Monday, February 23, 2015

Basler Mehlsuppe (Swiss Carnival Soup)

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. Of course, the beginning of the Lenten season signifies the end of carnival. Well, for most Christian people, that is.  Not all.

Certainly not for those who hail from the Swiss city of Basel.

For you see, there, on the Monday after Ash Wednesday, the church bells peel and the Basler Fasnacht begins.  Indeed, according to De drey scheenschte Dääg, "'the three best days' of the year, start at 4 am Monday after Ash Wednesday and continues non-stop, with barely time to sleep, until 4 am on Thursday. The city almost shuts down and parades, confetti and 'Mehlsuppe' rule." Over 20,000 people participate in the festival, and those with elaborate masks and over 200 lanterns drum and piccolo their way through the streets. Usually, the masks and lanterns center on a theme heavy with irony and political satire of the previous year. (This year's theme: "We don't fit in a drawer.") Unlike most global carnival celebrations, visitors don't have much of an opportunity to join in, but the main festival website invites visitors to watch, wander the lively streets, and "absorb... this unique mixture of celebration and melancholia, and the haunting enactment of mediaeval ritual: the dance of death (Totentanz) and the masquerade (Mummenschanz)."
Bars and restaurants serve this traditional soup (along with other Fasnacht staples such as onion and cheese pies) for the 72 hours of revelry and reverie. Certainly, you can find Mehlsuppe other times of the year in Switzerland, but it is generally in its Knorr mix or canned form. That said, fresh mehlsuppe is remarkably simple and derives its rich, nutty flavor from the browning of flour. (In fact, it browns for nine full minutes and the results are quite impressive.)

See here--on the left is the browned flour after nine minutes and the right is regular flour. If your broth is particularly rich and flavorful, you might toast the flour a little less, but I wanted the full-bodied richness of the flour and the beef broth to shine through.

The story goes that the name and color of the soup come from a cook who got to chatting and didn't notice her flour as it toasted a bit too much. Not wanting the darkened flour to go to waste, she just stirred it into her onions, and voila (or should we say prasentieren?), a soup and a tradition were born. I am not so sure how much I buy into the story, but I like it nonetheless.

Certainly, I would have never made this soup without prompting. The name flour soup just didn't draw me in. Lucky for me, this soup is on page 215 and by my own rules, that meant I was making it. Thick and robust, this soup is a perfect winter repast. It boasts browned onions, strong beef broth, a plethora of spices (here marjoram and nutmeg, but others add cloves and bay leaves in a more medieval tradition), and a rich, dry red wine. Some even place in the bottom of an empty bowl a slice of toasted bread covered with more grated cheese and then ladle the soup over it, allowing the cheese to melt and only adding to its perfection. Sprinkled with grated cheese and chopped chives and an optional swirl of cream, this soup was far heartier than I imagined it would be and far more satisfyingly delicious than its simple list of ingredients would lead you to predict.

So, while I am not headed to Basel in the next 48 hours, I am not Swiss, I don't celebrate Fasnacht, I don't embrace Lenten atonement, or even speak German, I am so pleased I made this soup. Even if you don't make it under the wire and have this whipped up by 4 am Thursday morning (and the subsequent close of Basel's carnival), I suggest you make a batch sometime this winter as well, for it is hearty and delightful.

Finally, on a more personal note, it turns out I did break my toe. Apparently, they sent my x-rays to a radiologist, who reviewed them and determined that my toe is, indeed, fractured. Such a shame, for this is my fourth toe on my right foot, a foot that has always been a point of (oddly placed) pride. However, I am buddy-taping my toe, an activity I find oddly hilarious merely for its name. I am glad to say that the little piggy who had no roast beef is snuggled up to its new buddy, the one that had some. 


Basler Mehlsuppe (Flour soup)

4 servings

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 pound onions, halved and very thinly sliced
6 cups beef broth
3/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 tsp dried marjoram
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp pepper
3 ounces Sbrinz cheese (or other Swiss cheese, such Gruyere or Emmentaler), grated
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives

1.  Place the flour in a cast-iron skillet without any fat, turn the heat to medium-high, and cook the flour, shaking the pan or stirring almost constantly, until it is dark brown, about 9 minutes; as the flour darkens, ensure that it doesn't burn and turn black (just stir faster). Remove from the skillet and let cool. (Place it on a cool plate or the flour will continue to brown in the pan.)

2.  In a pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat, then add the onions and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 9 minutes. Stir in the flour and mix well. Add the beef broth slowly, stirring the whole time. Add the red wine, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 1 hour. Season with the marjoram, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Let cool.

3.  Transfer the soup to a blender and run until a smooth puree is formed. Return to the pot and check the seasonings. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then serve with the shredded cheese. Garnish the soup with the cream, parsley and/or chives.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Japanese Flavor-Pounded Chicken

Time for another fieldtrip.  However, this one isn't local.  Come on, let's pack our bags and head to Hearth, Marco Canora's restaurant in Manhattan's East Village. You see, I have recently acquired Canora's new cookbook, A Good Food Dayand already I am licking my chops, thinking about my next trip to New York (which let's be honest, has been almost 20 years since I drove the wrong way down a one-way bridge at 3 a.m. in Queens, terrified of the Big(gest) City, and while I am certain my confidence in navigating urban streets has increased with my subsequent living abroad and in large US cities, the siren call of New York City is one that I don't even need binding to the mast in order to resist. However, should I find myself sailing those seas headed into Gotham, you better believe, I'll book a seat at Hearth).

Sometimes, when I am walking by a restaurant, I stop to look at the menu. Imagining an unlimited budget and a bottomless belly, I fantasize what I would order from each part of the menu. Today at Heath, I am thinking that I'll start with the Braised Octopus (although the Bone Broth Tasting looks mighty good) followed by the Seared Sea Scallops or maybe the Veal and Ricotta Meatballs--just so I can have some of the Cacio e Pepe Polenta. For dessert, I'll take the Buttermilk Panna Cotta, please. No, wait, make that the Apple Cider Doughnuts. Oh no, go ahead and have the chef choose five cheeses for the cheese plate. With their daily-changing menu, I'll have to come back to fantasize about the spring or summer offerings soon.

This cookbook, however, is not a restaurant accompaniment, as so many popular (and wonderful) cookbooks are these days: I am looking at you Prune, The Slanted Door, Flour and Water, and Bar Tartine. Instead, it's Canora's awakening to satisfying, everyday cooking that won't lead to gout (which he details that he suffered as a chef who did not watch what he ate) and just might help you balance the "good for you" with "the just plain good" without sacrificing taste or health. With Tammy Walker (a health coach whose recipes you can find here), Canora whipped up a cookbook that is not gluten-free (but is gluten-aware), not low-fat (but is consistent about which fats are better for you), not exclusively whole-grain (but is a champion of farro, quinoa, barley, freekah), and not sugar-free (but is in favor of honey and naturally occurring sugars). This is no diet cookbook, but one for everyday cooking that is just right. Further, the cookbook is comprehensive, taking you from breakfast, through salads and main entrees, right into dinner.

Of course, I had to cook what was on page 215. Canora's headnote bemoans the dry, tasteless chicken breast that becomes the staple of the heathy diet; he set out to change that. By pounding the flesh thin, you increase surface area and decrease cooking time, thus increasing moisture retention. By pounding in the flavor mixture, you ensure that every bite has a little zap, pow, zing of spices or oil or herbs. (I made the Japanese variation, but he also includes versions of Tuscan (sage, rosemary, lemon, garlic), Maple Spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, maple syrup), and Indian (cumin, turmeric, onion, coriander), among a few others). Finally, he suggests serving the chicken atop a bed of greens dressed with a little vinegar and oil. The hot chicken will wilt the greens a little, producing something he deems a little "magical." I, however, served mine with a side of sauteed spinach upon which I drizzled a little of his soy-ginger vinaigrette (recipe below as well). This meal felt satisfying (all those umami flavors!) yet really healthy. And let's face it, we eat with our eyes as much as with our stomachs. That chicken breast looked huge, and about halfway through I was full.

Not to worry, I have been cooking from other parts of the book as well.  Highlights include Blueberry and Buckwheat Buttermilk Pancakes, his plethora of smoothies (to which I have been adding missing greens such as kale and spinach--let's be honest here, smoothies are a disguise for healthy salad for breakfast in my book), Cacio e Pepe Popcorn, and the Warm Lentil Salad.  All of them have so far been solid entries into my diet this week, but let's face it, the star was those pancakes.  Seriously, I made the whole batch, froze what I couldn't eat, and have been popping one into the toaster every morning this week for a quick breakfast. I was a little suspicious (buckwheat? Clearly that meant these would be heavy and hearty), but the buttermilk lightened these right up. Next stop? People, he has a recipe for Liver and Onions. You know I love liver. The Moroccan-Spiced Eggplant Soup might be a star in the summer. And I cannot wait until zucchinis and tomatoes are bursting from their vies because the Chickpea Crepe Sandwiches with Zucchini, Tomato, and Mozzarella will definitely become a summer staple.

This new cookbook seems as if it will be a consistent go-to for everyday, healthy food. And I didn't even have to go to New York.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


Japanese Flavor-Pounded Chicken

Adapted from  A Good Food Day

Serves 4

4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp dried seaweed granules (dulse, kelp, nori, any kind works)*
4 tsp soy sauce or tamari
4 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp fine sea salt
1 Tbsp canola oil
4 lemon wedges

*I didn't have granules, so I just took a sheet of nori and crumbled it up.  Worked fine.

1.  Starting at the thicker side, make a lengthwise cut into the top two-thirds of a chicken breast, stopping before cutting all the way through. Fold it open like a book (the chicken breast should still be in one piece). Put the breast between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound it out on both sides with the flat side of a meat tenderizer, working from the inside out, until it's spread to double its original size and about 1/4-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining breasts.

2.  In a bowl, combine the lemon zest, ginger, seaweed, soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt. Divide half of the mixture evenly across one side of the 4 chicken breasts and rub it in. Cover with plastic wrap again and lightly pound in the seasoning with the toothy side of the meat tenderizer. Flip the breasts, rub the remaining herb paste into the other side of the chicken breasts. Cover with plastic wrap and lightly pound in the seasoning.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp canola oil over high heat. Wait 2 minutes, or until the oil is smoking hot, add 1 chicken breast, put a weight on it (a teakettle or a heave pan) and cook for 45 seconds. Flip add the weight, and cook for another 45 seconds. Transfer to a plate, and let it rest for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat with the remaining chicken breasts. Squeeze a wedge of lemon over each flavor-pounded chicken breast just before serving. 


Soy-Ginger Vinaigrette

Makes scant 1 cup

2 Tbsp rice vinegar 
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup olive oil

1.  Add all of the ingredients to a screw-top jar. Screw the lid on tightly and shake well to combine.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Earl Grey Ice Cream

This recipe took not one but two field trips.

First stop, Highwire. Home of my favorite tea (Winter Morning--no competition), this local coffee shop opened in 2010. They are completely committed to being the local coffee shop, even as Philz is planning a move-in just down the street. On Thanksgiving, the owners hand out fresh, free coffee, and it's my go-to tea store, including my weekly Wednesday cup of Spearmint after work. There is no other place to buy my Earl Grey tea. It is that simple.

One of the classics of the tea world, Earl Grey takes its name from Earl Charles Grey, the prime minister of England from 1830 to 1834 (who had a hand in the abolition of slavery throughout the United Kingdom in 1833 but is better known for the appellation attached to his tea). It is simply black tea combined with oil from bergamot, a citrus fruit (think a cross between a sour orange and a lemon) grown, for the most part, in Italy, but also in the south of France, Turkey, Mauritius and Ivory Coast. There is no specific trademark on Earl Grey tea, so different blends can vary significantly; sometimes it's combined with blue cornflower blossoms, lavender, and even Seville oranges. Your only job is to choose the one you like the best. Tough work, but someone has to do it.

Second stop, Bi-Rite Creamery. Part of the Bi-Rite Market, that San Francisco staple which opened in 1940, the Creamery started handing out ice cream in 2006. The creamery uses Straus cream, which is quite possibly the richest, sweetest cream there is (they also use Mead and Mead's Maple Syrup in their Maple Walnut ice cream--another taste to behold), and their Salted Caramel ice cream is, well, transcendent. Their storefront on 18th street is catty-corner* to Mission Dolores and its beautiful park, which was spotted with people this weekend soaking up the 70 degree weather (I know, I know, New England, that wasn't a fair statement).

*Catty-corner is the southern equivalent of kitty-corner, for those of you who wondered what the heck I just said. Where I come from is right on that red-blue line, and no we're not talking politics but the dialect pertaining to kitty vs. catty. Also, to be clear, I just lost 15 minutes of my life to this website, which shows the results of the 2003 Harvard Dialect Survey. I am never getting that time back.

While the creamery sells its own baked goods (and even serves the Earl Grey ice cream sandwiched between two dark chocolate cookies to make it even more portable), a well-placed Girl Scout cookie stand would do right by this particular ice cream.  I am thinking Lemonades, here.

Third stop, my own kitchen (not a field trip, but home base). This recipe is pretty darned simple. The only tricky part is getting the steeping time just right. I over brewed it just a little (and made some adjustments below in the recipe). You want the tea flavor to be strong but not bitter, and the base should taste like a very satisfying cup of strong, creamy tea. However, one overly-brewed batch just means I have to make another.

Finally, as a side note that has nothing to do with Earl Grey Ice Cream but has everything to do with how my week is going, my toe is not broken. So here's the story. On Saturday, I closed my laptop, which was perched on the edge of the table. As I did, the computer flipped over and plummeted to the floor, saved from sure demise only by my toe. Set up on the couch with a bag of frozen peas and five pillows on which to prop my foot, I was not sure if my toe was broken. After a trip to Radiology on Sunday, the doctor called on Monday to say that my now purple and swollen fourth toe on my right foot was, indeed, not broken. Yay. But I am a little limited in how far I can walk, and it really is a doozy of a color.

All the more time to sit on the couch and eat ice cream, I guess.

Earl Grey Ice Cream

1 quart

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup 1% or 2% milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons loose-leaf Earl Grey tea
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large egg yolks

1.  In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, stir together the cream, milk, half of the sugar (1/4 cup), the tea, and salt.

2.  Put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture just begins to bubble around the edges, remove from the heat and cover the pan. Let steep for about 5-10 minutes, or until the cream has taken on the distinct flavor of Earl Grey tea. Stir occasionally and taste it to monitor the progress.  It should taste like strong tea, but not bitter tea. Strain the cream and return to the pot, covered.

3.  In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolk just to break them up, then whisk in the remaining half of the sugar (1/4 cup). Uncover the cream mixture and put the pan over medium heat.

4. Carefully scoop out the 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-and-cream mixture form the bowl into the pan.

5.  Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is thickened, coats the back of a spatula, and holds a clear path when you run your finger across the spatula, about 3 minutes longer.

6.  Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set the container into an ice-water bath, wash your spatula, and use it to stir the base occasionally until it is cool. Remove the container from the ice-water bath, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours or overnight.

7.  Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. While the ice cream is churning, put the container you'll use to store the ice cream into the freezer.  Serve right away or, for a firmer ice cream, transfer to the chilled container and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Catalan Turkey Meatballs

Okay, I'll go ahead and admit it here. This recipe is not from page 215; instead, it is from page 115. But I have a lot of fish I need to make this year and I just cannot face the prospect of making Rosso's page 215 contribution--Cod with Garlic Sauce--when the only way I really, really like cod is battered, deep-fried, wrapped in newspaper, drenched in vinegar, and served alongside chips. 

My rules

I can break them.  

So, let's turn to page 115.

Julee Rosso's book, Great Good Food (now well out of print), was a staple of the 90s. While many of my own cooking habits have changed since those halcyon graduate school days when I secured this cookbook, one that I share with Rosso has not: cook with local, seasonal food, which this cookbook espoused even 25 years ago. Thus, despite its age and its now somewhat dated illustrations, the cookbook still rings true to me.

In 1977, Rosso, along with Sheila Lukins, began a little food store called The Silver Palate on Manhattan's Upper West Side. From there, a whole empire was born, including multiple cookbooks and a string of food supplies, some even sold at Saks; the store itself closed in 1993, but today, you can go to the Silver Palate website to get many a speciality food product. Nowadays, Rosso runs the Wickwood Inn in Saugatuck, Michigan, right along the shores of Lake Michigan. From the website photos alone, I think that a trip up that Eastern shore of my home Great Lake just may have to be in order some visit back to the midwest. Plus, Rosso makes you breakfast. Count me in.

This recipe is Rosso's take on tapas. I have waxed on about tapas here, including an explanation of the origin of the term by Irma Rombauer (of The Joy of Cooking fame). However, any foray into tapas means an obligatory visit to Berkeley's The Spanish Table. Originating in Seattle, which as you know is one of my favorite cities, The Spanish Table grew to include a Berkeley and a Mill Valley location (they once had a Santa Fe store, but that is no more as of last month). With a 15-foot wall of wine (including rare sherries, ports, and madeiras) and another wall of pots of grilled artichokes or tins of white anchovies or bags of bomba rice, the Berkeley store boasts Iberian flare complete with paella pans, sangria pitchers, cazuelas, tagines, and assorted plates, olive vessels, and mugs. One of the hardest parts is not to drop my dinner budget on kitchen utensils, but I did snap up these lovely Tunisian plates when I was there.

The smattering of sherry in the sauce and the sprinkling of toasted almonds elevate these solid entries of the tapas world beyond your everyday fare. However, the prep time and the actual cooking couldn't be easier. We had them with a simple salad, but spread out with an array of olives, tortilla espanol, some seared chorizo, and a pitcher of sangria, these meatballs would be welcome fare at any mid-winter tapas party.

Now, I am really glad I broke the rules.

Catalan Turkey Meatballs
Adapted from  Great Good Food

Serves 8

For meatballs
1 pound freshly ground lean turkey or chicken
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, chopped fine
4 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 Tbsp skim milk
2 tsp finely minced fresh thyme 
1 tsp freshly minced fresh rosemary
salt and pepper 
1 Tbsp olive oil

For sauce
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 small onion, chopped fine
2 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped or (1/2 a 15-ounce can of such)
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup sherry
1/2 cup slivered and toasted almonds
Freshly chopped parsley

1.  In a large bowl, combine all of the meatball ingredients except the olive oil, and blend completely.  Shape into meatballs 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

2.  In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the meatballs and brown on all sides and set aside.

3.  In the oil remaining in the skillet, saute the garlic and onion until slightly soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, broth, and sherry. Bring to a boil, scraping up the bits from the bottom. Return the meatballs to the pan and cover. Simmer the meatball for 15-20 minutes. Just before serving, add the almonds and sprinkle with parsley.