really wanted to try it again. 

The recipe in the book makes a lot of pickled shrimp which is perfect if you’re hosting a few friends. Since I hadn’t planned a party, I cut the quantities in half. I used about a pound of shrimp which I cleaned and deveined leaving the tails intact. The shrimp were poached in boiling water to which had been added a bay leaf, half a lemon, and some black peppercorns. The poached shrimp should be removed from the boiling water and placed directly into an ice bath to stop the cooking. In a separate saucepan, a cup and a half of white vinegar, a cup and a half of water, two tablespoons of sugar, two tablespoons of salt, and a couple of teaspoons of coriander seeds was warmed until the sugar and salt dissolved. The vinegar mixture was then left to cool. Once cool, the vinegar mixture was poured into a bowl with the drained, cooled shrimp, and a big handful of roughly chopped parsley was added. The bowl was refrigerated overnight. Next, the sauce was made by sauteing a peeled and chopped celery root with half a chopped onion and a chopped garlic clove. Once the vegetables became a little tender, after five minutes or so, a cup and a half of water was added with salt and pepper to taste. The mixture was simmered for about 45 minutes until the celery root was completely cooked through. The water should mostly evaporate during the cooking time. After 45 minutes, the vegetables and any remaining liquid were transferred to a blender and pureed with a few tablespoons of cream until smooth. 

This version of pickled shrimp was so much better than my previous attempt. Shocking the shrimp in ice water is a crucial step, I believe. You really want to stop the cooking to keep the texture of the shrimp at its best. Also, a good, sharp, white vinegar is the way to go. It gives the shrimp a zippy, bold flavor which is perfectly balanced by the mild, sweetness of the celery root puree. I was completely delighted by this dish. I look forward to making this for a party since it requires being made in advance, and it’s a little more interesting than shrimp cocktail. And, when celery root isn’t in season, I highly recommend trying the pickled shrimp on top of deviled eggs. 

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lemon Croquettes with Cilantro Pistou

I love looking at photos of beautifully presented food and learning a chef's interesting techniques no matter how complicated, but beyond all of that, it was an absolute joy to spend time with Daniel Boulud’s latest book. The book is Daniel: My French Cuisine, and I received a review copy. This is a big, heavy, serious-looking book with serious-looking recipes. But, from the beginning on the How to Use this Book page, the reader is put at ease. You’re invited to prepare components of dishes or whole recipes as you wish. There’s no expectation that you’ll jump in and prepare everything in the book just as it’s shown. The book is made up of three sections. The first is a delightful tour of dishes from Restaurant Daniel. The photos are stunning, and all the instructions are right there for you to experiment with as you please. Sprinkled throughout this section, you’ll find bits of the story of Boulud’s career and upbringing in France. The second section is a group of essays written by Bill Buford about iconic French dishes. He spent time in the kitchens at Daniel to learn about some classic preparations that aren’t often mentioned these days. These are mostly grand, dated dishes like Tete de Veau en Tortue and Carnard a la Presse, but the writing is all entertainment. Buford shares the comical moments of learning these dishes along with their histories and how Boulud came to know them. The last section includes four dinner party menus that Boulud prepares at home inspired by different regions of France. The three sections are very different, but together they give you a clear picture of the kind of chef that Daniel Boulud is, the level of quality of what he produces, and his love of food. 

In the restaurant recipes section, there’s a Warm White Asparagus Salad with Poached Egg Dressing dish that looks like spring itself. I might try it with just one of the three accompanying sauces. Then, there’s the Hazelnut-Crusted Maine Sea Scallops with Nettles and Swiss Chard that’s gorgeous with the nettle foam and sauteed morels. And, there are parts of every dessert that I really want to attempt like Sauternes-Rhubarb Ice Cream, Apricot and Lavendar Clafoutis, and Coffee Cremeux and Espresso Ganache. So far, I’ve made two parts of the Striped Bass in a Cilantro-Tapioca Pistou with Artichokes and Lemon Croquettes. In the book, a shallow bowl is shown with the tapioca sauce in the bottom with a pretty mix of chopped artichokes and fava beans centered in the sauce, a piece of striped bass perfectly coated with cilantro pistou sits on the vegetables, and lemon risotto croquettes are perched on top with a tangle of micro cilantro and shaved artichoke slices. The risotto croquettes are perfect, and I do mean perfect, little, crispy cubes. They looked like fun to make. To start, a pretty standard risotto was made with onion cooked in melted butter. Arborio rice was added, and warmed chicken stock was ladled in a little at a time in the usual fashion. When the rice was fully cooked, shredded parmesan, a tablespoon of mascarpone, lemon zest, and lemon juice were added. It was tasted for seasoning and adjusted before the risotto was poured into a parchment-lined 8 1/2-inch by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan and left to chill in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, the risotto was unmolded and cut into one-inch cubes. The cubes were dusted with cornstarch and fried until crispy. The cilantro pistou was easy to make by pureeing lots of cilantro which is filling my herb garden right now with a couple of tablespoons of toasted pine nuts, some olive oil, and salt. 

I served the crispy, lemony croquettes with a dish of cilantro pistou for dunking. The bright, herby sauce was a light and lively contrast to the savory risotto pieces. There’s so much I’ll be turning to this book for in the future. There are plating arrangements to try and copy, flavor combinations to taste, sauces to attempt, and parts and pieces of recipes to use. Right now, I’m looking at one of the desserts from the last section of the book, the Fig Pine Nut and Mascarpone Custard Tart, and I can’t wait for fig season to get here. I’ll be glad to have this book on the shelf when it does. 

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