Thursday, December 31, 2015

Swiss Muesli Breakfast Brioche

During winter break, one needs decadent breakfasts to go along with the decadent dinners, only ensuring that one's diet in the new year is based on a month of over-indulgence and excess. No wimpy breakfasts around here, my friends.

Thus, I whipped up this brioche. "Whipped up!" you might snarl and scoff. Yes, I say, whipped up. This is remarkably easy, and the only thing that it needs is time. You don't even need to knead it.

Five years ago, dear friends of ours swooped down from Seattle years ago--the he in this couple is a delightful bread baker, and he swore by this cookbook: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  Upon their return to Washington, they sent the husband and I a copy of this book, and we have been all the better for it, if our waistlines have not.

The premise of the book is that you should have pre-mixed, pre-risen, high-moisture dough hanging out in your refrigerator for that moment when a fresh bread hankering strikes you. Then you simply cook up what you want: et voilà, bread.

This time around, I started from the beginning--I didn't have the brioche dough in my fridge. I made half of the brioche recipe (which makes 4 loaves) and then broke the dough in half.  One half I used for the recipe below, and the other half is now in my freezer, ensuring that when the mood strikes, I can cook up a loaf of brioche. The recipe below represents the same for you.

The half of brioche dough that I used for this recipe gets mixed with a bowl of pre-moistened Swiss muesli--the result is a hearty breakfast bread that is slightly sweet. The muesli I used had some dried raisins and figs, which leads to little surprises in a bite here and there. And this bread is as wonderful with preserves as it is merely slathered with butter and a pinch of salt.

May my waistline quickly drop these pounds in the new year. Happy New Year!


Swiss Muesli Breakfast Brioche

one 1-pound loaf (and a pound brioche dough for a small, plain loaf)

3/4 cup lukewarm water
3/4 Tbsp granulated yeast (1 packet)
3/4 Tbsp Kosher salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Swiss muesli
1/2 cup milk
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water)

1.  Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey, and melted butter with the water in a 3-quart bowl.

2.  Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon.  You may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour. (You may notice lumps in the dough, but they will disappear in the finished product.)

3.  Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.

4. After the initial rise, mix together the Swiss muesli and the milk and allow to stand for 10 minutes. 

5.  Cut off a 1 pound (grapefruit size) piece of the brioche dough. Place it into bowl.  As for the other 1 pound see below note.*  Using your hands, blend the muesli into the dough in the bowl (which will be very wet and sticky).

6.  Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

7.  Allow the ball to rest for 40 minutes on a flour-dusted pizza peel.

8.  Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a baking stone placed on a middle rack. Using a pastry brush, brush the top crust with egg wash. Slide the bread directly onto the stone, and bake for about 30-40 minutes until golden brown. Due to the fat in the dough, the bread will not form a hard crust.

Note:  Here's what to do with the other pound of brioche dough--in fact it's everything but step 4 and put the brioche in a small (mini) loaf pan.

continuing from step 3 and skipping step 4:

5.  Grease a mini loaf pan.  Dust the surface of the dough with flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

6.  Elongate into an oval and place in the prepared pan.  Allow to rest for 40 minutes.

7.  Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a pastry brush, brush the top crust with egg wash. Bake the loaf for about 30 minutes until golden brown. Due to the fat in the dough, the bread will not form a hard, crackling crust.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Radishes with Anchovy Butter and Salt

One of the simple French pleasures is to pair radishes with butter. The snap of the radish is cooled by the butter and tempered by the pinch of salt: the end result is a simple appetizer fit for any coast of Northern France.

Sure, you can spruce it up with heirloom radishes (which if you can get your hands on White Icicle radishes to pair with the more easily found French Breakfast, your plate will be all the more spectacular). You can also trot out some fleur de sel (sea salt), traditionally hand-harvested off the coast of Brittany: it is the caviar of the salts. And you should definitely use the best butter you have on hand.

However, the simple red globes (usually Cherry Belle) found at the local supermarket with some butter and table salt will do you just fine. I promise.

As for the anchovies, the husband says they are optional, which technically is true, but their addition here punches up the saltiness of the butter and ensures that I am the only one who gets to eat this appetizer (given the husband's aversion to that salty fish). Okay, I'll admit, I asked the husband to try the butter, and he even liked it. Or he humored me. Either way, my friends, that is a sign of love.

While this makes a lovely appetizer as is, with little ramekins or dipping bowls of the anchovy butter and salt, you can also make this into a simple lunch. Cut the radishes into slices, slather the anchovy butter atop crostini or toasted bread, sprinkle with salt, and you have yourself a beautiful meal fit for any sophisticated and très French lunch bag.

Finally, a simple word about The Girl and the Fig Cookbook--much longer tale about the restaurant will come later: it was my present from my Secret Santa, a tradition that five other friends of mine from high school participate in. What a delightful surprise this week. Merci encore, mon amie.


Radishes with Anchovy Butter and Salt

Serves 6

1 pound assorted radishes
1/2 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 anchovy fillets (chopped)
1 Tbsp minced shallots
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 Tbsp salt (kosher, sea salt, or table are all fine)

1.  Clean and trim the radishes in water. 

2.  Combine the butter, anchovies, shallots, lemon juice, and parsley in a food processor and blend well.

3.  Arrange the radishes on a plate and serve with a side of anchovy butter and a side of salt.

(You can also slice the radishes and place them atop butter-slathered crostini for a simple lunch.)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

White Bean, Warm Radicchio, Crisp Bacon Crostini


For Christmas Eve dinner, I make morsels and sauces, which as you know, is my favorite kind of eating. I head out with the husband to procure raspberries, chocolate-covered almonds, brillat-savarin cheese, assorted meats, olives, and marinated mushrooms. I pop open a bottle of champagne. Then we settle in for the annual showing of It's a Wonderful Life or Rudolph.

This year, I added these crostini to the buffet.  Bitter, savory, and salty, they were a delightful addition.

The warm bean mixture gets a bit of a kick from the red pepper flakes; the thyme and bay leaf lend a savoriness and a depth to this base for building a tower of goodies atop toast.

The radicchio needed a tad more sugar than I put in it (so I added a little more to the recipe below--the kind folks at Sunday Suppers call for 1/2 teaspoon. I called for 1 teaspoon, and added the step of tasting the radicchio to be certain on your sugar content).

And the bacon is just gilding the lily.

Finally, a note on the saba: Sure you can get this gorgeous Italian syrup of cooked-down grapes for this dish, but seriously, if you have balsamic vinegar on hand, don't bother. What? I said not to bother? Shock of all shocks.  Well, 2015 is coming to an end, and while I have enjoyed making page 215 from my various projects (a goal that fell apart a little around August when I took on a new job), it has led to the purchasing of many ingredients I have used once or twice.

This year I am vowing to reduce my food waste, to use what I have on hand, to reconstitute leftovers, to pare down. This is not to say I won't be busting out the radicchio for crostini or snapping up celery root for a soup, but it means that I vow to use all the things in jars in my fridge, to stash more away into the freezer for weeknight meals, and to really save those leek stalks for homemade chicken broth (rather than just intend to do so).

Long story short: just use the balsamic vinegar, which many of us have on hand in the pantry. (But if you are purist, and snagged some saba for another long ago recipe, by all means, use saba. It is a delicious.)

With that, a parting shot of the morsels and sauces Christmas Eve dinner...


White Bean, Warm Radicchio, Crisp Bacon Crostini

Adapted from Sunday Suppers


For the bread:
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 slices country loaf bread, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 clove garlic, halved

For the topping:
1 15-ounce can white beans
6 Tbsp olive oil, divided, plus extra for drizzling
3 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small head radicchio, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch wedges
1 Tbsp saba or a well-aged balsamic vinegar, plus extra for drizzling
1 tsp sugar
2 strips bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

For the topping:
1.  In a 2-quart saucepan, heat 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons of the thyme leaves, the red pepper flakes, garlic, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the beans, including the liquid, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.

2.  Discard the bay leaf, and transfer the bean mixture to a blender. Puree until smooth.  Season with 1/4 tsp salt and black pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

3.  Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the radicchio, and season with salt and pepper. Add the saba and sugar, and cook until the radicchio is slightly wilted and caramelized, about 8 minutes. Taste for sugar and add more if needed. Set aside.

For the toasts:
4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

5.  Brush the olive oil over one side of each bread slice, and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast the bread, flipping the slices once, until golden brown, about 8 minutes.

To assemble:
6.  In a small skillet, fry the bacon pieces over medium-high heat until extra crispy.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

7.  To serve, rub the toast with the halved garlic clove.  Spread the bean puree over each piece of toast, top with the radicchio and bacon.  Sprinkle with the remaining teaspoon of thyme leaves. Drizzle with additional saba and olive oil. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Warm Duck Salad with Plum-Ginger Dressing and Sesame

What a strange week this has already been.  On Monday night around 2 am, we felt a jolt to the whole house. Ever my father's daughter, I went downstairs in the dark to grab my iPad to figure out just how strong that short but solid temblor was. I checked earthquaketrack and usgs. Neither showed our quake. I kept refreshing the webpages, but still nothing. First I convinced myself that it must have been a minor earthquake, like a 1.0 or 2.0 and the epicenter just so happened to be under our house. Then I convinced myself that I had dreamed it (hey, by then it was 3 am), but I was certain that the husband, who had fallen back to sleep, had felt it too. Confused, I fell back to sleep.

At 7:30, I woke to find this in the backyard.


So I guess they aren't kidding when they say that earthquakes feel like a truck hitting your house.  Or a tree, in this case. Thankfully, no one was hurt (although a branch did go crashing through the neighbor's window, which could have been bad, but it wasn't). The only casualties are small parts of the roof and the husband's grill.

None of this has anything to do with the wonderful recipe I am about to share with you. Nothing at all. But this was the view we had when we sat down to dinner last night (we're still working with our landlord on getting the tree removed).

This delicious salad comes from Diana Henry, whose praises I have sung here. She's a veritable celebrity in the UK but remains relatively unknown stateside. I want to change that. Because, lordy, lordy, do I love her cooking. In a gorgeous interview she talks about moving to healthier cooking (I don't want to get ahead of myself, for I have plenty of indulging to do this week, but we both know we're going to need that sort of cooking in the new year). She prioritizes taste but ensures that it's always good for you.

In this cookbook,  A Change of Appetite, Henry turns to Scandinavian, Japanese, and Italian cooking (among many others) for inspiration. Clearly, this beautiful salad uses Japanese ingredients to coax a mixture of surprising and satisfying flavors from one little duck breast.

The recipe does have three specialty ingredients, only one of which is essential I would argue. Don't substitute anything for the pickled plums (umeboshi). Their sharp, salty flavor is hard to replicate. However, if you cannot find any at your local grocer, amazon comes to the rescue. You can find it in paste or full plum form. I used four whole plums and ground them with a mortar and pestle to produce two teaspoons.

The preserved ginger seems to be a rather British ingredient. Or at least it seems to be more readily available in the UK. Again, amazon can gallantly swoop in with this product. However, my grocery had this one, which I just chopped up about 1 tablespoon of ginger. I imagine you could easily use fresh ginger as well.

Finally, the duck. The duck was perfection, in part because it gave a little more fat (even with the skin removed), to a light dish. Further, it elevated a rather simple dish to something special. But you could use a chicken breast if that's what you have on hand. The duck, however, can stand up to a rather aggressive dressing--what with all that fermentation and sweetness in the plums and ginger. Chicken would probably be a little overwhelmed by it. I liked the dressing so much, though, that we made another batch just for regular salads this week.

And with that, the husband and I ate a beautiful pink and green salad while overlooking a downed tree in our backyard. Seemed strange to me.


Warm Duck Salad with Plum-Ginger Dressing and Sesame

Serves 4

For the Dressing
3 1/2 Tbsp mirin or dry sherry
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 1/2 Tbsp peanut oil
2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp pickled plum paste
2 tsp light brown sugar
1/2 piece of preserved ginger in syrup, finely chopped

For the Salad
2 avocados
salt and black pepper
10 sweet, mild radishes
2 large duck breasts, skin and fat removed
1 Tbsp peanut oil
1 1/2 cup green beans, trimmed (or sugar snap peas, or a mixture)
4 1/2 cups spinach
2 Tbsp black sesame seeds

1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 

2.  To make the dressing: Whisk all of the dressing ingredients together. Don't be concerned that the pickled plum paste won't completely blend; there will still be pale pink pieces in the dressing. Taste for a balance of sweet and tart adjusting the sugar, vinegar, and plum paste accordingly.

3.  To make the salad: Halve, pit and slice the avocados. Peel each slice, and immediately season and toss with some of the dressing (to prevent browning). Wash the radishes, trim and slice as thinly as possible.

4.  Season the duck breasts. Heat the oil in a skillet and brown the duck breasts on both sides, then put them in a roasting pan and cook in the hot oven for 5 minutes.  (To determine if the breast is done, check the center of the breast; it should be pink, like rare steak.) Remove the duck breasts, cover with aluminum foil, and let rest for 3-4 minutes.

5. While the duck is roasting or resting, steam or boil the green beans until crisp-tender (about 1-2 minutes), then immediately submerge in ice water to stop the cooking process. 

6.  Slice the duck breasts, then combine with all the other ingredients, except the sesame seeds, and toss with the dressing.  Arrange on a large plate or divide among four plates. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top and serve immediately.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Moo Goo Gai Pan

In 2008, I had the opportunity to go to China--a trip I never really imagined possible. My father is the only one of my parents who had ever travelled abroad, a trip he took with his school when he was 18. And while I had been to Europe, I had not really imagined that I would be lucky enough to travel to Asia.  Thus, when the opportunity presented itself, I snapped it up.  In a whirlwind 10 days, I travelled to China with a colleague and set out on an adventure to some of the cultural hot spots of central and northern China.

While there, I wandered among the food vendors in the night market with my colleague in Kaifeng, ate fermented vegetables for breakfast outside of Houjia village, sampled noodles in a noodle house in Xi'an, grabbed Chinese pastries in Zhengzhou before my colleague dragged me into the red light district (he was the more adventurous of us both), and ate lychees at the fanciest hotel I have ever stayed at in my entire life while in Beijing.

In short, it was a culinary adventure as much as it was a cultural one.

Since returning, I have not been able to replicate any of the dishes that I had while I was abroad. Until now. Until this new cookbook by Kian Lam Kho (Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees), and my last new one of the year (until the husband opens one of his Christmas presents and discovers a fancy new cookbook I bought for me, I mean him). This fabulous cookbook has helped me recall some of the complex and brilliant palette of China.

Arranged by technique, Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees is as meticulous as it is beautiful. Guiding you through dry stir frying, flash frying, boiling, steaming, red cookingwei braising, hang roasting, grilling, smoking, and fermenting (as well as numerous other techniques), Kho leaves no stir-fried vegetable unturned.  I'll admit, there are some recipes I will probably be skipping--mostly in the offal section of the book--but overall, I am excited for Mapo Tofu, Red-Cooked Chicken with Chestnuts, Pan-Fried Salt and Pepper Whole Prawns, Steamed Beef with Cracked Rice, Yu Xian Stir-Fried Pork, and Shrimp with Asparagus Fried Rice.

In short, I am excited to turn my own kitchen into a nostalgia trip.

I decided to start with the Chinese-American restaurant staple of Moo Goo Gai Pan.  This recipe from Guangdong in Southeast China (not really where I travelled, but the region is filled with fabulous food nonetheless) is a wonderful introduction to "Moist Stir Fry."

While in the US, the most ubiquitous of stir fry is the dry kind (think Kung Pao Chicken), moist stir fry shows up a lot in restaurants, indeed. However, Kho saves these often goopy recipes from bad restaurant quality and elevates them into truly beautiful dishes. In fact, this Moo Goo Gai Pan is smooth, subtle, complex, and incredibly satisfying.

While many Chinese-American restaurants serve this dish with a rainbow array of vegetables (think snow peas, water chestnuts, and bok choy), Kho whittles the recipe down to its most basic parts: mushrooms (mohgu) and sliced chicken (gai pin) in an oyster sauce.

The result: spectacular comfort food.

While there are no China trips on the docket (especially since two darling friends of mine have recently moved back from Shanghai without my having had the opportunity to properly visit them), this cookbook will do quite nicely as I try to replicate some of the tastes of that glorious trip seven years ago.

More Chinese cooking for me!

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


Moo Goo Gai Pan

Serves 2-3 with rice

12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut against the grain into 1/8-inch slices
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 tsp cornstarch (or tapioca starch)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3/4 cup chicken stock or water, divided into 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup
1/4 cup white rice wine
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch (or tapioca starch)
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 thin slices ginger
4 ounces cremini or button mushrooms, stemmed and halved or quartered
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and halved or quartered
4 ounces canned bamboo shoots
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
Sliced scallions and cilantro sprigs, for garnish

1.  Put the chicken slices in a bowl, add the egg white, 2 tsp of cornstarch, salt and pepper. Mix well.

2.  In another bowl, mix 1/2 cup of the chicken broth with the rice wine, oyster sauce, soy sauce and 1 Tbsp of cornstarch. Set aside.

3. Heat the vegetable or canola oil in a wok over high heat until it begins to shimmer. Drop the chicken slices into the hot oil and stir to keep them separate. Cook until 3/4 of the way done, or until the outside of the chicken turns white but the center is still slightly pink. Remove the chicken from the wok and place it atop paper towels to drain off the excess oil. Pour the oil out of the wok, reserving 1 Tbsp, and quickly rinse the bottom of the wok with water, scraping off any residue that is stuck there.

4. Dry the wok and return it to the heat. Return the 1 Tbsp of the oil to the wok. Add the garlic and the ginger slices and stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and the chicken stock: stir fry for about 30 seconds. Cover the wok and cook for 1 minute

5.  Uncover and return the chicken to the wok. Add the bamboo shoots and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the oyster sauce mixture to the wok and stir-fry until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Turn the heat off, swirl in the sesame oil, and quickly mix together. Serve garnished with scallions and cilantro. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Bolognese Meat Sauce

Oh, friends, I love this basic meat sauce. 

Our copy of Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is splattered and stained--but most so on the pages for this sauce, for it is one that has served us quite well for many years. The first time the husband (who is generally the one who makes this recipe, and on whom I blame those splatters and stains) made this sauce, I declared it Mom Sauce.

My mother used to make meat-based spaghetti sauce all the time when I was growing up. Usually, she would throw this in the slow cooker in the morning, and by dinner time (yes, 5:30), we had an beefy and tomato-y sauce for over cooked pasta. Indeed, this sauce tastes like an Illinois kitchen in the early 80s. In the good way.

I know, I know. I don't always talk about my Midwestern meals with the breathless quality I reserve for the California cuisine I now cook. But this standard Italian dish is worth every sigh, every ooh, and every ahh.

Marcella Hazan, the godmother of Italian cooking, cautions that a ragú should be gentle and mellow, so plan to spend your whole day making this sauce. Thus, I doubled the below recipe; one half will show up in an upcoming baked rigatoni (more details soon) and the other half is being shepherded into my freezer for later meals.

Further, Hazan advises that the beef should not be from too lean of a cut; the "more marbled it is," Hazan promises, "the sweeter the ragú will be." I am certain my own mother simply chose whatever ground beef was on sale, and more power to her. I am also certain my mother did not cook the meat in milk and wine before adding tomatoes, but I do know my mother added milk. Like in her chili, she adds milk to beef. I know, it sounds a little weird, but I (as well as Marcella) promise that it keeps the sauce (or the chili) from being too acidic. It's worth it. The milk brings out that desired and enviable mellow feel and taste. 

Finally cook, uncovered, at the merest simmer for a long, long, long (okay even longer) time; no less than 3 hours is necessary, more is better. Devote your afternoon. Reap the benefits for the week.

And I'll be over here, savoring the nostalgia of Mom Sauce.


Bolognese Meat Sauce

2 heaping cups, for about 6 servings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter 
1/2 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
3/4 pound ground beef chuck, not too lean
Black pepper
1 cup whole milk
Whole nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio)
1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice

Cooked pasta of your choice, some butter and Parmesan

1.  Put the oil, butter and chopped onion in the pot and turn the heat on to medium. Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring vegetables to coat them well.

2.  Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork, stir well, and cook until the beef has lost its raw, red color.

3.  Add milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has cooked away completely. Add a tiny grating -- about 1/8 teaspoon -- of nutmeg, and stir.

4.  Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat. To keep it from sticking, add 1/2 cup of water whenever necessary. At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

5.  Toss with cooked, drained pasta, adding the tablespoon of butter, and serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.