Sunday, February 22, 2015

Carrot Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Since Kurt’s birthday is just a few days before Valentine’s Day, there have been years when there was an overload of sweet treats during that second week of February. This year, it was a little different since Kurt was traveling for work on his birthday. We waited and celebrated both occasions on the 14th. Of course, I questioned him in advance regarding what kind of cake he wanted this year. In early December, I read Alice Medrich’s latest book, Flavor Flours, in which she suggested the New Classic Boston Cream Pie made with corn flour chiffon layers with a rice flour-thickened pastry cream is better than the original wheat flour version. I was sure this was going to be Kurt’s birthday cake because he lives for Boston Cream Pie. Instead, he shocked me by requesting a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I was surprised but delighted to make a carrot cake. My go-to carrot cake recipe has always been the one from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. It includes walnuts, shredded coconut, and crushed pineapple, and the cream cheese frosting has a little lemon juice in it which I love. I’ve been making that recipe for years and never felt I needed a different approach to carrot cake. But, I decided to try something new this time. Also in Flavor Flours, there’s a Carrot Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting made with rice flour and oat flour that’s touted as being a better-than-ever and gluten-free take on a classic. Now, let me explain, neither of us has any sort of gluten sensitivity, but I do love experimenting with different types of flour to discover new tastes and textures. This carrot cake is completely gluten-free, but, more importantly for me, it’s completely delicious with a delicate crumb. It seems impossible since carrot cake is usually somewhat dense, but even with the walnuts this was a light and crumbly cake. 

It’s very similar to my standard carrot cake recipe in that it’s made with vegetable oil rather than butter, and that’s mixed with sugar and eggs. Rice flour and oat flour were combined with baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt. The dry ingredients were mixed into the wet, and then grated carrots and toasted, chopped walnuts were added. Thanks to perfect timing, I had just received a bunch of fresh carrots from our CSA that I shredded for the cake. I baked the cakes in eight-inch round pans and let them cool. For a layer cake, one and a half times the recipe for frosting is needed. The frosting recipe here includes cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla, and I added lemon juice because I can’t give up that detail of my usual carrot cake approach. One thing to keep in mind with this cake is that because it is especially crumbly, it definitely requires a crumb coat of frosting. I scooped some of the frosting from the big bowl in which it was mixed into a smaller bowl to use for the crumb coat. That way, any crumbs from the spatula will only get mixed into the crumb coat frosting and not into the entire batch. Chilling the cake after applying the crumb coat is a good idea since the frosting will set more firmly. Then, the pretty final coat of frosting can be applied.

This version didn’t have the shredded coconut or crushed pineapple that I’ve become used to in a carrot cake, but I liked that leaving them out eliminated some sweetness. Mostly, I really liked the tender, crumbly texture and the flavor from the spices and nutty oat flour. It really was amazingly the opposite of dense given that it was a carrot cake. Kurt was very pleased with his choice as well, and I now have two favorite carrot cake recipes. 

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fatayer with Cheese and Spinach

If I’d been asked a few weeks ago what I knew about Lebanese food, I would have said that I didn’t really know anything. It turns out, I’ve been enjoying the flavors of Lebanese cooking for years without even realizing it. I received a review copy of the new book Comptoir Libanais: A Feast of Lebanese-Style Home Cooking by Tony Kitous and Dan Lepard and started learning a thing or two about this wonderful food. Kitous opened the London restaurants Comptoir Libanais to share Lebanese culture through the food, the look and feel of the dining rooms, and the design of every item seen throughout. He set out to create “something that wasn’t pretentious but inviting, simple, and that had something for everyone.” I’d love to visit one or several of the locations. A mix of mezze dishes like Tabbouleh, Fattoush, Labneh with Black Olives and Mint, Sambusak turnovers, and Falafel might be found on the tables. Some of my favorite ingredients like halloumi and feta cheeses, pomegranate seeds and pomegranate molasses, and sumac and za’atar figure prominently in many of the recipes. I can’t wait for ripe, summer tomatoes to use in the Comptoir Tomato and Halloumi Salad and zucchini to turn into crispy fritters. So far, I’ve tried the Bulgur Salad with Peas and Mint which is a good choice for winter since it’s topped with pomegranate seeds and can be made with frozen peas. Like classic tabbouleh, this salad is as much or more so about the mint and parsley as it is the bulgur. Next, I tried the Fatayer with Cheese and Spinach which are filled, savory pastries. They’re made with Sambusak Pastry that’s like pizza dough minus the yeast. The dough is very easy to work with, and it’s used for a few different recipes in the book. 

To start, water, flour, olive oil, honey, and salt were stirred together in a bowl. It was set aside to rest for about 10 minutes, and then it was kneaded until smooth. The dough easily goes from ragged to smooth while kneading. At this point, the dough can be refrigerated until you’re ready to make the pastries, or it needs to be set aside for an hour to rest before using. Next, spinach was cooked in olive oil until wilted and then drained, cooled, and squeezed to remove excess moisture. The cooked spinach was chopped and then combined with toasted chopped walnuts and pomegranate molasses. The dough was divided into small pieces, and I aimed for 20 pieces which was the number this recipe was intended to make. The dough pieces were rolled into balls and left on an oiled plate. One piece of dough at a time was rolled into a circle, and a spoonful of spinach filling was placed in the center. The edges of the dough circle were rubbed with water, and the dough was pinched up around the filling forming three points with the center left open. Once all the dough circles were filled and crimped, the cheese was added on top. I used a mix of grated halloumi and crumbled feta. The cheese mixture was spooned into the opening of each pastry, and then they were topped with black onion, or nigella, seeds. The pastries baked for about 30 minutes until golden and crisp on the edges. 

As an option, mozzarella can be used in place of the halloumi. That would have made the filling more melty and gooey in a delicious way, but I can never resist the salty flavor of halloumi. These little savory pastries were crunchy with crisp edges on the outside and the nuts in the filling. The pomegranate molasses added just the right amount of tanginess and interest. Like all of the dishes in the book, this was perfect for sharing with a group or serving at a party. And, since the Breakfast chapter has caught my eye, it might be time to plan a brunch party.

Fatayer with Cheese and Spinach 
Recipes reprinted with publisher’s permission from Comptoir Libanais: A Feast of Lebanese-Style Home Cooking by Tony Kitous and Dan Lepard. Copyright © Tony Kitous and Dan Lepard, 2013. Published on November 19, 2014 by The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. 

Fatayer are usually triangular-shaped pastries, either sealed at the top or left open. Sealing the edges of the pastry at the top protects the filling so it’s perfect or you can leave the top open the way we do at Comptoir and pinch the edges of the filled fatayer to form a triangular shape as in the photo here. If you sprinkle a deep layer of cheese on top before baking, any filling underneath is protected from the heat of the oven, allowing the pastry to be crisp but the filling soft. 

Makes about 20 small fatayer 

1 recipe Sambusak Pastry 
flour or oil, for rolling the dough 

for the filling: 
2 tbsp olive oil 
1 pound (500g) baby spinach 
1/2 cup (50g) walnuts, chopped 
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses 
5 ounces (150g) halloumi or mozzarella, drained and grated or finely chopped 
5 ounces (150g) feta cheese, crumbled 
small bunch fresh mint, leaves only, chopped 
black onion (nigella) seeds or za’atar, to finish 

Start by preparing and resting your dough (see p. 82). Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C/160°C fan/gas 4). Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Make the filling by heating the olive oil in a large frying pan until smoking hot, then add the spinach and fry quickly until it just begins to wilt. Tip the spinach into a colander and set aside to cool, then squeeze the cooked spinach as hard as you can to remove the liquid. Chop the spinach, then place it in a bowl with the walnuts and pomegranate molasses, and mix well. 

Chop the dough into small pieces, about the size of an unshelled walnut, then shape these into balls and set aside to rest on an oiled plate, covered, for 15 minutes (this makes rolling easier). Roll out each dough ball on a lightly floured or oiled surface to about 3 inches (8cm) wide. Place a heaping teaspoon of the spinach filling in the center of one, then with the tips of your fingers rub a little water around the bare edges of the dough. At 3 equal points, pull the dough up 1/2 to 3/4 inch (1 to 2cm) and pinch the dough together to seal — you should have created a protruding edge around the filling. 

Spread the cheese over the filling, then top with a pinch of mint, sprinkle with the black onion seeds or za’atar, and place on the lined baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, then bake for about 30 minutes, until crisp and golden, rotating the baking sheets if one batch looks like it is browning more quickly.

Sambusak or fatayer pastry 
Little pastries filled with a variety of ingredients, from chopped herbs and soft cheese to meat, walnuts, or chicken, can be found throughout the Arab world, under different names. These cheeky little savory parcels have a delicious filling tucked inside and can be served either hot or cold. They freeze well, and because they’re so small they can be reheated easily. You want a flour that produces a dough that stretches easily, and bread flour will do that. However, this can make the pastries a little tough and not as tender as the ones we have at Comptoir. If you want to experiment, use half bread flour and half all-purpose flour or half Italian pasta flour, as this will give a more tender result. 

Makes 12 ounces (350g) dough 

1/2 cup (125ml) warm water 
1 1/2 cups (200g) bread flour, plus extra for kneading 
1 1/2 tbsp (25ml) olive oil 
1 tbsp superfine sugar or clear honey 
1 tsp salt 

Pour the water into a bowl, then add the flour, olive oil, sugar or honey, and salt and mix everything together well. Aim for a firm-ish dough, adding more water or flour to get the texture you want. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, set aside for 10 minutes, and then lightly knead the dough. Return it to the bowl, cover again, then set aside for about 1 hour at room temperature and it’s ready to use. If you want to make the dough ahead of time, you chill it at this point, then leave it at room temperature for 1 hour before shaping. 

Some basic tips for making the best pastries: roll the dough very thin, otherwise you end up with too much pastry surrounding the filling. I use a little flour, as oil sometimes stops the edges from sealing firmly, but figure out what works best for you. The dough will keep well in the fridge for a few days, and gets easier to roll, but it will change color and go slightly gray. This is just the flour oxidizing and it won’t affect the flavor. You can also freeze the dough. Simply thaw it and return it to room temperature before using.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Tostadas and Cooking Beans in a Wonderbag

Have you heard about the Wonderbag? I’m fascinated with its ability to slow-cook food with no power source. It was invented by Sarah Collins to reduce the need for wood fire cooking, free up time spent tending to meals, and lessen smoke inhalation from indoor live cooking fires. There is a one-for-one program, and for every Wonderbag purchased in the US, one is donated to a family in need in Africa. I received one as a sample for review. I’d like to quote a few interesting facts: “Smoke inhalation from wood fire cooking is the leading cause of death globally. More than 50% of premature deaths in children under five are related to household air pollution. Each Wonderbag saves 1.7 trees, 1,000 liters of water, and 1,248 hours of time not spent collecting firewood.” This is a genius tool for families that use wood fire for cooking, and it’s also incredibly useful and eco-friendly for families who cook with gas or electric stoves. It operates much like any slow cooker in that you can leave a dish for hours, but the dish needs to be heated to a boil first. The bag is made of washable fabric that’s filled with repurposed foam chips, and a drawstring pulls it tightly closed. It’s perfect for cooking things that would usually spend a long time on top of the stove or in the oven. Grains, beans, stews, and soups are all great examples of things to cook in a Wonderbag. And, a small recipe book comes with it to help get you started. A couple of things to keep in mind are pot shape and pot size. First, you’ll want to use a heavy pot with short handles that also has a lid. A long-handled pot won’t fit into the bag. Also, you’ll want to choose the right size pot for the volume of what you’re cooking. If the pot is too large and there is air space above the surface of the contents, the temperature will drop too quickly. My first use of the Wonderbag was to cook black beans, and it worked perfectly. 

I soaked the beans overnight. The next day, I drained them and cooked them in fresh water in a Dutch oven. The water was brought to a boil and allowed to boil for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I skimmed the foam from the top. After 15 minutes, the lid was placed on the pot, and the pot went into the Wonderbag. You do need to place a trivet or a folded towel in the bottom of the Wonderbag so the pot doesn’t burn the fabric. There’s an insulated lid that fits over the pot, and the drawstring pulls the edges of the bag up and around the fabric-covered lid. I left the beans to slow-cook for about four hours. When I opened the bag, the pot was still very warm and I had beans that had cooked through completely without a stove or any energy source. I love stocking my freezer with two-cup portions of cooked black beans to use for tacos or to serve with quinoa. And, I used some of the black beans to make refritos. I always follow the recipe from Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico for refried beans. The cooked beans are pureed in a food processor and then stirred into minced onion that’s been cooking in olive oil. I used some of the refritos for Super Bowl nachos, and the rest were layered onto crispy tostadas. To make tostadas, I fry corn tortillas in a little canola oil and drain them on paper towels. And, then the toppings can go in all kinds of directions. The version shown here included refried black beans, sauteed red kale, and shredded Monterrey jack cheese. After those three toppings were in place, I broiled the tostadas to melt the cheese. Then, sliced fresh jalapeno, chopped lettuce, sour cream, salsa, avocado, and pickled jalapeno were added. For a different take, a fried egg would not be out of place at all positioned somewhere between the melted cheese and the avocado. In that version, I skip the lettuce and sour cream. 

I definitely have a new way of cooking beans, and I look forward to trying other things in the Wonderbag too. Another recipe in the booklet is for homemade yogurt. I need a small enough pot with short handles to make that work, but I can’t wait to do it. I was thrilled with my experience cooking with it, and that pales in comparison to what it offers for families who cook with wood fires. 

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Meyer Lemon-Rosemary Campagne Boule

Since moving into our temporary home and using our temporary-too-small kitchen, I think I’ve spent more time reading about bread than baking bread. First, I read a review copy I received of In Search of the Perfect Loaf by Samuel Fromartz. This is a memoir of a bread baking journey. Fromartz set out to learn from other bakers in order to perfect his home bread baking, and in the process learned about different types of wheat used for flour in addition to learning new baking and dough making techniques. Time and again lately, I’ve been reading about the use of locally grown types of wheat that are fresher and more flavorful than the packaged stuff from the grocery store. Different flours present challenges and require adjustments to mixing and hydration percentages in recipes, but it’s so worth the effort to try what’s available and support the small-scale crop diversity. Fromartz visited bakers in Paris, Berlin, Cucugnan in the South of France, San Francisco, and Petaluma. Della Fattoria is located in Petaluma, California, and I first learned of this bakery from reading about it here. That led me to the next book I read recently about bread. 

I received a review copy of Della Fattoria Bread by Kathleen Weber who became a professional baker somewhat by accident. She began baking bread at home and developed a passion for it, eventually providing loaves for The Sonoma Mission Inn. Her second client was Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. Her bakery has grown substantially since then, but the artisanal process of bread making hasn’t changed. The book takes you by the hand and walks you through all the different types of bread Weber has baked at home and for the bakery over the years. The first chapters present Yeasted Breads and Enriched Bread before you get to the Pre-Fermented Breads and Naturally Leavened Breads. Last, there are Crackers, Breadsticks, Pizza Doughs, and Flatbreads. I want to make the Hot Dog Rolls because I’ve never made my own before, and the Sticky Buns look impossible to resist. I always mention that no matter how many books I read about baking bread, I always learn something new from each book. This time, I learned the technique of stuffing the dough with ingredients while shaping. There’s a Garlic Jack Campagne Boule made by spreading a garlic puree on the dough, topping that with grated Jack cheese, and then folding the dough up and around the fillings to shape the boule for proofing. Last, a hole is poked in the top of the boule and a small head of garlic is inserted into the loaf where it roasts as the loaf bakes. There’s a similar loaf made with a small bunch of grapes nestled in the top and grape leaves pressed on the surface. The loaves are beautiful and delicious-looking. I decided to attempt a loaf with a filling, and I chose the Meyer Lemon-Rosemary Campagne Boule. 

Delightfully, I had some Meyer lemons from my tree and some rosemary from our permanent home to use for this. I pop over to our property (permanent home) where our new house is being built to snip herbs when I need them. The bread was made with sourdough starter, so I needed to revive mine to get it ready to use. In the book, it’s suggested that starter be fed with a mix of all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour. I used locally grown, whole grain-whole wheat flour from Richardson Farms. The dough was made with water, starter, and all-purpose flour. Weber makes a point of mentioning that water is a large percentage of all bread dough, and the water you use should be considered. If your tap water smells or tastes off, it could affect the bread. I used filtered water. After the resting or autolyse phase, salt was added to the dough, and it was left to ferment. This was a very wet dough, and I have my troubles with wet bread doughs. It was folded and turned every 30 minutes for the first hour and a half, and then it was left to rest for another two to three hours before being pre-shaped. Since it is a wet dough, the folding and turning isn’t as simple as it could be, but I did my best. Lemon zest was mixed with chopped rosemary and olive oil. The dough was pressed into a round and dimpled with a well in the center, and the lemon-rosemary mixture was poured into the well. The dough was then carefully gathered up and around the oil mixture, the seam was pressed to seal in the oil, and the dough was turned over and formed into a boule. You can see the oil mixture spread just under the surface of the boule. The boule went into a proofing basket for two to three hours before baking. Just after slashing the top, coarse sea salt was sprinkled on top. La Baleine coarse salt was recommended, and I actually had some on hand. The book includes instructions for baking on a stone or baking in a lidded cast iron pot. I wanted to bake on a stone but probably should have known better. Of course, the dough spread a bit more than I would have liked, and a cast iron pot would have given it more support. Regardless of how it was baked, the aroma of the lemon and rosemary from the oven was fantastic. 

Adding the filling of lemon, rosemary, and olive oil was a new twist in bread making for me, and when I make sourdough breads, I usually use bread flour and a mix of other whole grain flours. Using only all-purpose flour resulted in an exceptionally tender and chewy crumb. And, the crust was crispy in the best way as a result of the oil. Even though the loaf flattened out more than I would have liked, the flavor of this bread more than made up for that small disappointment. This book has made me want to spend more time baking bread. 

Meyer Lemon–Rosemary Campagne Boule 
Excerpted with publisher’s permission from Della Fattoria Bread by Kathleen Weber (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Ed Anderson. 

Makes 1 large boule 

This has become our signature bread. Lemon zest and finely chopped rosemary are mixed with olive oil to make a pesto-like slurry that appears as a bright and delicious swirl along the underside of the crust. But what really sets the bread apart is its raised crown design, studded with large salt crystals. Ed, my husband, tells everyone to eat this bread toasted with soft-boiled eggs. I love cutting thick slices of the bread and grilling them over low coals, or pulling it apart and eating it just as it is. 

1 1/2 tablespoons (8 grams/0.3 ounce) grated lemon zest, preferably from Meyer lemons 
1 1/2 tablespoons (6 grams/0.2 ounce) chopped rosemary 
About 3 tablespoons (40 grams/1.5 ounces) olive oil 
Pain de Campagne Boule, taken through the pre-shape 
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons (4 to 6 grams/1.4 to 2 ounces) coarse sea salt (see Note) 

1. Combine the lemon zest and rosemary in a small bowl. Add enough olive oil to create a pesto-like slurry. 
2. After the 10-minute rest, turn the dough over (flour side against the work surface) and gently press into a 9- to 10-inch round. Dimple the top, make a well, and add the rosemary mixture to the well. Fold the sides in, as when forming a boule, enclosing the mixture, then tighten the boule against the work surface until you just begin to see the rosemary mixture under the surface of the dough. 
3. Generously dust a 9-inch bread basket or linen-lined bowl with flour or a mixture of flour and wheat bran. Follow the remaining steps for proofing and baking the bread, and when ready to score, score it with a 4-scored asterisk. It will be because of the slurry underneath that the points raise into a crown as it bakes. Sprinkle the sea salt over the top. 

Note on coarse sea salt 
I prefer La Baleine coarse sea salt (in the red canister). The crystals are clear and shiny like diamonds, and they won’t melt. 

Pain de Campagne Dough 

Makes 1.35 kilograms/3 pounds 

A request from Thomas Keller right after he reopened The French Laundry in 1995 got me into making pain de campagne. So I asked Thomas lots of questions. (How do you envision serving this bread? Do you like lots of crust? What shape would look best on your bread and butter plate?) In the end, I created the bread he was looking for. For Thomas, I shaped the dough into batards. Here we make both a batard and a boule.  

Firm Starter 126 g -  4.4 oz - 1/2 cup 
Water at 80°F/27°C 506 g -  17.8 oz - 2 cups plus 2 1/2 Tbsp 
All-purpose flour 704 g - 24.8 oz - 5 cups 
TOTAL FLOUR 704 g - 24.8 oz -  5 cups 
Fine gray salt 19 g -  0.6 oz - 1 Tbsp 
TOTAL WEIGHT 1,355 g/1.35 kg - 47.6 oz/3 lbs 

1. Lightly oil or spray a deep 4 1/2- to 5-quart ceramic or glass bread bowl. 

2. Put the starter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the water and mix on low speed until the starter is broken up and the mixture appears frothy, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and pulse a few times on the lowest setting (to keep the flour from flying out of the bowl), then mix on low speed for 2 minutes to combine. Remove the paddle attachment, scraping any dough from the paddle back into the bowl with a plastic bowl scraper, and let sit, uncovered, for 20 minutes. 

3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with the bowl scraper and add the salt. Fit the mixer with the dough hook and mix on low speed for 6 minutes. This is a slightly sticky dough. Using the bowl scraper, turn the dough into the bread bowl. Cover tightly with a lightly oiled or sprayed piece of plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes. 

4. For the first fold, wet your hands, then loosen the dough from the sides and bottom of the bowl and fold it underneath itself from left to right and then top to bottom. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. 

5. For the second fold, repeat as for the first fold. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. 

6. For the third and final fold, repeat the folding as before. Cover and let proof in a warm, draft-free spot until there is bubbling on the surface of the dough, 2 to 3 hours. 

7. The dough is ready to be pre-shaped and shaped for Meyer Lemon–Rosemary Campagne Boule. 

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pescado Tikin-Xik

If I had to guess, because I really haven’t tracked it yet, I would say that I eat Mexican food more often than any other type of cuisine. From casual tacos to elaborate meals, I love cooking this type of food too. I was delighted to receive a review copy of Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte. It’s a big, beautiful reference for dishes from every region of Mexico. It shows the diversity of the food and the blend of Spanish and indigenous cooking traditions. The saffron, capers, and olives from the Mediterranean appear along with MesoAmerican ingredients like chiles, beans, tomatoes, avocados, pumpkin, and corn. The recipes are organized by type of dish. There are street snacks like gorditas, quesadillas, and tamales with all sorts of fillings. There are fresh salads, soups for every season, and ceviches as well as main courses, sauces, breads, and sweets. I’m a little distracted by the Eggs chapter and might need to just cook my way through it. Of the many egg dishes that sound delicious, I want to try the Mestizan Eggs with Chile made with an herby tomato and ancho sauce and topped with poblano strips, sour cream, and panela. And, there are several chicken dishes I want to make as well. The Chicken in Creamy Tomato Sauce, Yucatan-Style Chicken in Orange Sauce, and Stuffed Chicken in Peanut Sauce are a few. The first dish I made from the book was the Pescado Tikin-Xik. It comes from the Yucatan Peninsula, and the fish is baked, wrapped in a banana leaf after marinating in a sauce made with achiote paste. 

I wanted to make my own achiote paste for this because some store-bought pastes include food coloring and preservatives that I’d rather avoid. It’s easy to make by using a spice grinder to mix two tablespoons annatto seeds, one teaspoon whole cumin seed, one teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, six whole allspice berries, one teaspoon sea salt, one teaspoon coriander seed, and two whole cloves. Once the spices are ground, a minced garlic clove and a tablespoon of lime juice were added to make a paste. This paste was combined with apple cider vinegar before being added to the fish. I chose black drum from the Gulf and used portioned fillets for this. The recipe in the book is written for a large fillet to be portioned after baking. So, my cooking time was shorter, and each plate received a banana leaf package. The fish fillets were seasoned, topped with the juice of an orange, and then the achiote-vinegar mixture was added. The fish was left in the refrigerator to marinate for an hour. To cook, pieces of banana leaf were placed on a baking sheet, a piece of fish was placed on each, each fillet was topped with sliced onion, sliced tomato, a bay leaf, sliced bell pepper, and pieces of sliced and seeded habanero. The banana leaves were folded around the fish, and I baked them for about eighteen minutes. With my shortened cooking time, the vegetables remained crisp-tender. I was thrilled to find pretty, ripe tomatoes from our local B5 Farms where they’re greenhouse-grown in colder weather. And, sadly, I had to buy banana leaves at the grocery store since we haven’t replaced our banana plants after they died off in a freeze a few years ago. I served the fish with cilantro rice and fried plantains. 

When the banana leaf packages were opened, the fish was aromatic and completely tender. Cooking the fish in the enclosed pocket of a leaf does wonders for the texture, and all those flavors from the achiote paste mix together wonderfully. I’ll be making achiote paste often from now on to use on fish or chicken or tofu. And, adding tostones to the meal made me realize I need to be making those more often too. This book will have me enjoying Mexican food even more frequently than I already do.

Pescado Tikin-Xik 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte (Phaidon, $49.95, October 2014). 

Region: Yucatan Pennisula 
Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus 1 hour marinating 
Cooking time: 25 minutes 
Serves: 6 

3 1/4 lb/1.5 kg grouper, filleted 
juice of 1 orange 
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano 
2 tablespoons achiote paste 
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 
4 tablespoons (2 1/4 oz/60 g) lard or butter 
1 large white onion, sliced 
3 tomatoes, sliced 
2 bay leaves 
1/2–1 habanero chile, membrane and seeds removed 
2 yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips 
1 banana leaf 
sea salt and pepper 
fried plantains, to serve
Refried Beans, to serve 
Red Onion Escabeche, to serve 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4). 

Place the fillets in a shallow dish. Add the orange juice and oregano and season with salt and pepper. 

Put the achiote and vinegar in a small bowl, and stir until dissolved. Pour the mixture over the fish, cover with plastic wrap (clingfilm), and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour. 

Grease a large ovenproof dish with some of the lard or butter. Remove the fish from the marinade and place the fish opened out in the dish. Spread with the remaining lard, then put the onion, tomatoes, bay leaves, chile, and bell peppers on top. Wrap the fish with the banana leaf, then cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until the fish is cooked but not dry. Serve with plantains, refried beans, and red onion escabeche. 

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Beet Salad with Walnuts and Kumquat Marmalade

Back in the fall of 2010, the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook arrived full of inspiration for turning all sorts of fruits into jams and preserves. At the time, I made the Candied Orange Peel that I ended up using in everything from panettone to chocolate bark candy. Last fall, a new book from Rachel Saunders arrived, Blue Chair Cooks with Jam and Marmalade, and I received a review copy. This time, all those wonderful preserves are added to recipes both sweet and savory. They add flavor, sweetness, sometimes acidity, and texture incorporated as ingredients, paired with other items, and even in cocktails. For the most part, the recipes here are just for the dishes made with jams and marmalades, but there are instructions for making a few of the preserves as well. The book is divided into chapters by Morning, Afternoon, and Evening. There are breakfast dishes like Black Fig and Cacao Nib Belgian Waffles made with Black Mission Fig jam and Buckwheat Muffins with Pear and Chocolate made with Pear Jam. For Afternoon, you’ll find Beet Soup with Plums and Coriander Yogurt with sweetness from Plum Jam to balance the earthy beets. And, for Evening, the Black Beans and Pumpkin with Chiles and Orange that includes some Seville Orange Marmalade got my attention. I kept turning back to the Beet Salad with Walnuts and Kumquat Marmalade recipe because the yogurt dressing for grated beets sounded like a great match. 

This time of year, it’s easy to find gorgeous beets and kohlrabi at the farmers’ markets, and I also found the green onions for this recipe there. I used golden beets which blend better into a salad like since red beets would turn everything pink. The beets were roasted with whole cloves until cooked through but not too, too tender. Once cool, the peels were slipped off, and the beets were grated. Meanwhile, I peeled and grated some kohlrabi and tossed them with salt. The salted, grated kohlrabi was left to drain in a colander for about 20 minutes. The drained kohlrabi was combined with the grated beets, and toasted walnuts were added with chopped mint. The dressing was made by mixing together kumquat marmalade, champagne vinegar, yogurt, minced green onions, and salt. The recipe advises against Greek yogurt, but that was what I had on hand. The dressing was poured over the vegetables, tossed to combine, and I topped the finished salad with some reserved walnuts and chopped green onions. 

The sweet-savory-tangy flavor of the dressing was a hit. As I tasted the yogurt dressing while making it, I imagined stealing this combination to use for chicken salad with walnuts. And, the fruitiness paired perfectly with the beets and kohlrabi. The salad was like slaw but a special-occasion kind of slaw. As with the last book from Blue Chair Jam, there’s a lot of inspiration to be found here. My next use of beets might just be to turn them into a marmalade as seen in the book. 

Beet Salad with Walnuts and Kumquat Marmalade 
Recipe reprinted with permission from Blue Chair Cooks with Jam and Marmalade by Rachel Saunders, Andrews McMeel Publishing 2014. 

Serves 6 to 8 

This sweet salad celebrates everything beets have to offer: beautiful color, luscious rich flavor, and the ability to combine well with numerous different textures and ingredients. This extremely versatile salad is equally at home on the tea table or as part of a Middle Eastern meal, and handfuls of the leftovers are divine tossed into a green salad or piled into a sandwich. Use golden or dark red beets as you prefer. This salad keeps well for at least a week in the refrigerator. 

2 1/4 pounds beets 
1 tablespoon neutral-flavored olive oil, plus more for drizzling 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
Scant 1 tablespoon whole cloves 
1/2 pound Tokyo turnips or kohlrabi, peeled 
1/2 cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped 
12 leaves fresh lemon balm or spearmint (optional) 
1/2 cup Kumquat Marmalade 
1 1/2 teaspoons champagne vinegar 
2 tablespoons whole milk yogurt (not Greek) 
5 tablespoons minced spring shallots or spring onions 

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 425°F. Scrub the beets and pat them dry. Line a baking sheet with a large sheet of aluminum foil and put the beets on the foil. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with ample salt and pepper. Toss well. Scatter the cloves over the beets. Cover the beets with a second large sheet of foil and pinch the edges of the 2 sheets together to seal. Place the beets in the oven to roast until almost but not quite tender, 30 to 60 minutes (the length of time needed will be determined by the size of the beets). Remove the beets from the oven, loosen the top sheet of foil so steam can escape, and let the beets cool to slightly warm. Trim and peel them and coarsely grate the beets into a large bowl. 

While the beets are baking, coarsely grate the turnips into a colander. Toss them with 1/4 teaspoon salt and place the colander over a bowl. Allow the turnips to drain for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Add the drained turnips to the grated beets and toss well, then add the walnuts and lemon balm, if using. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the marmalade, vinegar, yogurt, shallots, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Pour the dressing over the beet mixture and toss well. Adjust for seasonings, toss again, cover, and refrigerate until serving time. 

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Gingerbread Cheesecake

After one more holiday recipe, I promise to move on to cooking in the New Year. I’d been thinking about this cheesecake for years. I cut the pages from the December 2007 issue of Living magazine and filed them away. I remember the whole story about gingerbread from that issue. There were all sorts of pretty cookies, different ways of making gingerbread like with honey rather than molasses, and even gingerbread caramels. From that story, the White Chocolate-Gingerbread Blondies that also appear in the Martha Stewart’s Cookies book became a favorite of mine. But those little gingerbread men on top of the gingerbread-flavored cheesecake were so cute. I think of this cheesecake dessert every year for Christmas, and finally had to give it a try. You need some cookie crumbs to make the crust for the cheesecake, so making the Molasses-Gingerbread Cookie dough comes first. I made enough dough to be able to cut out some gingerbread men for decorating as well. I didn’t go so far as to make both types of gingerbread cookie dough to be able to have two colors of gingerbread men on top as shown in the photo from the magazine, but I was happy with the result with all the gingerbread men from the same dough. 

The Molasses-Gingerbread Cookies recipe is very similar to the recipe I’ve always used for gingerbread cut-out cookies. It included molasses, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. For the cheesecake, one quarter of the dough is rolled into a big rectangle and baked until firm. When cool, it’s broken into pieces and pulsed in a food processor to make crumbs. Next, melted butter, some sugar, and two cups of those crumbs were combined and pressed into a springform pan with the bottom wrapped with foil. The crust was baked for about 15 minutes or until set. The cheesecake itself was a mix of cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, eggs, molasses, lemon zest, and more ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. I also added some finely grated, fresh ginger for an extra boost of ginger. The filling was poured into the crust, the springform pan was placed in a large roasting pan, the roasting pan was set into the oven, and hot water was added to the roasting pan before closing the oven to bake. The cheesecake needs to bake for at least an hour, but mine was still very jiggly at that point. I left it in the oven for an extra 15 or 20 minutes until the center was only slightly wobbly. When the cheesecake was completely cool, it was transferred to the refrigerator to chill for several hours. I dusted the top with confectioners' sugar before placing the cookies in a circle.

It’s a shame that gingerbread only gets the spotlight during the holidays. Every time I bake with molasses, I think about how much I love the flavor and how I should use it more often. The molasses and all the gingerbread spices were delicious here from the crust to the filling to the cookies on top. Maybe I’ll finally try the gingerbread caramels the next time the holiday season arrives. 

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