Monday, April 21, 2014

Muesli


Muesli (or "let your breakfast do some of it's own work") makes a hearty first meal of the day.
It's relatively simple and practically no-cook. In fact, any of the actual cooking isn't completely necessary for success. However, the purpose of cooking in this case is strictly flavor enhancement (so, we have to admit that these extra steps are beneficial).


Like any bowl of oatmeal, you can dress it up however you like, this is just my version. The variations are practically endless.


But you'll definitely want to use old fashioned oats for their texture.
There will probably be a general lack of appeal if rolled oats are used because rolled oats = mush.


The longer the muesli sets, the more liquid is absorbed and the thicker it becomes. No worries if you don't like things too thick- you can always add milk prior to eating breakfast. There are no rules against that. Another benefit to letting muesli rest is that the flavors meld better when the time is taken. Although it's cold, the muesli ends up tasting like a muffin (though it must certainly be better for you).


Toasting the oats ahead of time gives them a nice nuttiness. If you turn your back and they toast themselves a little too dark, it may well be that all is not lost. They could, in fact, just be deeply toasted and will add some nice flavor to the mix. Of course, it all depends on your personal sensitivities. Just like in the world of toasted bread, there are some who like their toast extremely toasted, while others prefer more of a whispered suggestion of heat that in the end turns out to be... bread. Plain. Old. Bread.
Why are there people out there who eat un-toasted, not-even-the-slightest-bit-warm bread and call it toast?
(So, I love toast. The real kind of toast. Due to this fondness, I believe I could never give it up permanently. Pasta, yes, but not toast.)


As far as this recipe goes, I think pears and almonds make a nice combination. And really, as they do so often, the toasted almonds are what make it what it is. There's just something great about toasted nuts.



Pear and Toasted Almond Muesli 
serves 1

1/2 c rolled oats (GF if you like)
1/2 c (125 ml) milk
1/2 medium pear, ripe but firm, unpeeled and grated 
1 T (15 ml) maple syrup (or to taste)
scant 1/8 tsp cinnamon (or as you prefer)
small splash of vanilla extract
pinch of salt

To serve:
1 small handful almonds, toasted and chopped
Yogurt, as desired.

Toast the oats gently in a dry, heavy pan, just until they smell nutty and color slightly. 
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the toasted oats, milk, grated pear, maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Stir well and place in a covered container.  Refrigerate at least an hour and up to overnight.

When ready to serve, add the almonds and yogurt.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Strawberry-Mascarpone Tartlets


One of the best, simple and satisfying end-of-meal sweets is a bowl of fresh berries and cream.
Ripe, deeply colored berries, a sprinkle of vanilla sugar, and a dose of liquid cream over the top.


I suppose this constitutes a version of strawberries and cream (with a bit of delicate and crumbly cookie, a shortbread-like crust... which I think may now be my go-to for tartlets).


It's been a while since I posted something sweet- it's about time.

Sometimes you need something that's not chocolate, something that seems lighter... more so when the days lengthen and the weather warms.
Fruit is always a good call. Of course, it's much better when gorgeously perfect and in season.


The time's not quite right for strawberries yet, but I'm getting prepared.


Individual strawberry tartlets are an elegant type of dessert, or something to nibble in the afternoon while sipping coffee. With tiny tartlets you don't have to worry about them falling apart in the same way as if you made a large tart and then tried to cut it. The look is much cleaner.
AND it covers up any questionable tart-division skills.
Just something to think about...



Maybe a drizzle of chocolate, chocolate on the plate, chocolate shavings on top, or some cocoa powder in the pastry crust (in that case maybe remove a tablespoon of the sorghum flour and a tablespoon of the tapioca flour and add two tablespoons of cocoa powder, but don't quote me on it- I haven't tried it yet myself).
Perhaps a little cardamom, lime or lemon zest with the strawberries (or, of course, in the crust).
A little sprig of mint or chiffonade of basil leaves sprinkled on top for color and flavor pizzazz?


However, all by it's lonesome it's pretty great.


Strawberry-Mascarpone Tartlets
Makes 8, 4 inch tarts

1 1/3 c (150 g) sorghum flour
3/4 c (60 g) almond flour
1/3 c (33 g) tapioca flour
large pinch salt
3 T (50 g) sugar
8 T (114 g) butter
1 large egg
3 T (45 ml) water

8 oz (225 g) mascarpone cheese
3/4 c (180 ml) heavy (whipping) cream, divided
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
3 T (51 g) sugar (vanilla, if you've got a jar of vanilla sugar going using the scraped pods)

1 lb. (about 450 g) strawberries
2 T (34 g) sugar
1 T (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
(If you like more of a mountain of strawberries and/or don't mind leftovers, just add half of everything, or even double it. Of course, if the strawberries aren't very ripe they may benefit from extra sugar to taste.)


In the bowl of a food processor, combine the sorghum, almond, and tapioca flours along with the salt and sugar. Pulse several times until well blended. Add the butter, cut into 6-8 pieces and pulse again several times until it resembles damp, crumbly sand. Crack the egg into a small bowl and pour it into the food processor, and pulse several times again until combined. Drizzle the water over the dough and process until it comes together into a ball. 

Remove the dough to waxed paper or plastic wrap, wrap well, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. 

Divide the dough among 8, 4-inch tart tins. The easiest way to  fill the tins is to use fingers or a small offset spatula to smooth the pastry evenly across the bottom and up the insides of the tins.

Freeze the tart tins at least 10 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350/180.

Dock the bottoms of the tart shells with a fork and bake the prepared tart tins on a sheet pan about 20-25 minutes, until set and slightly golden (you may need to gently dock the tarts again to deflate if they have puffed a bit too much). 
Let cool a few minutes on a rack, then carefully invert the tins (if not the removable-bottom type), to remove the baked shells. Let cool completely.
(At this point I like to place the finished tart shells back into the tins to protect them- just in case).

Clean and slice the strawberries.  About 30 minutes prior to serving, add the sugar and lemon juice. Toss the berries with the sugar and lemon juice and set aside, gently tossing a few times  so they sweeten and macerate evenly.

Place the mascarpone cheese into a medium-sized bowl and soften a bit with a spatula. Add 2 T (30 ml) cream and fold/stir a bit until the consistency of the mascarpone is a little looser.
In another bowl whip the remaining cream along with seeds from the vanilla bean and the sugar until it reaches the very soft peak stage.   
Carefully fold into mascarpone, first about one third of the cream, and then the remaining cream, taking care not to whip things up too much as everything will stiffen further. 

Just prior to serving, spread the mascarpone cream mixture into each tart shell. Top with berries (and chocolate shavings,  or lemon zest, etc. if desired), and serve. 


Monday, April 7, 2014

Sweet Pea and Pesto Soup


I recently had a potluck brunch at home. The offerings were varied, and because of that, wonderful.
Almond cookies, soft boiled eggs, a little champagne, some salmon, cream puffs, berries and cream... and of course hot tea and freshly brewed French press coffee (with crushed cardamom).

One of the other items was pea soup.
Pea soup for brunch may sound a little odd, but this was a FRESH and springy pea soup.


Well, since I enjoyed it, and happen to love soup in general, I thought I'd try to make a version.
The only type I'd ever made was split pea. Not exactly the same thing.
What can I say? I was inspired- and frankly decided I needed a spring pea soup in the repertoire.

Other than the really fresh taste, the color turned out fantastic- perfect for spring.


Soups don't need to be difficult. They could be involved, but it's not required, and the possibilities are practically endless.
Of course, starting with the basics is a good idea with most any soup: onion, carrot, celery, and a little garlic. They give a nice foundation.
In fact, they give a nice foundation to practically every savory thing you could cook.


Then, of course, broth and the main flavors of peas and pesto (basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, and garlic).
Plus there's a little cream added in the end for richness.
Voila!

I think it's best served cool or cold-  all the flavors seem much more present and deeper this way.
Something to keep in mind is that when a soup is cold you'll likely need a bit more seasoning.
A tip: you can finalize seasonings when cold, but make sure the salt you use is more finely ground as it will dissolve more easily.


I think it'll be a course for Easter...

Sweet Pea and Pesto Soup
serves 6-8

3 T (45 ml) olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 c (about 1 L) chicken or vegetable broth
good pinch of cayenne pepper
1 lb (about 450 g) fresh or frozen peas
3 T (30 g) toasted pine nuts
1 1/2 oz (42 g) fresh basil (stems removed and leaves reserved)
3/4 c (31 g) Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1/2 c (120 ml) half and half (light cream)
1/2 c (120 ml) heavy cream
salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large pot over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onion, carrot, and celery. Saute 5-10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened a bit and the onions are translucent.
Add the minced garlic, saute about 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
Pour in the broth and sprinkle in the cayenne pepper, bring the mixture to a simmer, reduce the heat slightly simmer about 15 minutes so the vegetables soften fully.

Add the peas to the hot broth and let cook through (about 10 minutes if frozen, but more like 5 if fresh).
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the toasted pine nuts. 

Puree the soup in a blender in batches until smooth, adding a small handful of basil to puree with each batch. Pour the puree into another pot or container as you go. 

After all the soup has been pureed, whisk the Parmesan through warm soup to fully incorporate
Whisk the heavy and light cream into the mixture and add salt, black pepper, and extra cayenne pepper to taste. Thin with extra cream, warm broth, or milk if desired. 

Chill several hours. Serve cool.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Scallop Bowl for One


I recently read a nice little article from Kinfolk about eating alone.
It's a philosophy I totally agree with.
Why just resign yourself to sit down to a can of soup or a bowl of cereal?
(Unless, of course, that's what you really want- and at times it's completely understandable, though it's not really resignation in that case).

And not to say that eating alone is a sad thing either.


Think about it more like this:
Extraordinary foods can be much more expensive and/or often pickier to deal with time and technique-wise than those we think of as everyday foods.
In cooking a special meal for a group, you may have created quite the chore for yourself.
Add the expense and time-guaging headache to perhaps a lack of cooking surface area (if there are too many people) and your pan won't fit all the individual portions of meat at once.
...well, you may run into having everyone's meals finished at different times.
How do you plan to sear filet mignon for 20?
Not to mention that it all must be done last minute for perfection in serving temperature and level of doneness.


Then again, what if all the guests have different ideas of perfection in meat?

Maybe that's a little over the top, but it's an idea... operating with the very firm idea that most persons do not have a restaurant kitchen in their home.
But all this and you're supposed to play host or hostess, too?
In that case, I wouldn't recommend dinner parties for 20.


Well, if you're alone you only have to worry about getting it right for you, and if not quite right you're probably a little more forgiving than you would be if you didn't get it right for someone else.
But, however much you imagine someone else's disappointment, it's more than likely not really there because people really appreciate and invitation and someone taking the time to cook for them.

Back to dining with yourself:
How often do you happen to have toast, crème fraîche and caviar days? Not too often, I suspect.
But think: it's much more economical with just your little lonesome. And that, of course, makes it a bit more tempting...


Might as well get out a nice dish (or several), to use. A delicate cup or glass, perhaps a sweet little handmade bowl. Make things look nice.

And really, let's face it: doing dishes for one isn't so bad.


Scallop Bowl for One
(Eat with a small bowl of nice hot basmati or sticky rice if you like.)

1/3 c (80 ml) chicken or veg broth
l clove garlic, minced
a tiny pinch of ground cumin
a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper
3 packed c (3 large handfuls or 116 g) mixed greens or spinach
6 spears asparagus (10 if pencil-thin), cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
4 oz/12 bay scallops
1/4 red bell pepper, sliced
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon 

Pour the broth into a medium pot and add the minced garlic. Warm the pot over medium low heat for a couple minutes, so t the garlic and spices begin to infuse into the broth. Add the greens, cover the pot, and let the greens steam 3 minutes.
When the time is up, uncover the pot and stir the greens until completely wilted.  Add the chopped asparagus and the scallops along with a nice pinch of salt, and again cover the pot and let the ingredients steam/poach another 3 minutes.
Uncover the pot, give a stir, and add the red pepper. Cover one last time and let steam 2 minutes.
Ladle the contents of the pot into a bowl, add a few good grinds of fresh black pepper, and serve with a wedge of lemon on the side. 


Monday, March 24, 2014

Fig and Chevre Salad with Caramelized Shallots

 

After a long winter, it's nice to have something fresh and new. Granted, there's not a whole lot of "spring" out there right now. Technically, this one could go year- round, but for some reason it seems great for right now. Maybe it's the light, creamy chevre and fresh burst of lemon zest.


Relatively simple to put together, it's just color, texture, and flavor- a fabulous starter.


No need to mix up a dressing, but the shallots will take a bit of attention as you need to cook them for some time until they're nice and caramelized. But it's worth it (and they can be finished ahead of time and left at room temperature to cool... all you have to do is a bit of last-minute assemblage).


The extremely simple dressing is made up of oil and vinegar. That's it. A drizzle of one and a splash of the other right on top of each individual salad.  Because of this, you want to have a GOOD olive oil, and a GOOD, real, aged, syrupy balsamic vinegar. Nothing black and watery, ok?


Of course, it's a good rule of thumb when you're going with fresh and simple anyway- do with the best you're able. 



Fig and Chevre Salad with Caramelized Shallots
serves 4
Based on Suzanne Goin's cheese course Young Goat Cheese with Dried Figs and Saba
From The AOC Cookbook

1 T (15ml) olive oil
2 T (30 g) butter
4 medium-large shallots (a bit bigger than a golf ball)

Mixed spring greens
Small handful fresh parsley, stems removed and leaves reserved
8-12 dried mission figs (2-3 per person), each stemmed and cut into quarters
4 oz (113g) log of chevre
Good olive oil (maybe about 1T/15 ml per person)
Good balsamic vinegar (maybe about 1t/5 ml per person)
Fresh black pepper
Salt
Lemon (for zesting)

Peel the shallots, halve them pole-to-pole, and cut each half into thirds the same way.
Place the olive oil and butter in a skillet and set over medium-low heat. When the butter has completely melted, add the cut shallots, and stir until all are coated. Season with a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of fresh black pepper. Flip all the sliced shallots cut side down and let cook about 5 minutes, without stirring. Continue cooking another 5 minutes, gently stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and cook 15 minutes longer, stirring more frequently and shaking the pan a bit so the shallots caramelize evenly.
Remove the pan from the heat and let the shallots cool to room temperature.

Place a nice handful of spring greens in the center of each of four salad plates and sprinkle with parsley leaves.
Add 6 pieces of caramelized shallot to the greens, and scatter eight to twelve quarters of the cut dried figs over the salad.
Top each with a slice of chevre, about 1 oz (28g).
Drizzle salads with olive oil, followed by balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt (such as fleur de sel), and a good grind of fresh black pepper. 
Top it all off with a little shower of fresh lemon zest. 
Serve immediately.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Simple Breakfast


I have to say, a soft boiled egg is a simple pleasure.
Even so, I don't think enough people eat them. Maybe they're forgotten, maybe they're too elementary.
But perhaps it's because they don't know what they're missing out on. On the other hand, not everyone prefers egg yolks very soft...


With fresh asparagus, only just cooked, it's even more pleasant and a perfect addition to brunch.


If for few enough people, both the asparagus and eggs can be made in a single pot.
I'm aware that people don't normally add salt to their water to boil eggs in the shell, however, remember that the water is also meant to cook asparagus (which certainly needs a bit of seasoning). Then again, eggshells are porous, maybe you can get some of that seasoning into the egg, too. I'd like to think so.


For one or six, it's a recipe easily multiplied for however many people you need to feed.
If you need, of course you're more than welcome to use two pans: one for eggs and another for asparagus.


You can pierce either end of the egg to take off a bit of pressure to help keep the shell from cracking, but you'll more than likely have a bit of the egg white cooking on the outside of the egg.
Either way, you choose.


With coffee or tea, toast and jam, and maybe small dish of yogurt, a soft boiled egg breakfast is made complete.




Soft Boiled Egg with Asparagus Spears
serves 1

1 egg
3 asparagus spears
Salt to season the water (such as kosher or grey)

Optional:
Salt to season (something more delicate and flaky would be preferable)
Freshly ground black pepper

Using a pin, poke a hole into both the small and large end of an egg (optional).
Bring a few inches of water in a saucepan to a rolling boil. Add a nice amount of salt to season the water.
When the water comes back to the boil,  carefully place the egg in the pan and cook 5 minutes for a soft-boiled, somewhat runny-yolked egg. 
Two minutes before the egg is finished, add the trimmed asparagus spears to the boiling water. When time is up, remove both the egg and asparagus, and rinse the asparagus in very cold water to shock it, keep it's bright color, and stop the cooking process. 
Season and serve as desired. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dirty Chai


A dirty chai is deeper than a regular chai latte due the the addition of espresso... yes, the espresso gives it something more than just depth.
I know it has at least one other name, though I can't recall right now.
Besides, dirty chai is what I call it, and it seems to work most of the time.
(And if that doesn't work, I'll order a chai latte with a couple shots of espresso.)


I think of it as a treat- great with a book on a cold day.
It's one of the things I tend to sample around town, and I certainly prefer some to others.


This dirty chai is similar to the masala chai recipe I have somewhere here, but I wanted to add a little more kick with a few of the spices since the espresso adds it's own type of strength to the drink. I wanted to make sure the spices were strong enough to stand up to it.


Those more robust spices include black pepper, clove, a bit more cardamom from the pods, and some nice fresh ginger.
Fresh ginger is wonderful, and much more intense than the powdered version, but it became apparent that milk and cream curdle in a very bad way if brought to a boil with fresh ginger.


It's an enzymatic reaction, and that enzyme in ginger needs to be killed if you prefer your beverages to be liquid.


There's less likely to be curdling if the ginger is brought to a high heat prior to adding it to milk.


So, because I (unfortunately) found I'm not a fan of cheese/spice/tea/coffee texture (more so if the spices cannot be easily removed), the ginger will not be added as the other spices are in this particular recipe.

It's written for part half and half (light cream) and part whole milk. If you'd like it a little less rich, skip the half and half and use all milk.


You may ask whether there is an easier way to do this- there are three things on the stove to create one drink! Well, I'm awful at doing things the easy way, so, no.
(Saying that reminds me of Tina Turner, "We never, ever do nothin' nice, an' easy."
Not that I'm exactly Tina Turner...)


Dirty Chai
serves 4-6

8 green cardamom pods- cracked, seeds removed and pods reserved
1, 1 1/2 inch long cinnamon stick (about 1/2 a regular-sized, bottled stick)
5 black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1/4 t (1 g) fennel seeds
1 c (250 ml) half and half (light cream)
1 c (250 ml) whole milk
1/8 t (generous pinch or two) freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 t (generous pinch) kosher or sea salt (anything but iodized)
fresh ginger, a generous nutmeg-sized knob, thinly sliced
1 1/4 c (310 ml) water
5 t (enough for 5 cups) loose black tea
3 T (45 g) raw sugar
8 shots fresh, hot espresso

Grind together cardamom, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, clove and fennel in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Bring the half and half and milk to a simmer over medium heat in a heavy saucepan along with the ground spices, nutmeg, cardamom pods, and salt. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently about 3 minutes to infuse the spices into the milk, stirring occasionally.

While milk infuses, bring the water to a full rolling boil in a small saucepan along with the ginger. Boil about 3 minutes,  remove the pan from the heat, add the tea, and let steep for 5 minutes.

Pour the tea through a fine-mesh strainer into the milk and spice mixture, discarding the tea leaves.  Pour the milk and tea mixture back through a fine mesh strainer into the small saucepan that previously held the tea (rinsed, of course, if any tea leaves remain). 
Add the sugar and warm the tea and milk over low heat 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the sugar and incorporate everything together. Add the espresso, stir, and serve.