Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 II: Turkey Pot Pie from Leftovers

The reason I enjoy hosting Thanksgiving is that I love to cook.   But as much as I love preparing the staples for the annual feast day, I love even more repurposing the leftovers into something completely different from its original turkey day incarnation.  And this year I got big mileage out of my 18 pound turkey as my guest list dwindled from the expected fourteen down to just nine people, two of whom are barely 13 years old and not big eaters.  The best way to illustrate the meal and leftovers is with a PowerPoint slide actually:

 Thanksgiving Redux: How one meal was reinvented into six different incarnations (click to enlarge)

We always have a ton of vegetables at our table so soups, pot pie, shepherd's pie, etc. are a natural progression from the Thanksgiving meal.  Because I cut the backbone out of my turkey I had the back plus the neck to make turkey stock for the gravy.  There was so much stock, however, that Mom didn't use it all for the gravy, and I didn't even have to use any turkey bones to make the vegetable soup the next day.  In fact it's Sunday now, and I've just cleaned the carcass enough to make stock that I will freeze in ice cube trays for future use in soups and sauces that call for chicken stock.

From the diagram it's clear that the turkey pot pie was the catch all for the most ingredients and that the turkey itself was used in the most dishes.  No surprise there at all.  For some reason, it didn't occur to me to put any cut up turkey into the vegetable soup, probably my body telling me to keep things as light as possible the day after the big day.  I have to say though that as the primary cook, I had no time for breakfast as I was so busy from the moment I got up, so calorie wise I probably ate less on Thanksgiving than usual, even with pie and ice cream for dessert.  Certainly I was nibbling and tasting in the kitchen, but my other T-Day strategy was to fill my plate with vegetables on the first go round and then go back for turkey and stuffing and gravy.  Then we always take a walk after dinner and before dessert.

Missing from the menu side of the list are steamed broccoli (my aunt's must have vegetable), apple pie, and black pepper ice cream.  I gave my sister the vegan all of the broccoli to take home, but I wish I'd made it into a pureed soup of broccoli and potatoes.  That would have been so easy to have simply made in the blender and would have used the potato gratin that had been made with cream and spread the calories into a healthy soup.

My other imperative post Thanksgiving is to eat down the fridge as much as possible.  Leading up to the big day my fridge was packed with ingredients, then with leftovers.  I'm loathe to throw food away so even the meatballs my aunt insisted on making will probably be made into minestra mariata.  My freezer was quite packed to begin with, so some of the dishes, like the gumbo used a quart of creole sauce I'd made and frozen at summer's end, and the chilaquiles will be made from frozen homemade tortillas that didn't turn out so successfully.  I'm also going to use some fresh black beans that have been waiting patiently to be cooked.  The gumbo and chilaquiles are a good reminder that the leftover reincarnation should be something so dissimilar from the original dishes that the meal in no way feels like leftovers at all.

I've blogged on other occasions about chilaquiles and gumbo, so today I'll give the breakdown on my pot pie.  It works on many levels, one of which was preparing it in the same casserole dish that I'd used for the potato gratin, meaning I didn't even have to wash nor dirty another baking dish!  I'd also used frozen pie pastry from earlier in the year with the chocolate pecan pie.  There was a smidge leftover that was just right for topping the pot pie.  Since this dish is made of leftovers and who knows what you may have on hand, the instructions are more about the assembly and don't really contain precise measurements for some ingredients.  Everything is already cooked basically, so just taste your combination and adjust the seasonings as necessary.

Turkey Pot Pie

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl combine
leftover veggies from Thanksgiving,
cut into similarly sized pieces if necessary (i.e. green beans should be cut to about an inch to fit on a  fork.  Large pieces of squash or fennel should also be fork sized.  I used carrots, brussel sprouts, radishes, turnips, sweet potatoes, fennel, green beans, mushrooms, scalloped potatoes, etc.)
a cup or two of cubed leftover turkey and
enough leftover gravy to moisten the mixture
(you may have to heat the gravy to loosen it enough to mix with the veggies).  Season to taste with
salt and pepper and
a couple tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, sage, etc (optional)
Pour the mixture into an appropriately sized casserole or baking dish so that the veggies almost reach the top rim.  Roll out a
portion of pie dough*
to cover the casserole.  The rolled out dough needn't completely cover the vegetable contents.  Bake your casserole in the oven for 45 minutes, checking at 30 minutes and rotating to ensure even browning.  When the gravy is bubbling and the top is nicely browned (whether using pie crust or mashed potatoes), your pie is ready.  Let cool slightly for maybe 10 minutes then dig in!

In lieu of the pie dough you could also make a shepherd's pie using  leftover mashed potatoes.  Warm slightly in the microwave to loosen the potatoes then top the vegetable and turkey mixture with a spread of mashers and dot with small pieces of butter.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 I: Canned Cranberry Quince Chutney

So the first Sunday in November this year was one of those watershed moments in my evolution in food appreciation.  Brian and I attended a barter fair out at Mountain View Farms in Purcelville, VA, and not only did we get to visit one of our favorite farms from our local farmers market, we got to meet other like minded farmers and non farmers alike who are just plain into locally grown food. What is a barter fair you might ask?  Well, quite simply it's like a farmers market where the producers trade amongst themselves rather than using cash to buy from each other.  Kind of quaint in that it hearkens back to a time when communities quite willingly helped each other out by trading goods and services rather than selling for cash.  Indeed, Shawna, one half of the Mountain View Farming couple, was taking names and email addresses for people who would be willing to "deposit" time into a barter services "bank" where you could get an hour of someone else's time if you have some skill that you are willing to give for the same amount of time.

For us, we got drive out to the Virginia countryside on a beautiful sunny afternoon as the sun was setting this first day of eastern standard time.  We arrived at dusk, set ourselves up in the farm shed next to all the other producers and I got a quick lesson in Marketing 101.  I found out first hand what it's like to make and produce food that will appeal to others and how important presentation is to the whole deal.  I learned immediately that people who grow their own food and raise their own chickens don't want to consume marshmallows at all, even homemade ones made with real vanilla beans!  Although, popular with the kids, Brian had smugly and correctly predicted the marshmallows would be a no go, but he still worked hard at moving them off our table!

What proved to be very popular were my home canned jams and chutneys, all made throughout the year from produce I'd get in season at the 14th & U Farmers Market.  I buy and can throughout the season so that I can make an occasional batch of my favorites to give away at Christmas or as hostess gifts when we're invited somewhere for dinner.  This year as I've been traveling so much to and from California, I completely missed my usual canning of peaches, blueberries, and green beans, but I still had the following to offer:
And what we traded for in exchange!  I feel like I received way more than I gave: canned items such as mushrooms in oil with lemon peel, pickles, Cambodian style kim chee, cherry jelly, hot sauce, and asparagus; produce such as garlic, rhubarb, and fresh herbs; a five pound chicken; homemade sourdough bread; cilantro pesto; and beef bones for making stock.  In fact, we hosted our good friends for dinner and featured many of the items we'd received as well as some of my own canned products we'd kept for ourselves.

With the home canning, it turned out that for once I was ahead of the curve on a food trend. We were listening to Marketplace Money on our drive home from North Carolina post-Thanksgiving last year and heard some sardonic commentary on how home canning is the new raising-your-own-chickens-for-the-fresh-eggs! I may have been late to the table on locavorism and making my own homemade ice cream, but I started canning in 2006 and haven't looked back since!*

My first canning experience came about under somewhat sad circumstances actually. After my father's funeral around Labor Day in 2006 I stayed with my mother for another week and a half after everyone else had gone back to their normal lives. I'll never forget that end of summer feeling that hits the air in New Jersey much sooner than it does down here in Washington, DC. Wanting to occupy my time besides going to the gym or watching TV (I couldn't concentrate enough to read), I cracked open a cookbook I'd happened to bring with me, Amanda Hesser's award winning The Cook and the Gardener. This is a cookbook for reading, organized as it is by month with recipes and stories of Ms. Hesser's stint as a cook at La Varenne, Anne Willan's cooking school in France. The gardener in the title was a crusty old Frenchman whom Amanda had to win over to get him to share both his wisdom and his garden's bounty.  In fact, if one wanted to learn to cook seasonally, this is about the best cookbook I could recommend because it's not organized by course, but rather by month, and basically what's in season in France is also in season in the northeastern U.S.

Now, I don't even find the thought of canning at all daunting anymore. And, as Nigella Lawson says, if the process of doing something gives one pleasure then its pursuit is worthwhile for its own sake.  Some things have turned out better than others, but many items get special mention every year from various friends who've enjoyed a jar of something that they've shared or recently finished.  And I'm not about putting up enough of anything to make it through the winter.  We still go to stores and buy at the farmers market through the winter, although I haven't bought a jar of jam in over five years.  So if I get seven jars of something (enough to fully utilize my home canning basket insert), that's plenty for this home cook.  And really, canning is not something you have to constantly attend to if you have good, heavy duty pots and pans that don't scorch, such as All-Clad, Le Creuset, or Staub.  I would recommend buying or borrowing a canning set, which I received from my mother after she watched me attempting to can using her stockpots and kitchen towels that summer, as recommended by Ms. Hesser on page 177 of her cookbook.

Below is the cranberry quince chutney recipe from Food & Wine last year.  This proved to be my most popular offering, so I'm glad I'd doubled the recipe.   The quince conserve is also delicious and makes use of a fruit most people are not so familiar with, but you may be able to find at your local grocery store in the fall.  In fact I just saw some rather small but healthy looking quince at Harris Teeter yesterday when I went for my Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza.  For detailed home canning instructions I'd go to Ball's website for more information.  I've provided some shorthand instruction based on my years of experience, but you definitely want to be overly cautious, well prepared, and sanitary when canning food that is not going to be refrigerated, especially when you're giving it away to other people!  Of course many things that can be canned can also be frozen or refrigerated.

Cranberry Quince Chutney

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 quince (8 ounces each)—peeled, cored and finely diced
  • 1 Granny Smith apple—peeled, cored and finely diced
  • One 12-ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (or equivalent amount of dried cherries, cranberries or, apricots [chopped])

In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, allspice and star anise and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar, vinegar and 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer. Add the quince, apple, cranberries and raisins and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thick and jammy, about 25 minutes. Discard the star anise. Serve the chutney warm or chilled.

Makes about 3 pints.  The chutney can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks or canned as follows:

Canning Instructions
  1. Wash your water bath container and lid with warm, soapy water.  Rinse thoroughly and then fill with enough hot tap water to cover the tops of the jars by an inch.  Cover and set over high heat to bring to a boil.  It will take a while. 
  2. Meanwhile, wash the bands, lids, and jars in warm soapy water and let air dry on a clean towel or clean dish rack.
  3. Fill a tea kettle with water and also bring it to a boil then keep on a simmer.
  4. Prepare the recipe according to the directions and let cook for the needed time.
  5. Meanwhile, place the empty jars in the rack and set above the water bath. (Always sterilize an extra smaller sized jar or two in case your recipe makes more or less than estimated.  You might not have enough to fill a pint but enough to fill a 12, 8 or 4 ounce jar.)  Fill the jars with the hot water from the tea kettle and slowly lower into the waterbath and cover.  Jars filled with liquid will easily immerse into the water bath.  Empty jars will float and move around annoyingly.  You can use tongs to control the immersion, just be careful of getting too close to the hot water.  Let the jars stay immersed as the water boils, which will sterilize the jars.
  6. Place the lids in a small saucepan and cover with an inch of the simmering water.  This will soften the rubber seal to complete the actual canning.  Home canning kits come with a magnet for easy removal of the lids from the hot water.
  7. As your recipe nears doneness, place a ladle and and a canning funnel (if using) in the boiling water bath for sterilization.
  8. When the recipe is ready, uncover the water bath, raise the rack of jars above the boiling water.  Uncovered, the water will likely stop boiling but that's OK, just keep the burner on high.  Lift a jar from the water bath and empty the water back into the water bath.  Place the jar next to the stove, insert the funnel, and using the sterilized ladle, fill the jar leaving a quarter inch of head space (i.e. a quarter inch of empty space between the top of the food and the top of the jar).
  9. Place the funnel into a clean coffee mug or something similarly sized.  Using a clean paper towel, wipe the top of the jar clean of any food residue.  This residue is what could spoil even if you canned properly so it's important that the top of the jar where the seal forms is CLEAN!  Remove a lid from the simmering water and place on the jar.  Screw on the band without overly tightening and set aside.
  10. Repeat filling the jars until you've used up all the chutney.  Any partially filled jar can be refrigerated rather than canned.
  11. As you remove the last jar from the water bath, replace the lid to bring the water back to a boil.  Place the canned chutney back into the rack and lower into the boiling water.  Let process in boiling water for 15 minutes.  That is, if the water isn't boiling when the jars are immersed, don't start the timer until the water is at a rolling boil.
  12. Remove the processed jars from the water and let stand on a cutting board or your counter.  Listen for the lids' popping sounds as the seals are formed when the jars start to cool.  This can take several hours but usually occurs within minutes of the jars coming out of the hot water.  If the lid does not seal, i.e. you can push it down but it pops right back up, then the jar will not seal and it should be refrigerated.  Otherwise, label your jars, store in a cool place, and impress your friends with your homesteading talents.

*Actually that sentence is not entirely true. As soon as I started hitting the Dupont Circle Freshfarm Market in the summer of 2005 following a pivotal trip to Switzerland, I became a locavore, perhaps a bit late to that party, but then locavore wasn't Oxford's word of the year (therefore making it passe) until December of 2007. And making the homemade ice cream certainly coincided with my then newfound farmers market dedication. I mean blueberry cheesecake ice cream is as good a way to preserve fresh bluebrries as jam, no?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Rick Bayless's Caldo de Pollo Ranchero

Caldo de Pollo Ranchero
A perfect fall soup, garnished with Thai purple basil and asiago! (Con permiso!)
The homemade tortillas were NOT successful, but make for attractive styling.  Besides, that's what chilaquiles are for!
I believe that the designation of "ranchero" in the Mexican kitchen means "ranch or farm style" in the sense that the dish is simple and rustic and could easily be prepared to serve a crowd of ranch hands at the end of a hard day's work. Rick Bayless's Caldo de Pollo Ranchero is as much chicken soup comfort food as any mom's could be, and it's a wonderful dish for early fall when summer vegetables are available but on the wane and the temperatures start to drop.   Indeed with the last corn, green beans, and summer squash for the year, this soup was my kiss goodbye to summer 2011.

Just in case I may have thought my uppity self in charge of that determination, Mother Nature weighed in giving Washington, DC and the whole northeastern part of the country this past weekend an abrupt taste of what's in store for winter.  An October snowfall that was a dusting in the city, left greater accumulations out toward the Shenandoah and up to a foot of snow in northern New Jersey where my mother lives and left tens of thousands of north-easterners without power for Halloween!  Of course, no wintry mix is going to deter yours truly from hitting the farmers' market.  Indeed, since attendance was so sparse, my 12:00 saunter down to the market revealed to me what I've been regularly missing out on: an abundance of offerings that are usually seen only by the pre 10 am folks!

I loved Rick Bayless's Mexico: One Plate at a Time and the PBS series that featured the recipes. It was a rather highly scripted production with Rick starting the episodes in the U.S. and then seeming to bop down to Mexico to put the food in context and then heading back home to complete the preparation. Rick really wanted to teach the genius of la cocina Mexicana, not just demonstrate a bunch of recipes adapted for the American palette. For that reason, his cookbook is not necessarily for weeknight meals (though there is Mexican Everyday), depending on the recipe. Usually I reserve a Sunday afternoon to embark on one of his culinary adventures, and the result is always worth the effort.

However, the reason I went to this dish for lunch following my market trip was that 1) I didn't have to make my own chicken stock as the first step and 2) I had leftover roasted chicken as well as braised cabbage and carrots from the previous night's dinner that simplified the preparation that much more.  In fact, the recipe I'm presenting here is surely an adaptation of Rick's because I used what I had on hand, which is not what is in his list of ingredients in all cases.   I've embarked on the soup to nuts preparation, usually when I've been away from my own kitchen but since we're talking about making chicken soup, it's certainly enough to capture the spirit of the recipe, especially when one's main goal is to get something hot and delicious on the table on a cold day.  Surely it's hard to go wrong here if you're using what you like/have on hand.  If you'd like, please compare my truncated version to the whole enchilada, which is blogged about over at The Gluttonous JD, a Chicago law student with a passion for all things food.

My mental image of how this dish would have been eaten has a bunch of men in cowboy hats sitting around a fire and being served up bowls of this soup in enamel coated metal bowls. Because the chicken meat is not torn from the bone and the corn is not cut off the cob, you might have to eat this dish with a fork, knife, AND spoon plus your hands. For eating indoors or with company, you might want to tear the chicken off the bone and cut the corn off the cob, but of course that is up to you.

Incidentally, the importance of sharp knives was brought home when I was cutting the kernels off the cob for this soup.  My usual tip is to prop the husked piece of corn on one end and cut corn off part of the cob that is touching the board, then flip the cob over and cut off the rest of the corn.  This usually results in less corn on the counter and more on the cutting board.  However, the cause of corn flying all over is actually very simple: the knife is dull.  Now you may have just given the blade a few swipes on the sharpening steel, which is helpful and hones the blade, but it's not nearly as good as getting your knives professionally sharpened.  I got all three of my Wusthof knives sharpened for free at Sur La Table during an October promotion, but the normal price is just $1/inch, so for less than twenty bucks I could have had this done years ago!  The knives are almost scary sharp.  They cut through onions, tomatoes, baguettes, etc. like a dream.  With minimal pressure, the knife will slip into whatever's being cut and then the weight of the blade does the rest.  Those corn kernels fell neatly to my cutting board like I've dreamed of, with nary a one on the counter.

So what follows is my simplified  adaptation of Bayless's Caldo de Pollo Ranchero.  Please refer to the The Gluttonous JD if you'd like to make your chicken stock from scratch to start this recipe.  Otherwise take a little help from the store and use a rotisserie chicken and prepared chicken stock to get this recipe going in the fast lane.

Caldo de Pollo Ranchero
adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexico: One Plate at a Time

2 quarts of chicken stock
into a five to six quart soup pot and bring to a simmer over medium to medium high heat.  As the liquid comes to a simmer, add
1 large onion, finely chopped (reserve a quarter to half a cup for garnish if you're OK with a raw onion garnish, otherwise put all the chopped onion into the pot)
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram (I used a teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (again, I used about a teaspoon)
1 pound of tomatoes, half inch diced (I've also used a 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes with their liquid in a pinch)
1 pound of small new potatoes, halved or quartered to be of uniform size (I used about a pound of assorted small red, purple, and yukon gold potatoes halved and quartered for a very attractive presentation)
2 to 3 carrots, peeled and cut into half inch rounds and
kernels from two large ears of husked corn.
2 teaspoons of kosher salt and
fresh cracked black pepper to taste and
simmer for about 25 minutes until the potatoes are tender.  Then stir in
half inch cubed pieces of cooked chicken (skinned breast and/or dark meat if you have it) and
1 cup of chopped, blanched green beans (I also had leftover half a head of braised cabbage that I added as well).  Let simmer for a few minutes then taste and adjust the seasonings of salt.
Garnish as you please with
chopped scallions, chopped onion, sliced rings of jalapeno, chopped cilantro, queso fresco, etc.  (I went very nontraditional and used purple basil, pickled jalapeno, and fontina, pictured above.)
Buen provecho!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Massaged" Kale Salad

 Massaged Kale Salad
Photographed in the nick of time! 

My but it's been a long time since I've blogged here! Seems I only get to blogging once Thanksgiving arrives then I get too busy over the remainder of the holidays! Not that I haven't wanted to post a recipe or two but with work travel and our trip to France this past summer, I've been pouring my time and energy more into Yelping reviews of places I've been rather than blogging about meals I've prepared. But then something happens that knocks one's socks off because it's such a simple recipe, uses an innovative technique, tastes delicious, and what do you know, it's also chock full of superfoods and is also incredibly healthy.

The epiphany happened at this past Saturday's farmers' market at 14th & U right in my own little neighborhood at my favorite farmers' market. A local blogger was giving out samples of a salad she'd made with ingredients from right there at the market that day, the name of which is intriguing enough on its own—massaged kale sounds so intimate—but then of course it also tasted like something you'd definitely want more of, probably going back until the serving dish is empty, because why not? One can't really overindulge in a superfood salad, right?

Looking at the kale salad, I thought the greens must have been blanched or something. They still looked curly but had gone from that ashy green of fresh kale to the forest green of flash cooked kale. Ah, but in actuality, there was no cooking involved whatsoever, unless you count toasting the nuts in the oven, which I didn't bother with myself, and I don’t know if the nuts used at the market had been toasted at home and brought with or just chopped up on the spot. The kale itself had gone from raw to looking cooked by being massaged with salt until the point that the salt wilted the kale enough to eliminate its raw toughness.

So the massaged kale salad looked appealing, but then I got hit with a wallop of deliciousness with the apples, nuts, dried fruit, and a touch of goat cheese. There’s something about cruciferous vegetables (anything in the cabbage family including kale, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, et al) and their affinity with sweetness like that found in apples and dried fruit. In fact, one of the versions of cooked kale I like to make has the same ingredients—minus the goat cheese—and I believe that dish is Catalonian in origin. The flavor profile of the kale salad then was something familiar though its raw texture was completely new to me. I have to wonder if this recipe arose from the raw food movement actually. Hmmm…

There's also something inherently pleasurable for me in using my bare hands in the kitchen, whether it's kneading bread, making meatballs, or fluting a pie crust. Now I can add massaging kale to that mix of tactile kitchen pleasures and learning through the sense of touch when a certain food becomes "ready." The original recipe recommended a five minute massage, so I set my timer and got in there with my hands. Truthfully, the kale had reduced to one half to one third its original volume in about 2 minutes, but I kept going another thirty seconds because I couldn’t believe that raw kale had changed so dramatically in so little time. The salt really did its magic! I used two teaspoons of salt, which may have been too much and the reason the greens transformed so quickly. Perhaps with just a teaspoon of salt the massage would have taken longer, but I’ll find out next time.

Using salt for a quick pickle of raw vegetables is a technique I first experienced in a cooking class in Japan, where we made a carrot salad whose first step involved salting julienned carrots for a bit until the carrots would become soft. Readers of this blog may remember my favorite coleslaw recipe involves softening the cabbage with salt for up to four hours as one of the first steps after the shredding. Even making preserved lemons is another way of letting salt, one of the most ancient preservatives in the world, do its thing. So the concept of wilting the kale with salt instantly made sense to me. I just couldn’t believe how simple it actually was. Next time I’ll probably rinse the salted kale in my salad spinner to eliminate some of the lingering saltiness.

I was so struck with tasting this salad at the market that I decided on the spot to make it for lunch. Having forgotten to buy lettuce at the farmers’ market, I actually used the salad on a smoked turkey sandwich in place of the lettuce—it was “salad” after all. But then we finished off the rest of it because it was just that good. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to take a picture of my plate because I knew a blog posting would be in the offing.

Of course it’s the massage technique that is the star of this recipe. For that reason, one shouldn’t get caught up in the particular ingredients of the recipe in any case. You’re just making salad—or kale slaw if you will—so put in what you like and have on hand. Instead of dried cranberries as in the original recipe I used pomegranate seeds, since I had half of one left over from making a fruit salad earlier in the week. Any nut would make this salad sing, and already planning to serve for a dinner party I might make it with toasted pine nuts. Indeed with its colors, the salad seems like a perfect dish for Christmas with the greens, the dried cranberries (or pomegranate seeds in my case) plus the apple. I defy anyone not to love this dish that is both delicious AND healthy!

Massaged Kale Salad

With great thanks to A Bikeable Feast and Ibti for making this salad at the market and opening up a whole new world of cruciferous salads/slaws to me! Here is my heavily annotated recipe, written thusly to encourage you to make this salad with whatever you may have on hand that you might enjoy as part of this salad.

Ingredients for four servings
  • a handful or two of nuts or seeds, toasted (optionally) and chopped if necessary (I used almonds and didn't toast; pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds would not need to be chopped obviously; flax seeds are too minuscule to use here)
  • kale, tough stems removed, leaves chopped, rinsed, and dried somewhat (it's hard to say how much kale to use here. I usually buy kale and other greens tied and bunched together and I know that two bunches make 4 cooked servings. However, I started with one bunch for this recipe which filled my salad bowl before I started the massage. So the best measure might be "a decent sized salad bowl full of raw chopped kale.")
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, a bit more if needed (two teaspoons was too much because a bit too much saltiness got into the kale, although the massage time was cut in half from Ibti's 5 minute recommendation. Then again that could have been because of my man hands.)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 -2 tablespoons vinegar of your choice (I used plum wine vinegar, but again, use what you like/have on hand. Apple cider or balsamic is recommended in the source recipe, but sherry or another wine vinegar, etc. would work just fine.
  • half a medium red onion, diced or sliced thin (to take the sharpeness out of raw onion, cover the sliced onion for ten minutes with vinegar or with water and a teaspoon of sugar; rinse, then pat dry lightly. Onion flavor, yes, onion breath, no! Or just use a sweet onion like a vidalia.)
  • One medium apple, cored and diced or cored, quartered and thinly sliced crosswise into quarter circles (kohlrabi or pear would make an apt substitution here, or go exotic and try a fall fruit like persimmon)
  • a handful of dried cranberries (any dried fruit will do here: chopped apricots, raisins, dried cherries, etc.; I happened to use fresh pomegranate seeds actually)
  • a few turns of fresh cracked pepper (you probably won't need any more salt)
  • a few pieces of goat cheese (or chunks of feta or shavings of a hard cheese like parmagianno or manchego) to garnish
  1. (Optional) Toast the nuts or seeds of your choice on a cookie sheet or in an oven proof skillet in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes, longer if they're large pieces like walnuts. Set a timer but let your nose be your guide. If you can smell them, they're a minute or two from ready. I prefer toasting in the oven to the stovetop because they require less attention and you don't have to keep moving them around in the pan. Once when toasting pumpkin seeds they went past toasted and I thought I smelled bacon cooking before I realized the seeds were in the oven. They were still edible even on the dark side of toasted.
  2. Sprinkle the teaspoon of salt over your kale and toss lightly to distribute. Again set your timer for 5 minutes and then get in there and massage the kale by squeezing the cut pieces to soften and allow the salt to wilt the kale. ( I wonder if the same effect could be achieved by drizzling the salt over the kale and then just let it sit on the counter for a few hours to macerate. Hmmm...) Very quickly the kale's color will change to a forest green, the pieces will soften, and the volume will reduce by more than half. Your salad bowl that was once heaping with greens will be reduced to a few large handfuls of greens. For me this transformation took about two minutes. But if you're reluctant to manhandle your greens or better yet, if you've got the kids helping you, let it go the for the full five!
  3. Optional step: Rinse the wilted kale. Taste the wilted kale and if you think it's a tad salty, give the wilted greens a rinse in cold water and spin dry in your salad spinner. You do have one don't you? You really should if you want to dress any salad properly and shaking in a kitchen towel is far less effective. Because I used the two teaspoons of salt, there were two tablespoons of very salty liquid that I poured out of my salad bowl after the massage, so the rinse would have been a good idea had I not been so hungry and impatient.
  4. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the greens, add the remaining ingredients except for the cheese, and toss to combine and thoroughly dress every leaf of kale.
  5. Serve on individual plates and garnish with the cheese of your choice, or leave the cheese out to make it vegan.
  6. Devour with the full knowledge that not only are you eating something delicious, it's also damn good for you!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 II: Herbed Stuffing with Celery Sausage, Dried Cranberries, and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

I should have taken a picture of this dish because I was so pleased with how it came out, especially because I didn't really follow a recipe. I'm blogging about it now mainly because I want to record the recipe in case I ever want to make it again! To me, it had all the essentials: meatiness from the sausage, flavor from the aromatics, sweetness from the dried cranberries, and texture from the crispy croutons, plus an added punch of texture and umami from toasted pumpkin seeds.

After the pre-Thanksgiving Splendid Table program I'd listened to on NPR in which New York Times food writer Melissa Clark had broken down the stuffing essentials, I figured I had the basics pretty much down. She emphasized that stuffing must at a minimum include the classic mirepoix of onions, carrots, and celery and of course dry bread (this is basically my Mom's stuffing, which goes into her bird and is always delicious when flavored with turkey stock she makes from the neck and giblets). Additional flavor can be added from sausage, bacon, prosciutto, oysters, etc. and crunch from some kind of nut, preferably toasted. The mixture is then moistened with some flavorful stock or broth and either stuffed into the bird for even more heightened deliciousness or cooked in a separate dish, which is required if you're doing a vegetarian version for some of the guests at your table. Cooking a stuffed bird adds to the turkey cooking time, but cooking outside the bird means one more thing has to go into the oven, where space may be at a premium.

Originally I'd conceived of stuffing my acorn squash with this stuffing, hence the idea of using pumpkin seeds instead of another nut like walnuts or pecans. The pumpkin seed idea came from watching a new Food Network show, Mexican Made Easy, in which the hostess used toasted pumpkin seeds (or was it pine nuts?) in a brussel sprout preparation, which just seemed so New World to me. Pumpkins seeds toast much quicker in the oven than other nuts BTW. I put in my first half cup and set the timer for 15 minutes, thinking they'd be done in about 20. Ha! After just 8 or 9 minutes the kitchen started smelling like bacon or roast chicken oddly enough. It wasn't until something smelled like it was burning that I remembered my pumpkin seeds in the oven! Fortunately I had more on hand, which I toasted in the oven for only 5 minutes and they were perfect. The first batch was put out as a finger snack which everyone kind of liked actually so I guess they weren't burnt black and inedible, just dark brown and kind of smoky. Likewise the addition of the dried cranberries was also an homage to another quintessential fall food from the New World. Apples, raisins, or currants might have likewise been used but the cranberries are a natural complement to the Thanksgiving table, which you may really appreciate if their only other presences is in that tired old canned cranberry sauce.

At its core, stuffing is like a savory bread pudding. So of course the quality of the bread matters. I've a good friend who bakes a fresh sandwich loaf of white bread just to make his stuffing. In the past I've preferred to make cornbread stuffing with a homemade herbed cornbread that my mother absolutely loves and nibbles at even as I'm trying to let it dry out for the stuffing. Combined with about half a baguette, the cornbread stuffing rocks. However, I was able to get a bag of dried out herbed croutons at the farmers market that were perfect for the bread portion of the stuffing. The bread has to be dry if it's to absorb the stock, so if you start with a fresh baguette, you have a chance to add your own herbs and toast the bread in the oven to make sure it is suitably dried out.

Herbed Stuffing with Sausage, Dried Cranberries and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Serves 10-12 as a Thanksgiving side

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 bag of herbed croutons if available, else half a baguette, cut into 3/4 inch cubes and left out to air dry for 1 day
4 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
1 pound of sausage (celery, sage, or Italian)
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots diced
2 large stalks of celery diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups of stock, plus additional if necessary
1 egg
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Toasting the Pumpkin Seeds and Optionally, the Baguette: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pumpkin seeds in a skillet or metal pan large enough to hold the seeds in a single layer. Let toast in the oven for 5 minutes, checking after 3. When you can smell the seeds they're about ready and will have turned from dark green to golden brown. For the croutons, in a large mixing bowl combine 1/4 cup olive oil with a heaping tablespoon of an herb mix such as poultry seasoning, herbes de provence or any other combination of dried herbs you may like. Toss the dried bread in the herb oil mixture to evenly coat the pieces. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. After 10 minutes stir the croutons around and continue baking for another 10 to 15 minutes. When lightly browned, turn off the oven, leave the door slightly ajar and let the croutons cool and dry out in the oven.

Brown the sausage and vegetables: Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a wide skillet or saute pan. Remove the sausage from the casing if necessary and brown for 5 to 8 minutes, breaking up the sausage into smaller and smaller pieces while moving it around to brown evenly. Keeping as much oil in the pan as possible, remove the sausage from the pan using a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl large enough to mix the stuffing. Heat the pan over medium heat and add the diced onion stirring to coat with the oil in the pan. Cook over medium heat until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the carrots and celery to the pan, adding all or part of the remaining two tablespoons of oil if necessary to coat them as well. Let cook until softened, about another 7 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. De-glaze the pan with half a cup of chicken stock, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the liquid by half. Transfer the vegetables and any residual liquid to the bowl with the sausage.

Finishing the Stuffing and Baking it Off: Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Lightly butter a 9 inch square baking dish. Toss the croutons, pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries with the reserved vegetables and sausage. Break the egg into a separate bowl and mix with a fork or a whisk. Whisk the egg and stock together and combine with the vegetables, croutons, and cranberries. Stir until the bread is evenly moistened but not soaked. Spread the mixture into the buttered baking dish, pressing down to absorb the liquid. Bake uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes until browned and crispy on top. Let cool slightly and then serve on the side with your perfectly roasted turkey, some gravy, and some cranberry chutney!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 I: Three Sisters Stuffed Squash

Saturday before Thanksgiving: main ingredients for squash stuffed with beans, corn, and mushrooms served on Thanksgiving Day and roasted mini cauliflower with apples, caramelized onions, dried cranberries, and dill served the night before were purchased at the farmers market

It was about three years and 65 blog posts ago that I began Ganbaru Cook around Thanksgiving 2007. How time flies! For the food obsessed, Thanksgiving is the big kahuna, and this year we happily found ourselves at Brian's cousin's house in North Carolina for the second year in a row. Yay! We love spending time with her and her hubby outside Charlotte as they're a laid back couple just like we are. What started out as dinner for just the four of us turned into dinner for six when friends from their golf club were invited at the last minute. The more the merrier, which also gave you-know-who another excuse to add to a menu that was already more than ample, I assure you.

So here was the menu for the day. Items with an asterisk (*) were either brought or prepared by your itinerant blogger.
Monocacy ash goat cheese* with cranberry quince chutney*
Boursin cheese
Spicy pickled green beans*

Roast breast of turkey (we had numerous discussions about the required cooking time for turkey but Epicurious had the best guide based on stuffed/unstuffed and preferred oven temp. The turkey packaging would have guaranteed a dry bird, recommending three hours for an 8 pound bone-in breast!)*
Smashed red potatoes
Stuffing with celery sausage, cranberries, and toasted pumpkin seeds*
Corn pudding
Slow cooked green beans
Acorn squash stuffed with leeks, beans, corn and mushrooms (pictured)*
Jellied cranberry sauce
Onion gravy*

Apple pie (homemade)
Carrot Cake (not)
Vanilla ice cream
Cool whip

I hadn't done Thanksgiving at home since 2008 when we last hosted my family, but since we'd taken an extended family trip to Florida in September it only seemed fair to spend this holiday with Brian's family. I'd bought the cauliflower and acorn squash at the farmers market this past Saturday wanting to make both for Thanksgiving this year because last year I missed having something orange at Thanksgiving (either squash or sweet potatoes) and more veggies are always a good idea since the meal can be so carb centric with the stuffing, potatoes, and biscuits. When we finally listed all the dishes in mind for Thursday, Brian's cousin "Stacy" balked at having so many items on the menu, so the roasted cauliflower with apples, onions, cranberries, and dill was prepared on Wednesday night along with meatloaf and black rice, which worked out fine as the oven was going to be crowded enough already on Thursday.

I didn't bring any recipes or cookbooks with me this go-round deciding to let my memory and the ingredients themselves determine preparations. Along with my santoku, carving set, fat separator, kitchen scale, French press, and oven thermometer (you're reading a blog post of the food obsessed don't forget), I also brought along my own all-purpose fennel spice rub, a quart of homemade chicken stock, and caramelized onions, the last of which were a god send for when I got lazy and didn't feel like chopping and sauteing another onion. In fact anything you read about preparing a big feast like Thanksgiving will advise doing ahead as much as possible and the onions caramelized in a slow cooker over 12 hours are a no brainer. I used them in the roasted cauliflower in lieu of fresh sliced onion and minced them into my gravy and stuffing as well and still had plenty to freeze for a French onion soup I'm envisioning this winter.

The other dish I wanted to contribute was a squash dish on the three sisters theme: corn, beans, and squash. As these are foods that Native Americans grew together, they are natural complements when cooked together too. Last fall I was somewhat obsessed with the concept and realized at the the time that with winter squash instead of summer, a three sisters dish belongs on the Thanksgiving table. I'm most proud of this dish because I winged it. It's also substantial enough to be a vegetable main for any vegetarians at your table and omitting the cream cheese would make it vegan. The three main steps below (roasting the squash, preparing the stuffing, and finishing in the oven) can all be accomplished in stages and need not be completed at the same time.

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Mushrooms, Corn and Beans
Serves 8

4 small to medium acorn or delicata squash, halved, seeds removed
olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
8 to 10 shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed, and then quartered
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved, washed, and sliced crosswise into quarter inch pieces
1 fennel bulb, cored and diced
2 tablespoons finely chopped sage
1 cup of stock, white wine, or water [I used a combination of wine and chicken stock]
1 cup of beans, canned, frozen, or fresh [I used a combo of fresh garbanzos and frozen shelled edamame]
1 cup of corn
2 ounces (about 1/4 cup) of cream cheese, softened to room temperature, or sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

Garnish (optional):
16 sage leaves
1/4 cup olive oil

Pre-cook the Squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil onto each squash half and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the squash flesh side down in a single layer in a large baking dish. [I squeezed mine into a 13 x 9 pan.] Pour about half an inch of water into the pan and place on a rack in the middle of the oven. Roast for 30 minutes and remove from the oven. Let cool in the pan until able to handle. [I prepared mine the night before and left at room temperature covered with waxed paper as there was no room in the fridge!]

Prepare the filling while the squash is roasting: Heat the olive oil and melt the butter in a wide skillet on medium high heat. Add the mushrooms in a single layer and let cook undisturbed for 5 minutes until lightly browned on one side. Stir and let cook undisturbed for five minutes more. Add the leeks, fennel, and chopped sage and stir to combine. Add more oil if necessary so the vegetables are lightly coated. Season with salt and pepper and let cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. De-glaze the pan with the wine or stock, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon. Add the beans of your choice and the corn kernels. Reduce the heat and let simmer 10 minutes until the liquid has reduced by half and the beans and corn are cooked or heated through. Turn off the heat, let cool slightly, and stir in the cream cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. [Can be prepared a day ahead. Let cool to room temperature and then cover and refrigerate.]

Finishing the dish: When cool enough to handle spoon the vegetable stuffing into each squash half, distributing evenly and mounding as high as possible. Cover with aluminum foil and return to the 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. Optionally, garnish with whole or crushed fried sage leaves (optional next step) or other chopped fresh herbs such as parsley or chives and serve immediately.

Optional fried sage leaf garnish: This is a two-for-one deal as you are creating sage oil, which can and should be reserved for other uses (I used mine in a spice rub for the turkey breast), in addition to the crispy fried sage leaves. In fact the quarter cup of olive oil is only the minimum amount to use. If you'd like additional sage oil for dipping bread, garnishing a soup , or making a salad dressing, by all means use more oil and more sage leaves and even the stems to infuse the oil. To simply make the sage leaf garnish, heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a skillet or wide saucepan. Add the sage leaves in a single layer and let cook until they no longer sizzle, about 3 minutes. Carefully remove to a plate lined with a paper towel and let cool to room temperature. These can be prepared a day ahead and stored in an airtight container. To make sage oil, to the same pot or skillet, bruise a few sprigs of sage in your hands by rolling them into a loose ball. Add to the heated oil and let sizzle for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the sage and oil infuse by cooling to room temperature, about 1 hour. Discard the sage sprigs and store the reserved oil in the refrigerator in a jar. To kick it up a notch, you could also fry a clove or two of unpeeled garlic or strips of lemon or orange peel along with the sage or any other fresh herb such as basil, thyme, or rosemary. Let your palate and your menu be your guide!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Coleslaw with "Creamy" Buttermilk Dressing

Regular readers of this blog (you know who you are, right, Mom?) will likely have discerned that my culinary emphasis is on flavor and creativity in the kitchen first and foremost. Healthfulness certainly comes in third after simplicity, which is also of great importance to me. To my partner of 18 years, however, healthfulness is undoubtedly number one. He exercises like mad and seeks to fuel his body with only things that are "good" for him, whatever that means! Having lived that lifestyle I can respect it, and frankly, many benefits of his dogged exercise regimen accrue to me directly, as many friends of mine who've seen pictures of Brian at the beach note with envy! Although I exercise a lot less nowadays, I believe that through mindful eating and an active lifestyle everything will balance out. I therefore will not categorically eliminate foods from my diet that are deemed unhealthy by the food police. I just (try to) exercise self-control and move towards healthful--and of course flavorful--alternatives.

For that reason my partner and I recently discovered that we enjoy eating vegetarian dinners one or two nights of the four to six dinners we make at home every week. We didn't declare that we want to give up red meat (that means bison in our house anyway, not beef) or anything. We just decided that we wanted to move in a positive direction towards an alternative. Partly this was born of wanting to eat less meat and save a big chunk of our weekly farmers market food bill as it can cost a bit of coin to buy chicken and meat from local producers only. But mostly the idea was born out of trying to ensure that the produce we'd purchased would be used up over the course of the week and there would be nothing lingering over into the next week and cutting into that week's farmers market haul. Even worse would be letting good food go bad for never having gotten around to preparing it. So many recipes, so little time!

Eating what is on hand all goes along with another predominant kitchen ethos of mine to eat down the fridge every week anyway. Most of us go to the market (whether a farmers market or a supermarket) and buy a week's worth of food and stuff it into the fridge, freezer, and pantry. Supermarket shoppers want to avoid going to the dreaded grocery store because it's usually such a hassle, and we farmers market goers usually have one shot a week on the weekend to bring home the week's ingredients for who knows what meal. Then, because we've packed everything into the fridge/freezer/pantry, we can't see or remember what's already been purchased and may end up letting it go bad, having to buy more of what we already had on hand! Eating down the fridge is the only way to combat this tendency, unless you're in the habit of buying on a daily rather than a weekly basis. However, with that approach, I just don't think that food that's been shipped from some central distribution center is going to be as fresh as what you can get at the farmers market, which was most likely picked the day before and will therefore have a longer shelf life in your fridge than what you might buy from the store anyway.

So this week's eating down the fridge challenge was to use up half of a very large head of cabbage whose other half was sauteed and simmered to make a sublime cabbage and rice soup/cabbage risotto for one of last week's vegetarian dinners. I had my favorite coleslaw with apple, fennel, and dill on my mind, but was also wistfully remembering the colesaw I'd had over Labor Day weekend at my sister-in-law's parents' house. She had made a slaw with mayonnaise that perfectly complemented the BEST SMOKED PULLED PORK SANDWICH I'VE EVER TASTED (pardon my shouting but that's how good that sandwich and meal under the stars were that evening)! My own slaw is healthy and vegan and delicious (are those listed in the wrong order?), but her version made with mayonnaise had something to say about what makes for a great coleslaw and I think the Hellman's real mayo was the most vociferous!

Apparently sister-in-law's mayo based slaw was in the recesses of my mind when I was contemplating my half head of cabbage when another foodie friend of mine said that he'd made his own interpretation of a turnip and apple slaw recipe in which he wanted to use up the bounty of turnips he'd gotten from our farmers market this past Saturday. Mindful that I also had some turnips to use up I asked for the recipe, which he shared, but that recipe also linked to another cabbage and turnip slaw recipe that had a buttermilk dressing.

The author of the buttermilk slaw recipe decried how heavy on the mayo many coleslaws are so she wanted a creamy dressing not laden with mayo. Hence her buttermilk slaw, which was a revelation to me! I think this is technically a ranch dressing, but it's not heavy at all, and is quite close to Ellie Krieger's take on the same riff, which would therefore make it Brian (my partner) approved. Frankly, I would make this dressing for any salad, not just coleslaw. I would even substitute yogurt, which we always have on hand, for the buttermilk, which I only had on hand so that I could make cornbread to serve at the women's shelter with the chili we made this past Monday. Since I have half a bottle of buttermilk still on hand, this dressing will be made again in the near future, along with some muffins or biscuits or something to use up the rest of that buttermilk (eating down the fridge as usual).

Brian howled when he saw me using mayo at all, even though mine is reduced fat. He started haranguing me about good fats and bad fats even though I was making the concession of low fat light mayo, which I normally wouldn't advocate but it has half the fat of regular mayo and a third of the fat of olive oil even. Those are my only arguments when he starts to balk at the thought of mayonnaise passing his lips. I should just buy the Hellman's Real, which at least has a recognizable list of ingredients!

I also like to make coleslaw because it's a good excuse to pull out my food processor and use its slicing and shredding accessories. Of course all of that slicing and shredding could have been done by hand but I don't award points just for doing something by hand. Simplicity demands the use of the processor, plus you get a finer shred with your knuckles intact. Maybe I could have used my mandolin to get matchsticks of the turnips, but I just shredded those and sliced the carrots and radishes. Unfortunately I didn't photograph my slaw but linked is a picture borrowed from the web. Below is my take on this delicious coleslaw, Joy of Cooking style:

Coleslaw with "Creamy" Buttermilk Dressing

Serves 6 to 8

In a bowl large enough to mix the coleslaw, whisk together
1/2 cup of buttermilk
3 tablespoons of mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of cider vinegar and
1 teaspoon of honey [I omitted]
until smooth. Season to taste with
salt and pepper
and set aside.

Using a sharp knife, quarter and core a
2 pound head of cabbage.
Rinse and trim the the tops and bottoms of
5 to 8 radishes
4 to 6 turnips [hakurei recommended] and
2 large carrots.
Using the slicing disk of a food processor with a large work bowl, thinly slice the cabbage and radishes. Peel the carrots. Using the shredding disk, shred the turnips and carrots. [Note: empty the food processor bowl as needed so that the sliced and shredded contents do not push up on the disk possibly cause your processor to seize up in its cover, which happened to me once and rendered my processor inoperable. Miraculously, Kitchen-Aid replaced it for free!] Combine the vegetables with the dressing and sprinkle with
1 teaspoon celery seeds.
Mix thoroughly and garnish with your choice of fresh herbs such as chopped
parsley, chives, cilantro, tarragon, or dill.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Revisit to Summer's Quintessence: Tomato Tart with Corn, Basil, and Chevre

It was nearly a year ago that I blogged with profuse apologies about making a corn and tomato galette over the first weekend of November. I'd just discovered a blog with the full monty of beautiful food porn called Alexandra's Kitchen. Her photos are just so gorgeous that I just wanted to start making her recipes on the spot, they looked that delicious. While the result of my November undertaking was pretty damn good, I've been wanting to revisit the same recipe all summer long this year to atone for having made the dish in the fall when both tomatoes and corn were past their prime. This tart is for me the quintessence of summer's bounty, but I guess I'm just too busy going to the beach to actually make it in the summer!

Well, this past weekend was fall by the calendar yet sunny and warm during the day. And having bought on Saturday what is probably the last of the season's corn at the farmers market (this corn is not for eating off the cob but rather cooking in soups and in my favorite succotash that I will probably use as stuffing in some globe zucchini as a final good-bye to summer, but I digress) along with some pretty nice looking tomatoes, I knew Sunday morning had to be a revisit to this corn and tomato galette. (I know, late to the party again, but truth be told I was only able last year to make the galette in November because I'd bought corn and kept it past its prime in the fridge for two weeks! And while it was still good enough to cook and eat, this recipe deserves quality ingredients--and a nice side salad, and the warm sun on your cheek as you enjoy it with a bellini to capture the summer's best offerings.)

As per my usual of late in maintaining my ethos of "eating down the fridge," I was also inclined to make this recipe because I had two cheeses in my fridge I wanted to make good use of before they might go bad, in this case goat cheese and ricotta I'd purchased at the farmers market the previous week. Having made this recipe just once and blogged about the result, I'd thought that it had a layer of creme fraiche on its bottom that was then layered with sauteed corn and onion before being topped by the thick tomato slices. Only after I'd made the crust did I realize that my memory had failed me slightly in that I was combining the ingredients for Alexandra's quiche recipe, which has homemade creme fraiche, with the ingredients for the tomato galette, which has no cheese base but has lots of grated cheese either above or below the tomatoes. No worries! A quick whisk to combine the chevre and ricotta on hand with a dash or two of goat's milk and an egg, some dried thyme, and salt and pepper and I had a beautiful cheese bed upon which to lay my sauteed corn and onion and the sliced tomatoes.

Also, I keep referring to this recipe as a galette, i.e. a free form tart that is not baked in a special pan. The ingredients are laid in the middle of the rolled-out dough, leaving a two inch border that is then folded and pleated over the contents to form a rustic tart that is baked and sliced up almost like a thick piece of pizza. However, I wanted to make the dish in my rectangular tart pan which I'd bought for an asparagus recipe of Jamie Oliver's that is delicious but a bit too much work so I've only ever used the pan once before. Added bonus is that rolling the dough out into a rectangle vs. a circle is rather easy so getting the dough to fit into my tart pan was quite easy. Ironically, Alexandra's galette recipe was a redux of her original tart preparation, which she had first made in a round tart pan. What with the addition of my cheesy base layer, I guess I can call this recipe my own for my return trip, which I happily present below. Also, do yourself a favor and double the pastry recipe, which I foolishly did not do. I can guarantee that you'll want to make it again for this recipe or a quiche or even a peach pie!

Tomato Tart with Corn, Basil, and Chevre
Serves 4 to 6

Pastry recipe
Adapted from Alexandra Stafford's adaptation from Fine Cooking, August 2000
  • 1-1/4 cups (5 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (1-1/2 oz.) fine yellow cornmeal [I used masa harina as I tend to buy medium rather than fine corn meal]
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 T. (3 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup ice water
In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt. Cut in the chilled butter using a stand mixer, a food processor, or a pastry blender until it’s evenly distributed but still in large, visible pieces. Add the olive oil and ice water a tablespoon at a time and mix until the dough begins to come together. It should still be separate crumbs mostly. Gather the dough with your hands and shape it into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. [Tip: It's best to make this dough the day before you need it because of the blind baking step which adds to the prep time. If impatient like me you can place the dough in the freezer for 20 minutes and then put in the fridge until ready to use.]

  • 1 large and 2 small to medium ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound total) cut into 1/3-inch slices, lightly salted and draining on paper towels as you go about preparing the onions and corn
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, roughly chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Kernels from 2 ears of corn (generous 1 cup) [Tip: to cut corn off the cob without the kernels flying everywhere, hold the ear upright on your cutting board, but start cutting halfway down the ear, rotating to remove all the corn from one half of the ear; turn the ear over and repeat for the half you were holding. Voila! Corn on the cutting board (mostly) and not on your counter, plus your fingertips are well away from your knife blade!]
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 bunch basil coarsely chopped to yield about 1/2 cup
  • 8 oz. soft cheese such as goat cheese or ricotta
  • 2 -3 Tbs. milk
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper to taste.
  • 1 recipe cornmeal pastry (see above)
  • 1/4 cup grated semi-hard or hard cheese, such as manchego or parmesan
  • Garnish of your choice: chopped parsley, chives, basil or scallion, optional
Adjust an oven rack to the center position and heat the oven to 375°F.
Prep the onions and corn: Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan, over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, about 10 min. Season with salt and pepper. Add the corn and cook another 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and mix in the garlic and chopped basil, letting the mixture cool in the pan.
Blind bake the tart shell: Meanwhile, if it's been long enough to firm up the dough, roll it out on a floured surface until big enough to fit your tart pan. Transfer the pastry to your tart pan and fit it into the sides without stretching. Trim off any excess and if necessary patch the dough where needed by moistening the edge with water and fitting the extra piece into the bare spot. Prick the bottom all over with a fork and lay a piece of parchment paper larger than the tart pan into the bottom. Fill the parchment paper with pie weights (I use about a pound of beans and rice reserved for this purpose) and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove the parchment and pie weights to a bowl and let cool for use another day. Return the tart to the oven for another 10 minutes until it becomes golden brown. Let cool slightly. [Tart crust can be prepared a day in advance. Wrap the tart pan in plastic wrap once cool and store at room temperature.]
Prep the chevre base layer: Whisk together the goat cheese, egg, thyme, salt and pepper with 2 tablespoons of the milk until a smooth spreadable consistency. If too thick, add some milk a little bit at at a time until the mixture is spreadable like cake frosting. Spread the cheese mixture into the bottom of the slightly cooled tart crust using a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon. Layer the onion and corn mixture on top. Pat the tomato slices dry with a paper towel and arrange decoratively on top of the corn mixture. Fit the tomatoes snugly without overlapping as they will shrink as the tart bakes. Sprinkle or grate some parmesan or other cheese over the top of the tomatoes.
Bake and serve: Bake until the crust has browned and the tomatoes have roasted and shriveled slightly, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Slice the tart and serve with the herb or scallion garnish of your choice (which I forgot to do as you see in the picture below cuz I was so eager to taste this bad boy).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ina Garten's Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Hazelnut Buttercream

The other day I offered to bring cupcakes to work for a co-worker's last day celebration. Volunteering for this duty turned out to be fortuitous on many levels as I'll explain below, but let me tell you that these bad boys turned out to be a frabjous (word of the day on my Droid dictionary app) treat enjoyed by all. Moist and chocolatey, they're a great thing in a small package, somewhere smack in the middle of cake-like and fudge-like, which is a description so often used to describe brownies. They're moist AND light without being dense. In fact, because the chocolate in this recipe comes from Hershey's syrup and uses only one cup of flour, the batter was much thinner than I expected,* but they came together just fine.

The cupcake trend--shops galore, cupcakes in lieu of wedding cakes, etc.--has more than worn out its welcome in my book. But because I get so tired of being subjected to the many store bought items that come into the office, and because the person leaving was someone I'd worked with closely over the last few months, I wanted to make the gift a bit more personal, and so I volunteered.

Mind you I was more than a bit tired perusing my cupcake repertoire after dinner the other night because I'd been out to the Washington Nationals' penultimate home game the night before in which they beat the Phillies the day after the Phillies beat the Nats to clinch the NL East title. I only had enough mojo to settle on a cupcake recipe of Ina's though I did not intend to make the chocolate ganache frosting (video here) she recommended to go along with them and couldn't even make her peanut butter frosting as we were out of peanut butter! Since my partner Brian warned me (correctly) that tahini might not be a good substitution for the peanut butter in this instance, I had to find an alternative that was quick and easy and wouldn't use an excess of butter since most of mine was frozen. I was too tired to find a frosting recipe to go with but resolved to find something on the web that would use chocolate hazelnut spread, i.e. Nutella, and went to bed, planning to get up at 5:00 the next morning to start baking. (Personally, I've always done better getting up early rather than staying up late when I need extra hours to get something done.)

Very often when I offer to bring something to share it's because I've a benign ulterior motive to make use of something at home that I have in excess or that I want to use before I forget about it and it ends up at the back of the cupboard, expiration date long since overdue! I went a bit crazy at Chocolate World at Hershey Park over the summer and hadn't used any of the special dark cocoa powder I'd purchased, not to mention the cinnamon chips! But the clincher for me was that this particular cupcake recipe uses neither cocoa nor melted chocolate but rather chocolate syrup, Hershey's recommended.

As it happened, I'd also purchased Hershey's special dark syrup and was dismayed upon first using it and looking at the ingredient list that it's sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. "Corn sugar" is not something we consume unless it comes with the corn itself, so I was more than happy to use up almost all of this chocolate syrup to make cupcakes for my co-workers. I'd never seen this particular type of chocolate syrup anywhere before which made me buy it, and according to some of the reviews on Amazon, it's apparently hard to find and somewhat expensive (I think I paid $3-$4 for 22 ounces). Even Wal-Mart won't tell you what the price is unless you're willing to go to one of their stores with the UPC in hand!

Reading some of the reviews, I wonder now if it was this special dark syrup that made the cupcakes so delicious. One person said of this syrup that it's "chocolate syrup for adults. It is not overly sweet, with a rich chocolate taste, but not bitter as you usually imagine dark chocolate to be." That is exactly how my cupcakes tasted. So I was definitely pleased that I was able to use up nearly all of this special dark syrup and I'm sure it made better cupcakes than the canned version of the syrup recommended by Ms. Ina.

Deciding to use the chocolate syrup and to make Nutella frosting were based on a similar line of thinking on my part of wanting to "eat down the fridge" as it were. I've always loved Nutella, especially after a trip we took to the Netherlands a few years back for a bike trip and learned to appreciate how the Dutch and other Europeans use it to spread on bread and bananas for breakfast and snacking just as we Amerians do with peanut butter. But the chocolate hazelnuttiness of it all just makes it seem so much more sophisticated! Still, I have been known to let it languish on the shelf and one time had to throw a jar away as it smelled and tasted way off. I think people let items in the pantry, fridge, and spice rack accumulate for fear that when something is needed it might mean a trip to the store. This "bird in the hand" mentality--which I first heard from my grandmother I'm sure--leads to holding onto things rather than letting them go so new things can come into your now opened hands. Besides, I know that I have a well stocked pantry/fridge/spice rack so I'm just not afraid of making substitutions.

In looking for the Nutella frosting recipe I found a website dedicated to this foodstuff that had numerous recipes in honor of World Nutella Day on February 5th each year. Who knew of this annual commemoration and didn't tell me? I've already marked my calendar though! I found one frosting recipe that only used 5 tablespoons of butter, a cup of Nutella, and a cup of confectioners sugar, as opposed to other recipes that used more sugar and butter. However, it also called for cream which I didn't have. Thanks to the internet, I learned that cream can be substituted in a recipe by using butter (I ended up using the whole stick) and whole milk. Voila!

As it happened, a friend gave us another brand of chocolate hazelnut spread that requires refrigeration so I was all too happy to use up all of the Nutella on hand plus more than half the jar of the other spread, which means I'm nearly ready to buy new when I see it on sale or I see another brand that I might like to try. So, here is my take on one of the many Barefoot Contessa cupcake recipes with Nutella frosting on top just for fun.

Chocolate cupcake by way of Hershey Park and Nutella.

Chocolate Cupcakes Made with Hershey's Special Dark Syrup

Makes 12 [my recipe produced 16 cupcakes actually*]

1/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
11 fluid ounces chocolate syrup (recommended: Hershey's)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

  • Line muffin pans with paper liners. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in the chocolate syrup and vanilla. Add the flour and mix until just combined. Don't overbeat, or the cupcakes will be tough.
  • Scoop the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 30 minutes, or until just set in the middle. Don't overbake! Let the cupcakes cool thoroughly in the pan.
Nutella Frosting
Courtesy The Unrepentant Carbivore for World Nutella Day
Makes more than enough for 16 cupcakes

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup Nutella
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature [I used a whole stick...]
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream [...and used 2 tablespoons whole milk instead of the cream]

Place the confectioners' sugar, Nutella, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

* Egads! The cooking time to bring this chocolatey magic together was 15 minutes longer for me than the recommended time. But that's because I printed this recipe in 2006(yes that means I'd banked this recipe for four years!), and my printout says 16 ounces of chocolate syrup. However, on the FN website today 11 ounces of syrup is in the recipe. No wonder my batter was so fluid and I got four additional cupcakes out of the recipe! I even had to increase the oven temperature for the last 15 minutes and was going to therefore recommend 350 degrees for the duration rather than 325. However, with less syrup in the batter, the cupcake batter won't be so wet and might finish baking in 30 minutes. Still, no one complained about the results, which were more than worth the time and effort.