Saturday, August 15, 2015

Tomato Salad with Crisped Farro, Purslane, Arugula, and Roasted Tomato-Miso Vinaigrette

I have been eyeballing the new cookbook, The Broad Fork, from chef (and Top Chef judge) Hugh Acheson for some time.

Southern cooking is booming these days, and Acheson certainly is the expert in presenting it with all the flourishes of his French training tempered by the comforts of okra, gumbo, black-eyed peas, and grits. However, don't expect to see tired (although tried and true) recipes. No, no. Acheson punches up his grits to become "Crisped Pork Belly with Kimchi Rice Grits and Radishes" and his black-eyed peas transform into "Crisp Flounder with Field Pea Ragout and Herb Salad."

This is a foodie's cookbook with a lot of Southern zing.

Acheson asserts that he wanted to write this cookbook because he is a strong proponent of CSA subscription and farmers' market attendance. However, often people don't know what to do with the inevitable mounds of  sunchokes or kohlrabi or salsify that show up in the CSA box. (In fact, he opens the book with his neighbor who asked, "What the hell do I do with kohlrabi?") For a year, Acheson took the ingredients from his CSA box, developed four recipes for each star veggie or fruit, and we're all the richer because of his efforts.

Now there are no more excuses when the unfamiliar veggie shows up in the farmers' market stalls, and Acheson also promises that you can do fancy things with your carrots, cauliflower, onions, and radishes.

Roasting the tomatoes for the dressing.

With hardly a dessert in sight (in fact, the book boasts only three, one of which is "Persimmon 'Pop Tarts'" and thus seems less like a dessert and more a healthier alternative to industrialized breakfast fare), this book focuses on savory, refined dishes often with some pricey ingredients (veal cheeks, crab, and lobster come to mind). However, Acheson provides recipes for larder items (such as "Fig Vinegar" and "Vidalia Onion Marmalade") and some more basic and budget friendly weeknight fare ("Radish and Cucumber Sandwiches" and "Fried Brussels Sprouts with Lime Vinaigrette").

I thought I was choosing a more weeknight dish with this recipe "Tomato Salad with Crisped Farro, Purslane, Arugula, and Roasted Tomato-Miso Vinaigrette." And indeed, besides the crisped farro, everything about this recipe is geared toward a quick summertime supper or side. Certainly, one must roast the tomatoes for the dressing, but everything whipped up in a snap.

That is, except the farro.

And even the farro is relatively simple--it just takes a tad bit of patience. The cooked farro is easy enough to do the night before as a sidedish to, say, a pork dish (and then save the leftovers) or to do while the tomato is roasting for the dressing. It's the crisping of the farro that leaves me entirely out of the loop because it requires attention to detail while you ensure that neither the oil nor the farro itself is burning and a willingness to patiently wait so that the farro gets crisp (okay, only about a minute).

I'll admit: the husband crisped the farro for me. I know my limits.

The farro brings a nutty crunchiness that is a pleasant contrast to the juicy, bright tomatoes and the bitter arugula. And if you really, really didn't want to crisp the farro you could throw a handful of sunflower seeds or toasted pinenuts on top, but I promise you that you will be missing out.

And the purslane. Oh my. I, like most North Americans, don't generally use purslane in my cooking; however, the Europeans, North Africans, and Middle Easterners are onto something here. While North Americans often banish purslane (or little hogweed) to the weeds category, perhaps we should reconsider. Its salty sourness is similar to that of watercress but without the bite. It added complexity and depth to an already interesting salad.

Indeed, Acheson delivers on his Southern fare (even if this particular salad doesn't seem decidedly so), and I cannot wait to get my hands on some of the other recipes in this foodie-friendly book.

I think, though, I am going to wait until it's time for more fancy dining.


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

Tomato Salad with Crisped Farro, Purslane, Arugula, and Roasted Tomato-Miso Vinaigrette

Serves 4

For the Vinaigrette
1 large heirloom tomato
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp white miso
1 tsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil

For the Salad
1/2 cup farro
2 cups peanut or canola oil
fresh black pepper
2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, cored, halved, and sliced into 1/2 moons
2 cups fresh purslane
2 cups arugula leaves

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

2.  To make the dressing: Core the 1 large heirloom tomato and cut into thick rounds. Season the rounds with salt and pepper, and arrange them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the tomato slices are very soft. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and let them cool to room temperature.

3.  When the tomatoes have cooled, place them in a blender and add thyme, miso, soy sauce, and vinegar. Puree until smooth. Then with the motor running, slowly add the olive oil.  The recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups (and you need only 1/2 cup for the salad). The other cup will keep for a week in a jar in the refrigerator.

4.  To make the salad: Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a saucepan and add 1/2 tsp of kosher salt and the farro. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook the farro until tender, about 25-30 minutes. Strain the farro of any excess water and then spread it out on a large platter or baking sheet lined with paper towels to get the farro as dry as possible.

5.  In a large saucepan, heat the peanut oil to 350 degrees. Add the farro in batches and fry until crisp (about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes). While you want the farro to be crisp, you don't want it to be hardened. Remove from the oil and drain on the platter, lined with fresh paper towels. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6.  Arrange the sliced tomatoes on a large platter and season them with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette over the tomatoes. In a large bowl, combine the purslane and the arugula and dress them with another 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette. Place the dressed greens in the center of the platter atop the dressed tomatoes. Garnish with the crisped farro and season with fresh black pepper.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Chiles Stuffed with Zucchini (Chiles Rellenos Con Calabacitas)

So I have to make this post somewhat quick, as I am about to run 6.6 miles this morning. You see, I am ridiculously running a 10k in three weeks as part of the Big River Run in Mendocino, and, well, I am absolutely unprepared and so thusly terrified. I think that the last time I ran 6.6 miles was two years ago. So this morning, I am giving it my best shot as a woman newly entered into her forties.

But before I do, let me tell you about last night's dinner.

Up here in Fort Bragg, I stopped by an absolutely delightful store, Astoria Home Store, that has been open only a month. I am in love with the owner's collection of Depression-era glass plates and her pretty combinations and platters. So, I swooped in and snapped up the lovely plates in the photos here. Aren't they gorgeous?

And what plates they were for this delightful, exceptionally simple, and remarkably tasty chile dish.

The recipe is renowned cookbook author and Mexican cooking expert Diana Kennedy's adaptation of a 1911 recipe from a book, Recitas de Cocina, that she happened upon in Mexico City. The original recipe was vague, saying to stuff the chiles with "zucchinis, onions, etc." Kennedy took the etc. to mean lime juice and oregano, and her more precise measurements have produced a tasty dish. The fruitiness of the olive oil next to the zing of the lime juice offset with the dusty green of the oregano is just perfect.

And if you weren't in the mood to stuff chiles and fry them, you could easily dice up a poblano, throw it in with the zucchini during the sauteeing process, and then serve the stuffing as a simple and summery side dish.

Kennedy does suggest serving the poblanos with romaine lettuce and radish flowers. I served it with a side salad of red leaf lettuce, radishes, and tomatoes with a sprinkling of queso fresco. All in all, it turned out as a beautiful late summer dish that is light, filling, and perfectly vegetarian. It was a perfect way to eat as I watched the sun go down last night. Not bad at all.

However, I have almost 7 miles to go log this morning. Enough talk. Time to get running.


Chiles Stuffed with Zucchini (Chiles Rellenos Con Calabacitas)

6 chiles (with a salad, it makes a light dinner for 4-6)

6 medium poblano chiles
2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2/3 cup finely chopped white onion
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 5 1/4 cups)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
2 tbsp wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp olive oil
6 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (about 1 cup)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
lettuce (optional)
radishes (optional)

1.  To prepare the chiles:  To roast the poblanos in order peel them, you can do this on a grill (charcoal or gas) or directly over a gas stove flame.  Set the peppers on the grill over the flame, turning them frequently, until the skins become wrinkled and loose.  Tongs are the best tool to use for turning.  You can also roast them in a 400 degree oven or under the broiler--just put them on a baking pan and roast until the skin blisters.  For all of these methods, roast until the skins are charred and the peppers have collapsed.  Be careful not to tear the chiles as they collapse.  After you have roasted the chiles, put them in a bowl, set a plate over the top and let them stand for at least 10 minutes, if not longer (the heat and steam loosens the skin).  Once the peppers have steamed, carefully peel or wipe away the skins. Make a slit in the side of each chile and carefully remove the seeds and veins.  Be careful to leave the top of the chile, the part around the base of the stem, intact.  This step can be completed a day in advance.

(I'll admit I did not roast the chiles ahead of time. I wanted some crunch with the chile. You might not. However, cutting out step number one, barring the cleaning of the seeds and veins inside the chile, also cut a good deal of time.)

2. To prepare the filling: Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a skillet. Add 2 tablespoons of the onion and half the garlic and fry gently without browning for 2 minutes. Add the zucchini and salt and pepper, and cook until the zucchini is just done--about 8 minutes. (Squash vary in moisture content.  In this recipe, they should steam in their own juices, but if they seem too dry, add a little water; if too juicy, remove the lid and reduce the liquid.)

3.  While the mixture is still warm, add the remaining chopped onion, the remaining garlic, and the oregano, vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, and cheese. Adjust the seasoning.

4.  Stuff the chiles until they are full but will still meet at the opening. There should be about 1/3 cup of the stuffing left over, depending on the size of the chiles. Fasten each opening with toothpicks.

5. Melt the butter and remaining 1 tablespoon oil together in a skillet. Add the stuffed chiles and fry them over medium heat, turning them over gently so the stuffing does not fall out, until lightly browned.

6.  Arrange the chiles on a serving dish and sprinkle with the remaining stuffing. They can be served either hot or cold as a first course.  Serve with lettuce and radishes.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Strawberry-Kiwi Candy Smoothie

I hate to alarm anyone, but it's August already. How did this happen?

August isn't much for holidays. There is no Labor Day, no Independence Day, no Thanksgiving. But it does mean the anniversary of the signing of the 19th Ammendment (Aug. 26),  National Rice Pudding Day (Aug. 9), Bad Poetry Day (Aug. 18), and (as hard as it is for me to type here) Back to School specials (date varies).

And back to school means back to smoothies for me. For, you see, I am not a morning person. I have to leave my keys in the same place every evening, or I won't be able to locate them the next morning without a husband-led search party of himself and the cats. In fact, I usually shower, choose my clothes, and pack up my work bag the night before. I am lucky to make it out the door with deodorant on, with smoothie in hand, and with caffeine in my cup.

I have a smoothie for breakfast every weekday morning during the school year. I blend these puppies up the night before, put them in a jar, pop 'em in the refrigerator, and grab them (along with my sunglasses, work bag, easily-located keys, workout clothes, and purse) as I go. Perfection.

However, there's one small problem: all of my smoothies look and taste exactly the same because my modus operandi is to throw in all the veggies and fruits I can find in the fridge. You can imagine that they are often brown, indistinct, and a little unappetizing.

And now, lucky for me, I have a new cookbook by Tess Masters (also known as The Blender Girl).

Now, I know you could just use The Blender Girl's App or go to her website, and I can't say that I blame you. But I like a cookbook. (In fact, I am one of those Luddites who likes a book in general.) And this cookbook certainly delivers. With 100 (!) recipes for a huge variety of smoothies, the book boasts stunning photographs (by Erin Kunkel) and an exhaustive list (and benefits) of items that a well-stocked smoothie pantry should have.

You know what you're getting with these smoothies. Before each recipe, Masters labels it with the following: detox, energizing, inflammation, weight loss, protein rich, contains nuts, immunity, alkaline, and unsweetened. She then follows her simple and easy to follow ingredients list with three optional boosters that will kick up one of those labels.

Further, Masters details the six steps needed to make your own spectacular smoothies:

1.) Start with a liquid (nut milk, water, juice, coconut water)
2.) Choose a base (fruits and vegetables, could be a single flavor like watermelon or a combination of flavors like watermelon and strawberries)
3.) Include a textural component (bananas, avocado, coconut, yogurt, oats or other grains, tofu)
4.) Add some greens (spinach, chard, kale, arugula)
5.) Boost with nutrition (chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp oil, probiotic powder, maca powder)
6.) Add magic (spices, herbs, citrus zest, chocolate, vanilla extract, salt).  

Maybe with this list, when I decide to wing it rather than follow a recipe, my smoothies will stop being so brown.

My inaugural smoothie from this book was the Strawberry-Kiwi Candy Smoothie, which tastes just like candy, people. She calls this recipe an immunity blend because of the abundance of vitamin C in the oranges, strawberries, and kiwi and the probiotics in the yogurt. Add one or all three of the boosters (basil, 1 teaspoon flaxseed oil, 1 teaspoon camu powder) and you'll up-the immunity supporting properties, what with all of their omega 3s, fiber, vitamin C, antioxidants, and vitamin K.  

I did make some changes to the original recipe (which you can find here). While Masters suggests that juices "are generally integral to the characters of blends, so changing them may lead to innovations or to flops," I usually avoid using juices as my base in a smoothie, for they lack the fiber that blended fruit gives. Her original recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups fresh orange juice. I peeled 2 medium-sized oranges and threw them in the blender with 1 1/2 cups of water (I like a thinner smoothie, but you could go with as low as a 1/2 a cup of water if you like your smoothies thicker). I also switched out the flaxseed oil for flaxseed meal, (to learn the differences, see here).

Finally, while I made one version without greens (for most of these bright pink photographs), I did make another with a giant handful of spinach--smoothies are the perfect vehicle for those healthy greens that I just don't eat enough of because you don't really taste them--and I wanted to ensure that this recipe is school-ready for the fall.

Turns out it is: you'll note that it's, thankfully, more green than brown.


Strawberry-Kiwi Candy Smoothie

I made some alterations (see above for rationale). If you are interested in the exact recipe from Tess Masters, see here.

Serves 2

2 medium oranges, peeled and quartered
1 to 1 1/2 cups water (depending on how thick you like your smoothie)
3 medium kiwis, peeled and quartered
3/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
2 cups frozen strawberries
2 Tbsp chopped basil  (optional)
1 Tbsp flaxseed meal (optional)
1 large handful greens (spinach, chard, kale) (optional)

1.  Put all of the ingredients in the blender and blend on high for 30-60 seconds, until smooth and creamy.

Goat Cheese Panna Cotta With Roasted Figs

Last night, the husband, his mom, one of his dads, and I sat in the backyard talking of television shows and books and cell phone plans (hey, not all of it was inspiring), sipping a rosé, and munching on an over-abundant crudité platter. (I have issues--most of which involve my great fear that there will not be enough food for our guests. Not once have we ever run out of food, so I know that this is an unfounded fear.) This morning, the husband shuttled his mother to the airport so she could fly back to New York, pack her belongings, and move next week to Florida. 

However, last night was about settling in and diving deeper into our conversations (and beyond the benefits of Sprint vs. AT&T vs. T-Mobile). As darkness fell and it got much cooler outside, we moved indoors to the couch and the floor, where I listened as the husband and his family reminisced over the batty woman who owned the food co-op distribution space, a cross-state move with a truck that could go only 15 miles an hour, and various injuries sustained from too-hot air ducts, sharp branches, big wheel wrecks, and spectacular second-base catches. It was a sweet and fine way to end her visit as the evening crept well into the night.

At the close of a spectacular meal (the husband can grill!) of tri-tip and smoked salmon and grilled corn on the cob, I served up this panna cotta, which I affectionately dubbed milk jell-o. The recipe comes from the inimitable Sprouted Kitchen, and it is one to save for the ending of a lovely meal among good people. 

It is a taste explosion: the tanginess of the goat cheese next to the creaminess of the yogurt. And oh, the sweetness of the honey next to the mildness of the fig. And let's not forget the sweet, warm, floral notes of vanilla. The dessert is, indeed, one to savor; however, we did not, as we found we had all gobbled up this Italian cooked cream in no time flat and were left to stare at our little plates and surreptitiously slake a finger across their surfaces in hopes of finding remnants to lick from our fingertips. 

Okay, maybe that was only me.

A few notes if you choose to make this wonderful dish: I did have to make this twice. In my first attempt, I began to warm the milk on the stove. When I added the raw honey, the milk immediately curdled. 

The next morning, the husband went out to buy another pot of honey (this time pasteurized). We're not sure if it was the raw honey or something else that caused the curdling (we can find no internet evidence of others suffering the curdling conundrum), but I went with the honey as the culprit, and my second attempt turned out just fine. (Let me know if you run into any similar curdling issues and your hypotheses as to why!)

Further, I made some modifications to the recipe. In an attempt the soften the milk fat blow, I used 2% Greek yogurt instead of whole as Sara Forte suggests, and the end result was still quite creamy and satisfying. (I did keep the whole milk, however.) I substituted a whole vanilla bean for the 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract; thus, my panna cotta was considerably more vanilla-infused. For the final product (but not the photographs), I added some grilled peaches, as the mother-in-law requested them and, oooh boy, the peaches are divine this year. 

As I write this, the mother-in-law's plane should be landing soon. She faces oodles of boxes to pack as she awaits my other mother-in-law's return from a workshop on tiny house building so that they can pack the moving truck and head off to Florida. However, I hope that our dinner and dessert last night were a sweet way to bolster her as she takes off on her next adventure. 

I know that it was a sweet way for the husband and I to end our visit with her, indeed.


Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Roasted Figs

Adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods

Serves 6

2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
3 tablespoons tepid water
Neutral oil (such as grapeseed, canola, or coconut)
1 cup whole milk
4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups Greek yogurt (2% or whole)
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped from the pod
6-9 fresh figs
1 tablespoon turbino sugar
1/2 cup toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped

1.  In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it sit. Coat six 6-8-ounce ramekins with a neutral oil.

2.  In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the milk and honey until bubbles start to form and the honey has dissolved. Turn off the heat. Stir in the goat cheese and the dissolved gelatin until smooth. Add the yogurt and vanilla. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl.

3.  Divide the mixture among the ramekins. Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 3 hours and up to overnight.

3.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with a neutral-flavored oil.  Halve the figs lengthwise and arrange on the prepared baking sheet, cut side up. Sprinkle them with the sugar, and roast until they soften, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

4.  To serve, run a butter knife along the interior edge of the ramekin, and then invert the panna cotta onto a plate. (You could also serve the panna cottas in the ramekins.) Top each serving with the figs and pistachios.