Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Macaron Infiniment Cafe

I always think of macarons as little jewels of the cookie world. They’re a delicate, complicated cookie that’s a bit fiddly to make but so very pretty. I had made them exactly once before. After reading my review copy of the new Pierre Herme Macaron, I was inspired to try again. At the beginning of the book, there’s a story about how macarons were made at Lenotre pastry shop in Paris in 1976 when Pierre Herme worked there. Two vanilla shells were pressed together with no filling. The shells were baked on paper-lined baking sheets, and after baking a small amount of water was run under the paper to slightly moisten each shell bottom. That’s what made them stick together as a sandwich cookie. But, the most shocking part of making these early macarons was that they were baked on a hearth, and the baking sheets had to be placed in such a way to control the heat. Herme eventually moved on and perfected his own technique for making macarons including crafting inventive flavor combinations. This new book includes reinterpreted recipes from Herme’s early career as well as more recent flavors. Each recipe has its own instructions, and there’s also a separate kitchen guide for the basic steps involved that are the same for all macarons. For the most part, the shells are always made the same way but for many, different food coloring is added. The fillings, however, are all delightfully unique. For instance, for the Macaron Infiniment Mandarine, a mandarin cream is made with an orange and lemon curd mixed with melted cocoa butter. Chopped bits of candied orange are nestled into that mandarin cream inside each macaron. The Macaron Creme Brulee involves a vanilla ganache with salted-butter caramel shards, and the shells are vanilla on one side and coffee-caramel on the other. There are fillings with green tea cream and black sesame crunch, mint cream with sugared peas, strawberry compote and wasabi cream, lovage cream with green apples, and many more. I kept making mental notes of all the buttercream and ganache flavors I want to try. For my first attempt from the book, I went with the Infiniment Cafe because the shells have coffee flavor from extract and no food coloring, and the filling is a white chocolate-coffee ganache. 

Each recipe includes “liquefied” egg whites which are egg whites left to age in the refrigerator for five days or a week. The whites were placed in a bowl, the bowl was covered with plastic wrap, holes were poked in the plastic with a knife, and the bowl was refrigerated. The next step is to prepare the baking sheets. Circles were drawn on a piece of parchment paper. A second sheet of parchment was set on top of that template. When ready, the cookie disks were piped to the size of the circles. Then, the template piece was pulled from below and reused with new parchment on top for each baking sheet. Ground almonds and confectioner’s sugar were sifted together, and half the egg whites with added coffee extract were added to the ground almond mixture. The other half of the egg whites were whisked in a stand mixer while sugar syrup was brought to temperature in a small saucepan. The syrup was slowly streamed into the mixer while running to create the meringue. The meringue was folded into the ground almond mixture, and the batter was ready for piping. A piping pro I am not, and therefore my cookies were not all perfectly the exact same size. But, they were close. They were to be baked at 350 degrees F in a convection oven which I thought seemed a little hot for macarons. Also, I'm still getting to know my new oven and the convection bake option. Some of mine browned a bit, and I turned the heat down for the next pans that went into the oven. Next, the coffee ganache was made. White chocolate was melted, cream was steeped with ground coffee beans and strained, and the two were combined. The ganache was to chill for six hours before using. After leaving it to chill overnight, it still seemed very runny. I whisked it to thicken the consistency before filling the macarons. 

I felt like I had better success with these macarons that I did that first time just over five years ago. It almost seemed too easy. All of the little cookies had feet just as they should, and none of them stuck to the parchment or broke when I removed them from the baking sheets. The coffee flavor, the crunchy surfaces giving way to chewy middles, and that white chocolate-coffee ganache combined for dreamy cookies. I’m definitely less afraid of making macarons now and look forward to many more flavor combinations.

Macaron Infiniment Cafe
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Pierre Herme Macaron.
Infiniment cafe is the expression of my work with coffee with Hippolyte Courty, founder of l’Arbre a Cafe in Paris. The Iapar rouge du Bresil coffee is both potent and soft, with aromatic notes of chocolate, cinnamon, spice, and a sharp touch of eucalyptus. It’s an exceptional coffee! 


3 cups (300 g) confectioners’ sugar 
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (300 g) ground almonds 
2 tablespoons (30 g) coffee extract, preferably Trablit 
7 large (220 g) “liquefied” egg whites, divided (separate eggs, place whites in a bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, poke holes in plastic with a knife, refrigerate for five days)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (75 g) still mineral water 
1 1/2 cups (300 g) superfine granulated sugar 

PREPARE THE COFFEE MACARON SHELLS. The day before, sift together the confectioners’ sugar and almonds. Combine the coffee extract with half of the “liquefied” egg whites. Pour this into the confectioners’ sugar–almond mixture without mixing. Add the remaining “liquefied” egg whites to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the wire whisk. In a saucepan, boil the mineral water and granulated sugar to 244°F. (118°C). As soon as the syrup reaches 239°F (115°C), begin beating the egg whites on high speed. When the syrup reaches 244°F (118°C), reduce the mixer speed to medium-high and pour the syrup in a steady stream down the inside edge of the bowl into the beaten egg whites. Beat the meringue until it cools to 122°F (50°C). Fold it with a silicone spatula into the confectioners’ sugar–almond mixture until the mixture loses volume. Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a plain #11, ½-inch (11-mm to 12-mm) pastry tip. 

15 3/4 ounces (450 g) Valrhona Ivoire 35% white chocolate 
1/2 cup (30 g) Iapar rouge du Bresil coffee beans, preferably from l’Arbre a Cafe 
2 1/4 cups (520 g) light whipping cream (32%–35% fat) 

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Pipe disks about 1 1/2 inches (3.5 cm) in diameter and ¾ inch (2 cm) apart on the lined baking sheets. Rap the baking sheets on a work surface covered with a clean kitchen towel to gently smooth out the disks. Set aside for at least 30 minutes at room temperature to allow a skin to form. Preheat a convection oven to 350°F (180°C). Place the baking sheets in the oven. Bake for 12 minutes, quickly opening and closing the oven door twice during baking to release moisture. Remove the shells from the oven and slide them still on the parchment paper onto a work surface. 

Chop the white chocolate using a serrated knife then melt it to between 113°F (45°C) and 122°F (50°C) set over a bain-marie or in a microwave. Grind the coffee beans. In a saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Add the ground coffee and stir. Cover and let infuse for 3 minutes. Strain the hot cream through a fine-mesh sieve then pour it in thirds into the melted white chocolate, stirring after each addition starting in the center then in increasingly wider concentric circles toward the sides of the bowl. Pour the ganache into a baking dish. Cover it by gently pressing plastic wrap onto its surface. Refrigerate for 6 hours, just until the ganache has developed a creamy consistency. Transfer the ganache to a pastry bag fitted with a plain #11, ½-inch (11-mm to 12-mm) pastry tip. 

Turn half of the shells over with the flat sides up onto a new piece of parchment paper. Fill them with the ganache. Close them with the rest of the shells, pressing down lightly. Refrigerate the macarons for 24 hours. Remove them from the refrigerator 2 hours before eating them. 

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Grilled Chicken with Gingery Tamarind Yogurt Marinade and Fiery Tamarind Barbecue Sauce

I love learning about a place by learning about its food. Seeing similarities to other cuisines but with subtle differences adds to the understanding of a place. In The Food of Oman, of which I received a review copy, I learned about the mix of Bedouin traditional foods and ingredients and flavors brought there by the Indian Ocean trade routes. Those flavors that make up Omani cooking are found in the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, and East Africa. Many ingredients are used in dried or preserved from like dehydrated coconut milk, dried limes, and salt-cured fish because of the history of needing those foods to last for distant travel both on land and at sea. I’ve used dried lime before, appreciate the concentrated flavor, and couldn’t wait to use it again. There are comfort-food rice dishes that are common for lunch meals in Oman like Arseeya, a savory chicken and rice porridge; Omani Lentil Soup made with dried lime, ghee, ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and more; and Sur Vegetable Biryani with layers of spiced vegetables and rice. One of the rice dishes I want to try soon is Mandi Djaj which is a popular take-out dish of turmeric and saffron spiced rice cooked below roasted chicken and spicy, smooth hot sauce on the side. There are also fish dishes, curries, vegetable sides, and breads and savory snacks. The Royal Sticky Date Pudding looks very hard to resist, and Samar’s Date Cake baked in a bundt with date syrup swirled on top is tempting me as well. I enjoyed the stories about foods cooked over live fires at beach parties and at roadside stands. The kebabs in the book all look delicious. But, the Gingery Tamarind Yogurt Marinade and Fiery Tamarind Barbecue Sauce captured my attention first. 

The marinade was to be made with seedless tamarind paste. I found a product from Thailand that is packaged as a softened concentrate ready to use and was able to skip the step listed in the recipe below for softening tamarind in boiling water. The tamarind liquid was whisked into yogurt with cold water, vegetable oil, minced ginger, minced garlic, black lime powder, and salt. I had some black, or dried, limes in my pantry because they last for at least two years. I broke one into pieces and ground the pieces in a spice grinder to make a powder. It smells wonderfully like lime with a little interesting earthiness. The marinade was poured over seasoned chicken pieces, and the chicken was refrigerated and left to marinate for an hour or longer. The author describes the barbecue sauce as addictive, and I was eager to find out if that was true. The sauce was made with more tamarind, minced Thai bird’s eye chiles, garlic, salt, and I used honey rather than sugar. The mixture simmered for several minutes and thickened. I grilled the chicken over wood coals, and basted it at the end of cooking with some of the sauce. 

Indeed, I could see how this sauce could be habit-forming. It’s tangy and spicy and just sweet enough. While the chicken marinated, I also made Mkate Wa Ufuta or Zanzibari Sesame Bread. It’s a delightfully simple dough of all-purpose flour, coconut milk, and an egg. After rising, the dough was divided into pieces, each piece was flattened into a round and cooked in a hot cast iron skillet with sesame seeds added to each side. It was puffy and chewy and a perfect vehicle for scooping up any sauce left on the plate from the chicken. I’m going to enjoy learning more about the country as I eat my way through the book. 

Gingery Tamarind Yogurt Marinade 
Recipes reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia by Felicia Campbell/Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Makes about 2 cups (enough for 2 to 3 pounds of meat or chicken) 

1/2 cup packed seedless tamarind paste 
3/4 cup boiling water 
1 small (5.3-ounce) container plain Greek yogurt 
1/4 cup cold water 
1 tablespoon vegetable oil 
1 (1 1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and mashed into a paste or grated using a Microplane
3 large cloves garlic, mashed into a paste 
1/4 teaspoon black lime powder 
2 teaspoons kosher salt 

Break the tamarind paste into pieces and place in a small bowl; pour the boiling water over it and let soften and cool, about 30 minutes. Mash the tamarind by hand in the water to break it up. 

Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the tamarind concentrate into a bowl, a little at a time, using a wooden spoon to firmly mash and press the pulp to extract as much liquid as possible, occasionally scraping the pulp on the underside of the sieve into the bowl. This will take a few minutes. Discard the mashed fibrous pulp in the sieve and set the liquid (about 1/2 cup) aside. 

Whisk together the yogurt, cold water, oil, ginger, garlic, black lime powder, and salt in a medium bowl; stir in the tamarind liquid and adjust the seasoning with salt to taste. Use as a marinade for chicken or meat, allowing the proteins to marinate at least 1 hour. Shake off any excess marinade before grilling. 

Fiery Tamarind Barbecue Sauce 

Makes about 1 1/2 cups 

1 (400-gram) block seedless tamarind paste 
10 bird’s eye chiles, minced or grated 
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated 
7 tablespoons sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more 

Break up the block of tamarind into a few pieces and place in a medium saucepan with 3 cups water; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, lower the heat to medium, and simmer, stirring constantly with pressure to break up the tamarind, until the tamarind has softened and the mixture has thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. 

Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the tamarind concentrate over a small saucepan, a little at a time, using a wooden spoon to firmly mash and press the pulp to extract as much liquid as possible, occasionally scraping the pulp on the underside of the sieve into the bowl. This will take several minutes. Discard any mashed fibrous pulp in the sieve. 

Add the chiles, garlic, sugar, and salt to the tamarind liquid and bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover (as it will sputter), decrease the heat to low, and cook 10 to 12 minutes, until thick and darkened. Turn off the heat and let sit 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with salt and sugar to taste, and add a little water to thin the sauce out, if desired. Serve alongside grilled chicken or meat or atop roast meat or vegetables. If the sauce becomes too thick before using, reheat over low heat, adding a little water as needed. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Fish Tempura Tacos with Spinach Tortillas

I’ve always loved tacos, but for the last twenty-three-plus years of living in Austin tacos have been a way of life. There are breakfast tacos, lunch tacos, fancy tacos, quick and cheap tacos, and occasionally home-made tacos. But, I had never ever made my own tortillas. To my mind, it was like a Parisian making her own baguettes. All of that just changed last week. I had read my review copy of the new book Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman and was convinced I needed to make fresh, homemade tortillas for the best homemade tacos possible. It’s made clear in the book that the just-off-the-griddle-ness of the tortilla has everything to do with the quality of the taco. There’s even a break-down of ways to store warm tortillas if necessary, and each taco recipe suggests when to cook your tortillas in relation to other steps for ideal timing. I was ready to give tortilla making a try. What I really appreciated about the message of this book is that “authentic” is difficult to nail down especially when a cuisine continues to evolve, but delicious is pretty straightforward. The approach here is to show the steps involved in making the best tasting tacos possible, and that starts with absolutely fresh, hot tortillas. There are detailed instructions for making your own nixtamal for corn tortillas, working with prepared masa or masa harina, making fresh wheat tortillas, or making alternative tortillas with added flavors. There are pretty beet, saffron, and pistachio options, and now I want to try them all. Next, there’s a chapter on salsas made with both fresh and dried chiles, and then the Tacos chapter itself. There are Chicken Tacos with Kale and Salsa Verde, Duck Carnitas Tacos, Bay Scallp Ceviche Tacos, Black Bean Hummus Tacos, and even Deviled Egg Tacos. The ideas range from fun and unique to labor-intensive and traditional, and they all sound like crowd-pleasers. I decided to start with Spinach Tortillas made with store-bought masa harina and paired them with the Fish Tempura filling. 

I used local, little spinach leaves, and they were blanched and squeezed dry first. I chopped the dried spinach by hand and mixed it into the masa harina while stirring in the water. The dough comes together very easily. The head note for the Spinach Tortillas suggests pairing them with grilled fish, but I went the Fish Tempura route instead. Fish tacos is one of my favorite categories of tacos, and of course I have opinions about what toppings should be used. The recipe here suggested mayonnaise, but I’m partial to sour cream mixed with lime juice and ancho chile powder. Shredded cabbage is a must, radish slices are nice, and beyond that not much else is required. I used Mahi Mahi fillets that I skinned and cut into chunks. The tempura batter was made with rice flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and beer. The fish pieces were seasoned and dusted with flour before being dipped in the batter and fried in hot oil. A few pieces at a time were cooked for about five minutes. The tortillas were made by taking a golf ball-size piece of dough at a time and slightly flattening it between the palms. I lined a tortilla press with pieces of plastic cut from a storage bag, and pressed each tortilla. From the press, it was passed to a hot griddle where it was cooked on both sides. The tortillas went from the griddle to a towel-lined Dutch oven to stay warm. 

First, tortilla making instantly joined my list of top five kitchen tasks I love most along with making fresh pasta and pitting cherries. It was surprisingly fun. I’ve made other flatbreads, but this was different and better. Second, a perfectly fresh tortilla really does make a huge difference in the quality of a taco. This was a fantastic meal. And, making tortillas is not difficult once you have the timing down. I may not make all of the tortillas I eat at home myself from now on, but I’ll definitely be making some of them and in various flavors. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 

Spinach Tortillas 
Recipes reprinted from Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman. Copyright ©2015 by Empellon Holdings LLC. Photos by Evan Sung. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Eat these wholesome tortillas with a piece of steamed or grilled fish, or just a pat of butter, a pinch of nutmeg, and salt. When incorporating blanched greens into masa, remember that certain varieties—especially spinach—hang on to moisture like a sponge. You really need to work to squeeze out the water or the dough will be too sticky. 


1 pound fresh masa, or 1 1⁄2 cups masa harina kneaded with 1 cup water 
1⁄4 pound spinach leaves, blanched, squeezed very dry, and finely chopped 

Place the masa and chopped spinach in a large bowl and knead gently until the greens are evenly distributed throughout. 

INSPECT THE DOUGH: You want the texture to be as soft and moist as possible without sticking to your hands. If the dough develops small cracks when squeezed, it is too dry and needs more moisture. To correct this, knead water into the dough in 1 tablespoon increments until it becomes malleable and forms into a ball. Cover the dough with a damp towel. 

PREPARE THE EQUIPMENT: Set up a double griddle or two cast-iron pans over two burners. Heat one side of the griddle (or one pan) over low-medium heat and the other over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Cut two squares of medium-heavy plastic to fit the press (a freezer bag works nicely). Open the tortilla press and place one square on the bottom plate and the other on the top plate, making sure the plastic does not wrinkle. 

MAKE A TEST TORTILLA : Grab a small handful of the masa and roll it into a sphere about the size of a golf ball. Gently flatten it into a rough disk with your fingers. Position the tortilla press with the pressure handle on the side of your body that you favor—if you’re right-handed, the handle should be on the right. Open the press, keeping the plastic squares on each plate. Center the disk of masaon the bottom plate. Close the top plate, ensuring that the second piece of plastic lands squarely on top of the dough. Fold the handle and apply even pressure. Fold back the handle and open the press. Peel the top plastic from the tortilla. The tortilla should be 5 inches in diameter and about 1⁄8 inch thick. Pick up the bottom plastic square with the tortilla stuck to it. If you’re right-handed, pick it up with your left hand; if you’re left-handed, pick it up with your right. Flip the tortilla over onto your empty palm; the upper edge should run along the tops of your index and middle fingers. Peel off the plastic.

COOK THE TORTILLA : Position yourself over the cooler end of the griddle, with the tortilla draped over your palm and the top of your hand parallel to the hot surface. Bring the edge of the tortilla to the griddle and very quickly slide your hand out from under it; the tortilla should stick right away to the surface. If you’re too slow, the tortilla will fold and cook unevenly.
Cook for 15 seconds. The tortilla will begin to change color after 10 seconds. Using a metal spatula or your fingers, flip it onto the hotter side of the griddle and cook for 30 seconds. Flip the tortilla again, leaving it on the hotter side and cook for another 10 seconds before flipping a final time. Cook for an additional 10 seconds. When the tortilla is done, its edges will begin to release from the griddle and it may inflate slightly.

TASTE YOUR TEST TORTILLA : If the dough is too dry, the texture will be heavy and the edges will begin to crack. If needed, gradually add water to the remaining dough in 1 teaspoon increments until it is moist and malleable.
Once you’re happy with the texture, divide the remaining dough into 12 equal balls and repeat the process of pressing and griddling the tortillas. Store the cooked tortillas in an insulated container so that they retain their heat until ready to serve.

Fish Tempura Tacos

I’ve heard legends about how crispy fish tacos became a religion in Baja: that Japanese fishermen docked in the region and married their tempura traditions to the available Mexican ingredients. But however it came to be that fried fish met crunchy cabbage and cool mayo on a tortilla doesn’t matter all that much to me—it’s just an awesome taco. At the restaurants, we use dogfish, a small school shark known as cazon in Mexico. But the beauty of this taco is in its flexibility; just about any light-flavored, white-fleshed fish will perform well. It’s the batter that makes or breaks a good fried-fish taco, and this one is dialed in. The key is not to overwork it: mix the batter too much, and you’ll start developing the flour’s gluten, which will make for a chewy crust. And keep the batter cold, as you would a pie dough; store it in the refrigerator until the last possible moment, for the best results.


1 1⁄2 pounds boneless, skinless white fish fillet, such as bass, snapper, or cod
3 1⁄3 cups rice flour
1 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
One 12-ounce bottle lager-style beer, cold
2 1⁄2 quarts (10 cups) vegetable oil, for frying
Kosher salt, as needed

3⁄4 cup mayonnaise
1⁄4 head of green cabbage, shredded
4 radishes, sliced into thin rounds
1⁄2 medium white onion, minced
60 cilantro leaves (from about 15 sprigs), roughly chopped
2 limes, each cut into 6 wedges
1 recipe Corn or Flour Tortillas

Portion the fish into 12 even pieces, each about 3 inches long. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

In a large bowl, mix 1¹⁄³ cups of the rice flour with the all-purpose flour and baking powder. Pour the beer into the bowl and whisk gently. Don’t overwork the batter; a few lumps are okay. Place the batter in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Place a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven fitted with a candy thermometer over medium heat and add the vegetable oil, leaving at least 3 inches of space between the surface of the oil and the lip of the pot. Heat until the thermometer registers 350°F.

Make one batch of tortillas and hold them warm.


Line a plate with paper towels and sprinkle the remaining 2 cups rice flour on a separate plate. Remove the fish pieces from the refrigerator and season all over with salt.

Remove the tempura batter from the refrigerator. Dredge the fish in the rice flour and then dip the pieces into the batter, one by one. Carefully add each piece of fish to the hot oil. Work in small batches so as to not crowd the Dutch oven. Fry the fish until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the prepared plate and season immediately with more salt.

ASSEMBLE THE TACOS: Lay out the warm tortillas on serving plates. Place 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise on each tortilla and spread using the back of a spoon. Add a small mound of the cabbage, along with some radish slices, minced onion, and chopped cilantro. Place one piece of fried fish on each tortilla. Squeeze a couple of the lime wedges over the tacos and serve the rest on the side.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Brussels Sprout, Chickpea, and Haloumi Sandwich

Aaaaaand, I’m back. We’ve moved back to our permanent property, into our new house, and I’m finally using my new kitchen. Regarding moving into a new house during the holiday season, I only recommend it if you’ve been waiting way, way too long for said new house to be completed. Otherwise, the whole process is much better suited to a time when you’re not missing all the celebrating and relaxing going on all around you. But, we’re so glad to be back. Waking up in the morning and looking out the window at our own yard and our own plants and trees is a delight. As soon as I got somewhat organized in the kitchen, I located my always-growing, to-try stack of recipes. The stack gets shuffled and reordered from time to time, and I lose track of what’s in there. After spending a few minutes flipping through the pages, I found some gems I couldn’t wait to make. First, I whipped up the Mafaldine with Shrimp and Lemon from last March’s Living magazine. Next, I found the open-faced sandwich shown here that was from the October/November 2012 issue of Donna Hay magazine. My first thought was: which farms have local Brussels sprouts right now? The following morning, I saw a post on Facebook showing what was available at Boggy Creek Farm—including Brussels sprouts. Off I went, and I got there just in time to nab the last little basket of them. I found the green onions I needed at Springdale Farm. And, I wasn’t sure I’d find local mint at this time of year, but Springdale did still have some growing. This was going to be a fresh and lovely sandwich. 

The parts of this recipe are a mix of home-cooked and store-bought. I bought the sourdough bread and the hummus, and the chickpeas came out of a can. And, I made a few minor changes. The intent was to pull the leaves from each Brussels sprout, but these were fresh, tightly bundled, little heads I had brought home. As I cut the ends from each sprout, I collected any leaves that fell to the side and left the remaining sprouts intact. The sprouts and leaves were boiled briefly in salted water and then drained and rinsed in cold water. The canned chickpeas were rinsed and drained as well before being sauteed with garlic and chile flakes. After about 10 minutes, the chickpeas take on a darker, golden color and get crispy on the edges. You should mash some of the chickpeas as they cook as well, and the mashed ones get the crispiest. The next item to prep is the haloumi, and it was sliced and fried in olive oil until browned. The cooled Brussels sprouts were added to a mixing bowl with sliced green onion and chopped mint. Chopped cucumber was to have been added as well, but I skipped it. I wanted to make this all about the Brussels sprouts. Lemon, olive oil, and salt and pepper were added to the bowl, and the mixture was tossed to combine. To assemble the sandwiches, I toasted slices of sourdough, spread each piece with hummus, topped the hummus with the sauteed chickpeas, layered on haloumi slices, and spooned the Brussels sprouts mixture on top. 

This is a knife-and-fork kind of open-faced sandwich but deliciously so. After my first bite, I was so glad I located and included the mint. It added a brightness and freshness to the lemony vegetable salad. And, haloumi. No explanation required. It continues to be one of my favorite ingredients. Overall, this was a great combination for a vegetarian sandwich. I have several new books to cook from as I continue to break in my new kitchen and try to remember where I’ve put everything. Stay tuned for more food coming soon. Happy New Year! 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Reading not Cooking

I hate to admit it, but I haven’t been cooking much lately. Let me rephrase that: I haven’t been cooking anything interesting to photograph for this blog lately. I’ve been cooking things like my favorite homemade kung pao chicken, pizza with lots of vegetables, and all sorts of dishes with the greens that are filling our CSA box right now. One new dish I’ve made, but didn’t photograph, was a simple dal from the Barefoot Contessa show. This easily earned a spot in our regular rotation of meals. Mostly, I’ve been waiting with less and less patience for our house to be finished. I’ve been shopping for last minute items like the light we needed in a closet that we didn’t think about until yesterday. I’ve been white-washing some reclaimed wood that we used in a few places in the house. And, I’ve been running over to the house every time a sub-contractor has a question about how we want something done or how we want to solve the random problem of the day. It’s getting really, really close to done, and the kitchen appliances will arrive soon. The photo above shows one side of the island with the cabinets painted and almost all assembled. The sink and faucet are in place. It won’t be long before I can start making it feel like home by flinging flour on every surface and baking up a storm. Although I haven’t been cooking things for the blog, I have been reading. I wanted to share a few of the food books I’ve read lately that were especially informative, interesting, or entertaining. 

Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat by Barry Estabrook 
I read a lot about the food industry, and I was aware of many issues related to animal agriculture before reading the review copy I received of this book. But, this book made so many details about pork production completely clear that I want everyone to become informed about these problems. It can be summed up here: “No facet of modern food production does as much harm to the environment, the animals it raises, and the people it employs as the pork industry.” The book makes it very clear how intelligent pigs are; how much damage is done by large pig farms to the surrounding properties, the water supply, and the air quality; how much healthier the entire production process is when done carefully on small- to medium-size farms; and a few ways even the very large producers could raise pigs much more humanely and sustainably. I highly recommend the book and hope it helps bring about positive change. 

Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food by Sonia Faruqi 
I read my review copy of this book shortly after reading Pig Tales, and it seemed like there was going to be a lot of the same information. Actually, the books are similar but take slightly different approaches. Project Animal Farm shines a light on animal agriculture from the point of view of an inside observer. Faruqi obtained various jobs at farms and even at a slaughter house to get first-hand looks at how animals are raised and cared for or not. She worked at a dairy farm, a chicken farm, she toured pig farms, she visited different types of farms in different countries and reports the good, bad, and ugly. I knew that factory-farmed chickens are crammed into filthy crates to be raised for egg laying, but reading the exact details and how little care they’re given was eye-opening. And, this type of chicken farming is spreading around the world. The good news in the book pertains to large, pastoral farms where “the needs of animal welfare, farmer livelihood, consumer prices, and environmental sustainability” are met. Once again, it was shocking to realize how little concern there is for the health and well-being of animals raised for food and how much emphasis the industry has put on minimizing costs. 

Mastering the Art of French Eating: From Paris Bistros to Farmhouse Kitchens, Lessons in Food and Love by Ann Mah 
For a little lighter reading, it was a pleasure to pick up the new paperback version of Mastering the Art of French Eating of which I received a review copy. Ann Mah found herself alone in Paris for a year when she and her husband moved there but he was then transferred to Baghdad. She spent that year by learning about French food both in Paris and other regions in the country, traveling around France, and writing all about it. Each delightful chapter shares a new story both about coping with being on her own and about a food experience--and a recipe to go with it. I particularly enjoyed the chapter about a visit to Provence where she joined a soupe au pistou preparation party and learned exactly how to make it from nine other local cooks. It’s an entertaining read with insights about classic regional dishes and how to make them at home. 

Poor Man's Feast: A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking by Elissa Altman 
This is another book that I somehow missed in hardcover. I received a review copy of the recent paperback version. It’s also another completely enjoyable, food-focused read with recipes to accompany most chapters. Altman shares stories about her upbringing, her job at the Dean and Deluca store when it first opened in Manhattan, her passion for food, and her relationship. It’s full of humor, despite a few sad times, incredible descriptions of meals both gourmet and basic, and really shows how priorities can change over time. I think I read it in two sittings. 

I won’t be able to resist cooking from new books and taking photos for long. Soon enough, I’ll be choosing recipes from Tacos: Recipes and Provocations and Pierre Herme Macarons: The Ultimate Recipes from the Master Patissier. Stay tuned for more food coming soon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Baked Clams with Wasabi Bread Crumbs

It’s that time of year when party food has its moment or several moments. I have to say, as I was preparing the dish shown here today, I kept thinking of how well it would work as a hors d’oeuvre for a party. This dish came from Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix, and I received a review copy. The idea behind the book is that every basic recipe can be adapted into sometimes countless variations. General concepts like chicken wings, vegetable soup, grain salads, deviled eggs, etc. are shown with simple changes that take each in numerous different directions. The cooking technique remains the same, but the flavor profiles change. So, those wings could end up with typical Buffalo spicing, or you could choose teriyaki, lemon-garlic-pepper, chipotle-lime, Thai peanut, or jerk. The book would be a great source for those times when you’ve run out of ideas for what to do with fresh corn or zucchini or beets. Of the 16 ways celery is used, there are a few I would never have thought of. Celery slaw with fennel, celery raita, and orange and celery salad all sound delicious. There's a very practical feel to the book. It straightforwardly guides you through the options for choosing a flavor profile and combination of ingredients. Because this is a Mark Bittman book, of course there are gentle reminders that I like seeing about minimizing meat intake and filling most of our plates with vegetables. And, the book ends with a delightful chapter of sweets with twists on basic cookie dough, four versions of doughnuts, and a dozen options for ice pops. The first recipe I tried from the book was the Corn Cakes with fresh corn kernels. I served those savory, little pancakes for brunch with frittata and topped them with a sprinkling of smoked paprika. The other options for the corn cakes included turning them into arepas or corn and crab cakes. Next, I had to try the Baked Clams with Wasabi Bread Crumbs. 

One reason this dish would be great for a party is because the clams can be steamed open and prepped in advance and kept in the refrigerator. They can be popped into a hot oven for a brief 10 minutes to warm through just before serving. So, to begin, I always clean clams by putting them in a big bowl of water and adding a few tablespoons of flour. I leave them to soak and purge for 15 minutes or so. Then, I rinse the clams to remove any flour, and they’re ready to steam. To steam, I put them in a Dutch oven, add some water and white wine to total about one-half cup, maybe add a peeled and smashed garlic clove or two, cover, and bring to a boil. Check the clams after a few minutes and remove each one as it opens. Once cool enough to handle, the top of each shell was removed. If serving at a party, I would loosen the clams from the bottom shells at this point to make eating them even easier. They could be refrigerated until ready to serve. For the bread crumb filling, I toasted the panko in a dry skillet on top of the stove first. This wasn’t called for in the recipe, but the bread crumbs will have a better chance of a good overall toasting if given this head start. While toasting, a teaspoon of soy sauce and a small drizzle of sesame oil were added. After toasting, a teaspoon of wasabi powder was stirred into the bread crumbs. The bread crumb mixture was spooned on top of each opened clam, and the clams were placed on a baking sheet. They went into a 450 degree F oven for 10 minutes and were topped with chopped garlic chives before serving. 

Clams, and all bivalves, are such a good sustainable choice of seafood; I’m thrilled to have some new recipes like this one for using them. There are also recipes in the book for pan-roasted and fried clams. This book does a great job of pointing you in new directions with mostly familiar ingredients and recipes and gets you thinking creatively about myriad other ways you might tweak some of your favorite meals. Happy party season, and Happy Thanksgiving! 

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Black Drum Ceviche with Coconut Water, Cucumber, and Avocado

For a quick virtual vacation to the Yucatan, just open up the book Hartwood by Eric Werner and Mya Henry. As I turned the pages of my review copy, I was brought into the restaurant, Hartwood, and then on into the jungle where many of the ingredients used there are grown. The restaurant was built in 2010 in Tulum and was intentionally left mostly open to the surrounding natural setting. They have solar panels and a gas generator instead of power lines, ice is delivered, and the cooking is done over fire on a grill or in a wood-burning oven. The experience of the restaurant and the food served is very specific to the place despite the challenges that brings. The upkeep of the restaurant is a constant chore due to the heat, humidity, and rain. Werner and Henry clearly didn’t set out to take it easy after moving to the Riviera Maya. But, they did intend to take full advantage of all the local flavors available. The book explains how those flavors are built with roasted oils, pickled vegetables, and the use of wood smoke in the cooking. Lively mixes of fruits and chiles are seen in many dishes, and there are always suggestions for substitutions for ingredients and cooking techniques. I’ve marked the page for the Lentil and Papaya Salad with Lime and Honey Vinaigrette that’s made with summer squash and puffed amaranth seeds. There’s also a Grilled Nopales Salad with Queso Cotija served with a pink hard-boiled egg that was pickled with dried Jamaica flowers. The grilled seafood dishes all look fresh and flavorful like the Maya Prawns with Chipotle Mezcal Sauce served with sliced cucumber, radishes, and mandarin orange segments. There are also vegetable dishes, meat, desserts, and fruity cocktails. My first task was to choose one of the several recipes for ceviche because they all sounded fantastic. 

Of course, the most important thing about ceviche is choosing some perfectly fresh fish. In the book, each recipe is specific to a different type of fish, but there are suggestions for other good options depending on what’s available. In the past, I’ve always cut fish for ceviche into small cubes. Here, thin cuts against the grain are advised. The pieces are shaped more like sashimi. I decided to try the recipe called Ceviche de Robalo in the book, and robalo is a fish that moves in and out of fresh and saltwater. I used Gulf-caught black drum instead. My reason for choosing this version of ceviche was the juices, fruits, and vegetables that come together in it. The sliced fish was marinated in orange juice and lime juice with chopped red onion, sliced red serrano, and salt. Meanwhile, a cucumber was juiced by pureeing it in the blender and then straining it. That juice was mixed with coconut water. After the fish had marinated in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour, it was moved with a slotted spoon to a serving dish. The cucumber-coconut water mixture was ladled over the fish. The garnishes were grapefruit segments, thin batons of jicama and radishes, little cubes of cucumber and avocado, and I added cilantro leaves. I can never resist baking some long, thin wedges of tortillas to serve with ceviche. 

Enjoying this dish was like a mini getaway with the flavors of coconut, serrano, fresh fruits, and crunchy vegetables. I might always add coconut water to ceviche from now on. Obviously, this restaurant makes the most of the variety of produce available nearby. I’d like nothing more than to visit in person and stroll in after a day on the beach, but until I can get there, I’ll keep virtually traveling with the book. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program.

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