Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Potato and Onion Salad with Smoked Albacore

I present to you: Potato Salad.

That said, it's a pretty special potato salad with smoked trout and piquant arugula, but potato salad. I find that I have many disparate thoughts about this potato salad, and I lack the inclination (and talent) today to string together these thoughts into something coherent and clever.  Instead, I present to you a bullet-point list about a savory, peppery and smoky potato salad that I urge you to give a try should you have the inclination (and time).

  • Deborah Madison (our cookbook's author) tells the story of finding smoked albacore at her local farmer's market. I had smoked trout, instead. Indeed, smoked trout is a boon. Not only is it caramelized and earthy-sweet-smokey, but it is one of those treats with lovely, pleasant memories associated with it. Earlier, I wrote an homage to a friend, who often served smoked trout before a massive Canadian thanksgiving feast. Before the meal, we would all crowd on his and his wife's little balcony with its abundance of flowers and a well-stocked drink cart. There, we would snack on smoked trout and cheese on crackers as each settled into a sweet teasing from one another. Perhaps it was the martini, perhaps it was just the company, but we all felt--what the Danish call--hygge: that warm atmosphere of being with people you adore. Smoked trout is part of the way I began to feel at home in California among dear friends and a dear man whom I still miss. 
  • I spent Sunday morning listening to the final hour of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's  Americanah on Audible. I peeled and sliced apples for an applesauce for breakfast, and I boiled potatoes and eggs for this potato salad for lunch as Adichie's story wound down to its delightful conclusion. I loved Americanah, in part because I love Adichie, and I love her Ted Talk (as do about 8 million other people), and I love her collection of short stories The Thing Around Your Neck, particularly the title story. So, this Sunday morning, it was bittersweet as I finished listening to Americanah. I was eager to finish the book (as I always am when I come to the end of a novel), but I didn't quite want it to end.  This, of course, has absolutely nothing specific to do with potato salad, it's just what I was doing while I made the potato salad. And it was lovely.
  • (I also have to note that listening to a book is so viscerally different than reading it.  Throughout the day, I can hear Adjoa Andoh, the reader of the book, and her voice calling out "Ifem" or "Ranyinudo" in a particular cadence. After spending almost 18 hours with Andoh's voice, I find that I miss her and I miss Adichie's narrative).   

  • I don't like raw onions. Turns out that I like sweet raw onions that have been soaked in champagne vinegar and olive oil. None of the tell-tale bitterness lingers. However, a toothbrushing is in order after eating this salad.
  • This potato salad is equally good hot as it is cold. Make enough of it so that you can try it both ways.  Regardless of whether I served the salad hot or cold, I found that I didn't want the arugula to sit in the oil and vinegar.  Thus, in the hot version, I tossed the handful of arugula in at the last minute with the just sliced potatoes and stirred them around gently to keep the potatoes from breaking up. The arugula added a crunchy contrast to the softness of the potatoes. When I served it cold (read: when I took it for lunch the next day), I set aside un-arugula-ed potato salad to cool and then added the arugula to the cold potato salad just before serving (read: sitting down at my desk with a compostable fork). Thus, the arugula had not grown soggy and the salad was still quite tasty.
  • If you need a more traditional potato salad, then may I recommend a previous entry on potato salad from America's Test Kitchen.  I have sermonized, dear reader, about the addition of dill pickles to potato salad; however, I would now like to add smoked trout to the list of fine ingredients one could happily add to potato salad. (Although I would not recommend with dill pickles. That's just crazy talk.) So many options for something that seems so simple.
Okay, that does it for a discursive entry on Thanksgiving memories, a phenomenal book, raw onions and traditional potato salad. Happy Tuesday, my friends.

Potato and Onion Salad with Smoked Albacore

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds potatoes (use fingerlings, or any other waxy boiling type such as Red Date, Salad Red, Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold)*
salt and pepper
1 sweet onion, sliced rounds, about 1 cup
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
16 black or green olives, pitted and halved
6 ounces smoked albacore, flaked**
2 good handfuls coarsely chopped arugula
2 hard-boiled eggs

*I used small Yukon Golds, quartered or halved
**Although another flaky, smoked fish--such as trout---will do

1.  Cover the potatoes with cold salted water and bring to a boil.

2.  While they're cooking, toss the onion with vinegar, oil, olives, dish, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

3.  When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them, then cut in half lengthwise. While still hot, add them to the bowl along with the arugula.  Turn gently.  Taste for salt and season with pepper.  Serve garnished with the egg, cut into quarters or halves.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Butternut Squash Crumble

Oh, this past weekend was spent at the ocean. Well, technically, it was spent in a cabin in the woods, but last Sunday evening was spent on a winter run that ended with a winter sunset at a winter ocean, and let's face it, that was the highlight of this winter weekend.

And, in addition to that wonderful sunset, yes, there was squash.

I do what I can, when I can, to eat squash, for my CSA sends it almost every week. I have roasted it with cardamom and nigella seeds, wrapped it in pastryroasted it with dates and thyme, and pureed it into soup.

And this past weekend, I had it in a squash crumble, which is a savory equivalent of a crisp (as in what the Americans might think of when we think of Apple Crisp). Apparently, the Brits serve these crumbles in a swath of varieties and have been doing so since the middle of last century. Americans know them usually only under their sweet variety, but the Brits are onto something here: you don't always have to make a crumble sweet. 

Now, that's something that I can easily get behind, and I believe most of my winter vegetables can get under.

Seriously, the idea here is wickedly simple. Just bake your winter vegetable under a layer of butter, cornmeal and sage (some even add cheese), and your side vegetable has just taken care of itself. The crumble is easier to make than a pie, and the resulting sidedish has the comfort of a starchy topping and the sanctimoniousness of a vegetable (albeit sauteed in butter and oil).

However, all that said for the inventiveness of the British, this recipe does not come to us from our colonial forefathers. Instead, it comes to us by way of a former-Chez-Panisse-employed American who has relocated to France: David Lebovitz

I have been hankering for the sixth of Lebovitz's cookbooks, My Paris Kitchen, for some time now, and finally I broke down and purchased it with a Christmas-given gift certificate.  Already I love this cookbook.  Given its subtitle (Recipes and Stories), it's not surprising that I (like so many others) have already read this cookbook cover to cover, without stopping to make even one recipe. The cookbook revels in Paris and its cuisine (from the classic Onion Soup to Coq au Vin) and Lebovitz tells delightful little stories of his adventures in France. Thus, on a winter evening in January, it seemed a lovely idea to finally splay open the cookbook on a kitchen counter (rather than in my lap while sitting on the couch) and try the Mustard Chicken--the very recipe featured in the cover photograph--next to a simple salad and this crumble offering on page 215.

Such a meal was a hearty huzzah (or should I say, as the French do, Hourra!) to winter and to the bounty of the CSA box.

Good thing I had already taken my run earlier in the evening.

Butternut Squash Crumble
Adapted from  David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen

Serves 6-8

2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 lbs butternut squash (about 1 medium-to-large butternut squash), peeled seeded, and diced into 3/4-inch cubes
2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper
1/2 cup peeled and thinly sliced shallots
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal or polenta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp minced fresh sage leaves
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp butter, chilled and cubed
1 large egg

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter a shallow 3-quart baking dish with butter.

2.  To make the squash filling: Heat 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the squash and half of the thyme. Season with salt and pepper and sauté, stirring occasionally, unit the squash begins to brown on several sides. Add half of the shallots and cook for another few minutes until they're soft. Add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock and cook for 30 seconds, stirring, to reduce the stock a little bit and heat everything through. Scrape the squash mixture into the prepared baking dish.

3.  Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the rest of the squash and thyme the same way, seasoning it with salt and pepper, and adding the remaining shallots and 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Scrape the cooked squash into the baking dish, stir in the parsley, then press the mixture in a relatively even layer. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes, until the squash is tender. 

4.  To make the topping: While the squash bakes, combine the bread crumbs, cornmeal (or polenta), Parmesan, sage, sugar, salt and black pepper in a food processor or blender. Add the chilled butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is completely incorporated. Add the egg and pulse a few more times until the mixture just starts clumping together in bits.

Remove the squash from the oven, remove the aluminum foil, and cover evenly with the bread crumb topping. Decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees and return the dish to the oven. Bake about 20 minutes, until the topping is golden brown, and then serve.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Stir-fried Noodles with Wild Mushrooms

A few years ago, we got a wok. We didn't need a wok, but we wanted one. So we got a wok.

Often those who are not in the know, my ignorant self included, have relegated the wok to simply a vessel for the stir fry. However, one can see the wok truly for what it is: a "cooking pot"--which is precisely what wok means in Cantonese.

I started to get curious about the wok, so I called upon our trusty friend, the internet, to tell me all about it. Turns out, we don't know a ton about one of the most widely used cooking vessels in the world, but people have all kinds of theories. I needed some answers--consequently, I turned to notable food historian, Rachel Laudan, who had this to say: we don't know much about the (history of the) wok.

She reports that some believe that as a Chinese cooking pot, the wok is about 2000 years old; however, as Laudan attests, other scholars date it more likely to about 1000 (or even only 500) years old and suggest that the wok is pretty intertwined with multiple other cultures--including Japanese, Indian, and perhaps Turkish cuisines. Still a pretty long lineage but apparently a tangled set of roots. Even Laudan admits that there's a research project out there for someone. Invite me over for dinner once you have finished your work. We'll make noodles.

The wok comes generally with a round bottom in the East but with a flat bottom in the West--mostly so that the pan can sit on the electric stove in many Western kitchens. However, you'll see plenty of Western kitchens using the round-bottomed wok with a wok ring that lifts the wok away from the heat source and steadies the pan; those who use the round-bottomed wok swear by it, for the round bottom allows the rounded spatula to scoop up everything in the bottom of the wok and allows for better heat distribution (and consequently more even cooking of the food). That said, we own a flat-bottomed wok, and it has served us well.

I did read a little about the seasoning of a wok, so since we just played historian for a little while, let's play scientist for a paragraph. A well-seasoned wok is one that has been used quite a few times, and a natural layer of polymerized fats and other cooking oils have accumulated on the pan. This produces a fine carbon layer that prevents corrosion and reduces sticking--in other words, produces a nice little natural "teflon" coating. Thus, you want to avoid soapy water in washing your wok because you don't want to scrape that off. Just run water over your wok, put a little cooking oil in and heat that oil. Then simply wipe out any excess oil. Your wok is ready to go for the next round. Then, just put your wok right back onto your stovetop because you can use it for anything--from spaghetti and meatballs to Sri Lankan stir fry.

This little recipe comes from this cookbook: Wok and Stir Fry: Fabulous Fast Food with Asian Flavors. It has not been a cookbook that has served me particularly well, as I find it to be a generally under-seasoned endeavor. However, it does nudge me in the direction of noodles for dinner (and the next day's lunch), and that's never a bad thing. As is usual, the recipe in the book was a little on the bland side, so I had to kick it up a few notches in the recipe below. What followed, however, was a lovely Asian take on the noodles with wild mushroom theme that we will be seeing this year (seriously, I have three recipes that require someone to go out and forage for me so I can mix fungi with starch). So, while this recipe is not going to knock your socks off, it does all that you need it to do: feed you good food on a weeknight in about 20 minutes. Not a bad thing.

Yay, noodles in our much-needed wok!

Stir-fried Noodles with Wild Mushrooms
Adapted from Wok and Stir Fry: Fabulous Fast Food with Asian Flavors

Serves 4

12 ounces broad flat egg noodles (or any kind of noodle, really)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 ounces Canadian or lean bacon, cut into small pieces
8 ounces wild mushrooms, trimmed and cut in half*
4 ounces garlic chives, snipped
8 ounces bean sprouts
1 Tbsp oyster sauce (or to taste)
1 Tbsp soy sauce (or to taste)
1 Tbsp hoisin sauce (or to taste)
1/2 Tbsp chile sauce (or to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

*A variety of mushrooms is best, and if wild mushrooms are not available or outside of your budget, cultivated mushrooms are just fine. I used wood ear, shitaake, and oyster.

1.  Heat enough water to cover the noodles in the wok until the water boils.  Cook the noodles about 3-4 minutes or until just tender. Drain, rinse under cold water, and then drain well. Wipe out the wok and set the noodles aside.

2.  Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the wok.  Add the bacon, and fry until golden. Using the slotted spoon, transfer the cooked bacon to a small bowl.  Set aside.

3.  Heat rest of the oil to the wok, then add the mushrooms, and fry for 3 minutes.  Add the garlic chives and bean sprouts, fry for 3 additional minutes, and then add the drained noodles.

4.  Season with salt, pepper, oyster, soy, hoisin, and chile sauces. Continue to stir-fry until the noodles are heated through. Sprinkle the crispy bits of bacon on top, and serve.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Rosemary Cake

From time to time there comes along a book that just speaks to you and to the kind of person you want to be, a book that feels aspirational and ordinary and satisfactory and accurate all at once. Tamar Adler's book The Everlasting Meal is just that book for me.

I have waxed poetic about it before, and certainly my affection for this book has not changed. It is not a traditional cookbook; instead, it is a meandering lyric on Adler's relationship to food. Her basic premise, as hinted at in her title, is that all food begets more food. Our meals should be everlasting. Those beets you just roasted? Their greens would go great on that pizza that you just made with the sourdough starter you have tucked in a corner of your refrigerator. Those beans you made? Their broth is the base for the minestrone of leftover pasta from last night. Did you just make a roasted chicken? Better keep the bones to toss into a pot to make the perfect chicken broth.

Tucked among her thoughts on the meaning of food are simple, sweet recipes. This particular recipe does not come from page 215 (the "Pork shoulder braised in milk with garlic, sage and lemon" is far too similar to the pork from Marcella that I made at the end of 2013) so I went to the next recipe of page 222. Indeed, it is reminiscent of the Semolina cake from Ottolenghi that I made last year, but this one is more savory, more grounded (and more wheat-based).

In a chapter on the end of things--in other words desserts--Adler thinks about why she has a fondenss for those end-of-meal morsels. Earlier in the book, she says that if we consider it carefully, no one really comes to our homes for the food. Instead they come for the company. And thus, when the dinner is consumed and "the night's slope tilt[s]" toward the end, "what seemed like it would last forever now seems certain to be nearly done."  Dessert, then, is a way to linger just a little longer among that company we so wish to keep.

See? Food is not just food for her.

And, thus, it should not be for us either.

To start this year, my dear friend came for lunch. I heated up a chicken and wild rice soup that I had tucked in my freezer, and I whipped together this rosemary cake. Truly, this is a very easy cake to make, and provided that you have a neighbor with a rosemary bush two doors down from your house, you can make this cake with ingredients you already have. Coupled with unsweetened whipped cream, this cake seemed perfect for an early January lunch when you have a friend on her way over.

My friend and I ate together at the kitchen table with the remnants of New Year's Eve flowers that are slowly dying in a vase at the table. Two cats prowled around, sometimes jumping up (admittedly) onto the table in order to peer out the window. We ate cake, but then even more sweetly, we moved to the living room to sit on the couch where we could talk about love, its beginnings, some of its endings, and our sweet memories of it.

It was a perfect way to mark the beginning of a new year.

And I sent her home with half a loaf of cake, for Adler promises, "[t]omorrow, warmed in an oven, a slice of this cake, spread with jam, makes a consummate breakfast." So it has for me, and hopefully for her, this week.

What savory, everlasting joy.

Rosemary Cake
Adapted from  The Everlasting Meal

2 bread pan cakes

8 eggs
1 1/2 cups raw sugar
1 2/3 cups olive oil
4 Tbsp finely chopped rosemary
3 cups flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2.  Coat 2 bundt pans or 2 loaf pans first with butter, then with flour, tapping out the excess flour.

3.  Beat the eggs for 30 seconds with a handheld beater. Slowly add the sugar an continue to beat until the mixture is very foamy and pale. Still mixing, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Using a spatula, fold in the rosemary.

4.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Keeping the mixer on low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients to the egg  mixture. Pour the batter into the bundt pan or the loaf pan (about 2/3 of the way to the top, for the cake will rise).  

5.  Bake for 45-50 minutes; rotating the pan halfway through. The cake is done when it is golden brown and springs back when touched, or when a skewer is inserted in the center and comes out clean.Allow the cake to cool briefly in the pan and then tip it out onto a rack to continue cooking.

6.  This is delicious on its own, or accompanied by freshly whipped unsweetened cream or Italian mascarpone.  

7.  Leftovers can be sliced, warmed in the oven, and spread with jam for breakfast.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Meyer Lemon Éclairs


Lemon curd is a delightful thing. Spoon it atop a scone next to a cup of tea with milk. Tuck it between layers of vanilla cake. Dollop it on buttermilk pancakes. Or you could do something far more sensible: just eat it with a spoon. Which, let's face it, I did. For breakfast. On New Year's Day. There may have been some toast involved.  However, mostly it was a spoon.

So officially, I can say that the first thing I ate in 2015 was lemon curd. And I can also say it was the last thing I ate in 2014. However, in 2014, I was far more refined in that I ate it in its éclair form.

The éclair is a favorite of mine. A choux dough filled with cream (and lemon curd in this case) and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar or a slather of shiny icing is the perfect and deceitfully light ending to any meal or the start to any day. The story goes that this little pastry is thus named the éclair, which means "lightning" in French, as a nod either to the sparkle it gives off when coated in confectioners' glaze or to how fast one can eat it. 

The stovetop-cooked dough (the choux) is the same that one used for profiteroles or cream puffs, and it could not be simpler. In a saucepan, you cook the flour with water, butter, and a pinch of sugar until it pulls away from the pan; then away from the heat, you add the eggs, one at a time and with a mixer to keep them from scrambling in the hot dough. From there, you are ready to pipe it from a pastry bag into any shape or length your little éclair-eating heart desires. Once baked, the exterior is light and crisp and toasty, while the interior is hollow and ready to be filled with cream or chocolate (or lemon curd!) either by piping your filling of choice into a hole on one side or by splitting the pasty in two lengthwise and filling the bottom layer before topping it with the other.

This lovely curd is made with Meyer rather than regular lemons, and in a delightful coincidence, David Lebovitz recently posted his own Meyer lemon curd recipe. It is undoubtedly that time of year. Lebovitz was himself once a chef at Chez Panisse, from where the recipe below originates. I have a fondness for both Chez Panisse and Lebovitz, so I was naturally delighted. His recipe calls for 1/2 cup more of Meyer lemon juice, an intriguing proposition, one that I will need to investigate given that I am completely out of curd now (see: eating with spoon on New Year's Day). (He also adds an additional egg and an additional egg yolk). However, I don't want to go a-testing until I acquire a glass bowl. Sometimes lemon curd can get that slightly metallic taste, and rumor has it that such a taste is acquired when the lemon is bubbling away stovetop in your pot or pan if it is the slightest bit reactive. Some recommend double-boiling the lemon in a glass bowl in an attempt to eradicate that tinny taste. (This recipe doesn't call for the double boiling, and our curd had only a hint of the metallic taste, but I like science, so I want to try this another time.)

Don't worry if you're Meyer lemon-less. While the Meyer lemon is slightly different from the regular lemon, simply use regular lemon juice and be ready for a more acidic lemony taste. Indeed, the Meyer lemon is a bit more subtle and far sweeter than the regular lemon, but all in all, they can almost always be easily substituted one for the other. You might find you want to add just a tad more sugar to a regular lemon base to offset the tartness, but either way, you'll be just fine. Remember, you're stuffing a fabulous pastry and covering it with whipped cream. Nothing can truly go wrong here. We mustn't put so much pressure on ourselves.

Around these here parts, Meyer lemon trees grow like madness, and many (not us, sadly) boast mature lemon trees in their backyards (so, if you do have one, please--I beg of you--send some lemons my way. I am happy to take at least 20 pounds off your hands). Right now it's full harvest mode, and it should be like this until March. Thus, we need to get cracking on making more curd, for our time, sweet friends, is limited. And I have a spoon waiting.

Meyer Lemon éclairs
Adapted from  Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook

35-40 finger-sized, mini éclairs

For Lemon Curd
1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
1 tbsp. tart lemon juice (from 1 regular lemon)
Grated zest from 1 Meyer lemon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
8 Tbsp (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces 
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks 

For Pâte à Choux

1 cup water
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt 
1 tsp sugar
1 cup flour
4 large eggs

For Whipped cream filling

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Confectioner's (Powdered) sugar for dusting

Lemon curd:
1.  To make the lemon curd, combine the lemon juice, zest, sugar, butter, and salt in heavy-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan.  Stir gently over low heat until the butter is melted.  

2.  Put the eggs and yolks in a bowl and whisk briefly. 

3.  Whisk 1/4 of the hot lemon mixture into the eggs, stirring continuously. Then slowly whisk the remainder to the lemon mixture into the eggs, continuing to stir as you add the lemon mixture. (You are tempering the eggs, trying to ensure that they do not scramble.) 

4. Return the egg and lemon mixture to the pan. Cook over low heat, scraping the bottom constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spatula, about 2-5 minutes.  The thickening happens quickly, so watch it carefully.  Do not allow to boil.  Remove from the heat once it thickens.

4.  Strain the curd through a fine mesh strainer, using a spatula to press it through and then to scrape the bottom of the strainer.  Refrigerate until cold and firm.

Pâte à choux:
5.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

6.  In a large saucepan combine the water, butter, salt, and sugar and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat.

7.  Add the flour all at once, and quickly stir the flour with a wooden spoon and cook until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 30 seconds. Continue to cook and stir the mixture to remove excess moisture, about 1-2 minutes more.

8.  Remove the pan from heat and transfer the dough to a medium-sized bowl to cool for a couple of minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, using an electric mixer (be sure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next egg).

9.  Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round pastry tip (or gallon-size zip-top bag with the corner clipped off). Pipe the eclairs onto the parchment-lined baking sheet into finger-width, 3-inch long strips.

10.  Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for about 20 minutes more, until the eclairs are lightly golden and dry. Cool on wire racks before filling.
(This would be a great stopping point before a party.)

Whipped cream filling:
11.  Add the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract to a large bowl. Whip the cream using an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Transfer the whipped cream to a pastry bag fitted with a large star-shaped pastry tip (or gallon-size zip-top bag with the corner clipped off).

12:  Cut the eclairs in half lengthwise using a serrated knife and separate the tops and bottoms. Fill the bottom half with Meyer lemon curd and then pipe a layer of whipped cream over the curd. 

13.  Gently place on the tops of the éclairs and dust with confectioner's sugar. Serve immediately.