Sunday, December 30, 2012


Kedgeree is an Anglo-Indian dish, traditionally served for breakfast, but it could easily be eaten at any time of day.

It's light, filling, has a beautiful combination of flavors, and quite frankly has great color for a breakfast dish that doesn't happen to be children's cereal.
You may say, "Fish and curry for breakfast?!"

The flavors aren't so overwhelmingly intense as to be inappropriate breakfast fare in my opinion.
There's a balance.

Besides, the garam masala used here isn't a hot type of curry powder. While not strictly defined as there are many variations, garam masala has a mixture of spices like ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and cardamom in addition to more commonly savory spices like black pepper, chili, coriander, nigella, and cumin.
If you want more heat, you're welcome to add something like chili paste or a sprinkle of chili powder to individual portions.

Make sure to find smoked fish, not silky cured gravlax or lox, but the more dry smoked fish.

serves 6-8 or more

1 1/3 c (300 g) basmati rice
1 bay leaf
1 lb. (453 g) smoked salmon (or other smoked fish)
3 T (42 g) butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated (maybe about 2 T fresh grated ginger)
2 t (5 g) garam masala (or another curry powder if desired)
1/2 t (1 g) turmeric
1 lemon
1 bunch green onions, finely sliced
1 large handful cilantro leaves, roughly chopped (or parsley or maybe a nice portion of baby spinach if you don't like cilantro), plus more for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
3-4 large eggs, hard boiled (instructions follow)

Optional accompaniments: plain yogurt, extra cilantro, fresh sliced chili or chili paste, lemon wedges

Rinse the rice in a strainer under cool running water until the water runs clear. Combine the rice, 2 2/3 c (600 ml) water, bay leaf, and a large pinch of salt in saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stir, reduce heat to lowest heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let steam 10 minutes before removing the lid to cool.

While the rice cooks, remove bones and skin from the fish if there are any, flake the fish, and set aside.

To hard boil the eggs, place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cool water. Bring to a full boil, turn off the heat, and let the eggs sit in the hot water about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool several minutes before peeling. 

To make the kedgeree, melt the butter in a large pan or dutch oven over medium heat until melted. Add the onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and ginger as well as the garam masala and turmeric and continue to saute about 1 minute longer. Stir the zest and juice of one lemon into the onion mixture, then add the rice and flaked salmon to the pot. Fold everything together carefully and cook until warmed through. Fold the cilantro and green onion into the rice,  and season to taste with salt and pepper. Quarter the eggs, add them to the kedgeree, and serve. 

Other options:
If you can't find or don't like smoked fish, cooking and flaking fresh fish is also an option. 
Instead of hard boiled eggs, a poached egg on top would also be nice. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Brown Butter Almond Cookies

I read a little story in a magazine many years ago about a woman who made a special brown butter cookie every year for Christmas. It was a painstaking project that took her a very long time, and it always occurred from start to finish after work late into one single evening. She was up all night getting everything exactly right - browning the butter to perfection, preparing the dough, chilling it, shaping cookies in the bowl of a spoon, baking, cooling, assembling little spoon-shaped sandwiches with the precise amount of strawberry jam. As fate might have it, perhaps one or seven would disappear in the process.
Then to decide who deserved these gems and who would really appreciate them (and at this point, it seemed her pool of friends diminished... maybe they suddenly became mere acquaintances or office mates). Even then, anyone who was deemed deserving was only allotted somewhere between three and five.

I think of that story every now and then, although I have no idea why.  Maybe it's because I can't imagine making myself do something like that, going to that extent all in one go and showing up at work the next morning as a zombie.

And all for cookies!
I suppose we can say it's dedication.
I never tried to duplicate the cookies and I don't know if the recipe was even included with the story.

I was trying to make a special occasion cookie, and the above story was running through my mind along with a recent David Lebovitz post on baci di dama.
Luckily after a couple attempts it paid off and the cookies worked out beautifully.
They turn out a bit like buttery, crumbly sables, but even more so because of the ground almonds included in the dough. 

Almonds do certainly have some flavor, but they work well with so many other ingredients since they are delicately understated.  They're there and recognizable, but they don't completely overwhelm.  And browned butter? Additional nutty goodness, bronzed liquid gold.

I will admit that the dough is quite crumbly, and reminiscent of not-quite-damp-enough sand that may or may not hold up in a sand castle. The castle may or may not come crashing down as soon as it's completed.
It's a bit of a challenging dough texture-wise, but that's what gives the cookies some of their charm: they're delicate, melt-in-your-mouth and only *just* holding together.

Beautiful with coffee or tea.

Brown Butter and Almond Cookies
makes about 28 filled cookies

1 c (125 g) blanched almonds, slivered if possible
4 oz (114 g) butter
1 c (140 g) rice flour
1/2 c (106 g) sugar
A pinch of salt

Raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F/160 degrees C. Place the almonds on a sheet pan with sides and toast about 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the almonds are a light golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool completely.

While the almonds toast, place the butter in a small saucepan and melt over medium low heat, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the butter is browned and smells nutty (you can certainly brown it to your preference or comfort level, just be careful not to burn it).  Pour the butter into a bowl to cool, making sure to scrape all the toasty and flavorful milk solids from the pan along with the butter. Set aside.

Once the almonds have cooled, process to a coarse meal in a food processor (be careful not to go so far as to make it almond butter).
Pour the ground almonds into a bowl and add the rice flour, sugar, salt.  Mix with a spoon or spatula until combined. Add the melted and cooled butter and continue mixing until everything is incorporated. When the dough becomes difficult to mix, put the soon down and use your hands to mix and knead the dough until it all comes together. The texture of the dough will almost be like that of wet sand. Do the best you can forcing it to come together in a single mass and wrap tightly in plastic or place in a large plastic sealed bag, removing all the air.
Refrigerate 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F/ 160 degrees C. Pack small amounts of dough into the bowl of a deep teaspoon measure to shape. Alternatively, use your hands to roughly and tightly form small flattened balls, using about 7 g of dough per cookie. Place the cookies on a parchment paper lined sheet about 1 inch apart (they shouldn't spread), and bake 10-15 minutes, rotating the pan after about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the cookies cool completely on the pan before removing. 

Handle the cookies carefully and place a small dollop of raspberry jam on the flat side of half of the cookies. Top each with another cookie and let the jam set a bit before serving. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tempering Chocolate

The method for tempering chocolate is a good thing to know if you plan on dipping truffles, or caramels, making bark... in fact anywhere you would want to have a nice, solid piece, coat, or shell of chocolate that presents well. Maybe you want to have 65% chocolate for one reason or another and all you can find is 60% and 70%. It's possible to combine the two chocolates and create the desired percentage.
A good, tempered chocolate is smooth, has a slightly satiny sheen and snaps cleanly when broken. It does not bend, it snaps.
Once chocolate has melted it is out of temper, and it takes a little work to get it back into temper.

At a more molecular level, an in-temper chocolate has tightly packed and well organized fat crystals. 
Alternatively, the crystals in melted chocolate are messy and disorganized. To bring a chocolate back into temper, organized crystals have to be reintroduced into the mess to stabilize it and whip everything back into shape, and then the chocolate needs to be carefully cooled. The solid chocolate added to the melted chocolate is called "seed" chocolate, and this technique is called seeding.

Chocolate should be solid at room temperature and melt at body temperature.
When in good temper and at a liquid point, the temperature is approximately 88 degrees F/31 degrees C (give or take a little depending on the cacao content- for example, milk chocolate is more stable and better behaved at a lower temperature, white even lower). Really, there's a small range for each type of chocolate, so it's not so extremely exact that it can't be done at home.
If a chocolate is not tempered, but has solidified, it will be softer in consistency, dull and matte, and the melting point will be lower than chocolate in temper.

In the shop, we have tempering machines that will keep melted chocolate rotating and at the desired temperature- very helpful when you have hundreds of one thing or another to dip.
However, there are times when we have to hand temper a smaller portion of chocolate and don't necessarily have time to get the machine fully up and running,  such as when we foot a batch of ganache before cutting it into truffles. Hand tempering can be a good way to utilize time while waiting for a large amount of chocolate to come to temper in the tempering machine.

Now, if you want to work on something like this, it's important to start with a good chocolate that contains as few ingredients as possible. A five-ingredient dark chocolate should be good. Frankly, if there are extra ingredients, I'm of the opinion that there have been corners cut, the quality isn't very good, or someone is trying to hide something. I suppose it's possible that more than five is forgivable, but there's an area where things are not (wax, perhaps?).

(Chocolate at room temperature. On the left untempered after setting several minutes, and on the right tempered and completely set after less than a minute. The chocolate I used was bittersweet, so it was very dark and thick when in temper.)

Problems in chocolate tempering can exist, and some can be unsightly.
There are two kinds of bloom: fat bloom and sugar bloom.
Chances are good that practically everyone has opened a bar of chocolate to find that there are pale streaks and swirls on the surface- this is bloom.
The two types can look the same, but chocolate with fat bloom (cocoa butter has separated and made it's way to the surface) will retain it's smoothness, while sugar bloom can make chocolate grainy in texture. Bloom can indicate that chocolate may not have been tempered correctly or that it's not been stored properly. Perhaps it became too warm, melted slightly, and then cooled (perhaps someone carried it around in a warm hand and then put it down to let it solidify).
Because it melts at body temperature, it's not a great idea to carry chocolate around without a basket, bag, or box.

If chocolate has bloomed, it's not a complete loss. Bloomed chocolate can be re-melted and the crystals reorganized with the addition of good crystals.

Refrigeration of chocolate is permissible to help it set (and this is the only time it's allowed). Chocolate should be somewhat on it's way towards setting before spending time in the refrigerator. This means that after it has been put on parchment to set, it should remain at room temperature a few minutes, or until there's a visual cue that it seems to be "drying"and not completely shiny. After this point it can be refrigerated, but should be checked on every 5 minutes or so then stored at room temperature. It should not spend a long time in the refrigerator (overnight will prove much too long) because the cold can make chocolate crack, and there is also the chance of condensation forming on the exposed surface which can lead to solid but sticky chocolate since the sugars on the surface melt. 

If you plan to dip something instead of slabbing out the chocolate, make sure that whatever you dip (strawberries, truffles...) is room temperature and dry.

To Hand Temper Chocolate:

First, start with a good chocolate. It's a good idea to have more chocolate than you think you will need. 

Chop the chocolate relatively finely if you have a large piece (a serrated knife can do the job nicely), but if you have small or thin bits of chocolates such as buttons, those should work as they are. 
Place about 2/3 of the chocolate in a bowl that offers plenty of extra space. Reserve the extra chocolate. 

You have one of two choices, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (be very careful not to let any water come into contact with the chocolate), or the microwave over a low heat. 
If in the microwave, heat the chocolate for about a minute or two, shake the bowl and melt a bit more if necessary. In either the microwave or over the stove, the chocolate does not need to be completely melted, but almost melted. 

Remove the bowl from the microwave or over the pan of simmering water (dry the underside of the bowl with a towel if there is condensation), and stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula so it is completely smooth and well-combined. 
Add a portion of the reserved, unmelted chocolate to the bowl of melted chocolate, stir and fold with the rubber spatula. Make sure all the chocolate in the bowl is included and keep the whole mass moving. 
The point is to cool everything evenly and distribute the "good" crystals evenly throughout the mixture.

If the pieces of chocolate melt quickly, add more chocolate and continue stirring. With each successive addition of chocolate, add less.  As the chocolate continues to cool, it will take longer for the bits of chocolate to melt. For dark chocolate, you're aiming for a temperature range of 88-90 degrees F/31-32 degrees C.  Milk chocolate is in temper at 86-88 degrees F/31-30 degrees C.  If you have a good digital thermometer, it can be a helpful tool in knowing for certain when you reach the appropriate temperature. To me, it always felt cool to the touch, and after you practice this a while, you may also be able to discern a textural difference in the chocolate. 
If there are any unmelted bits of seed chocolate left in the bowl,  remove them before using the chocolate as it can cause the tempered chocolate to bloom. Using a larger piece of chocolate near the end of the tempering process can make it easier to remove of the seed. 

Use the chocolate as quickly as possible since it will begin to set!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Warm Mushroom Salad

There are times when earthy mushrooms really hit the spot.

This salad can help fulfill that mushroom need, and also happens to be a particularly wonderful autumn/winter dish- it's warm, it utilizes those lovely rich and meaty mushrooms, it's filling and has the potential for the moniker of "meal" (and really, you may not miss the actual meat).

It's got many of the components I like in a salad- nutty crunch, a bit of sharp zing and piquancy, sweetness, savoriness, some herbal notes, crispness, some creaminess, that aforementioned meatiness, and a variety of flavors with every bite.

Thyme is my favorite herb (and it goes so well with mushrooms), and the jury is still out, but my favorite vinegar just may be sherry. I'm not sure that this salad as a whole would work quite so well with a different vinegar used in the vinaigrette. It somehow pulls everything together- picking up the nutty notes in other places such as the toasted hazelnuts and the hard sheep's milk Pecorino cheese.
And I'm not saying I don't like Pecorino, but I think it has it's place. While I can eat Parmesan as is (or slightly modified with additions like toasted walnuts and honey), in my opinion Pecorino seems to be a little more temperamental and can have a bit of a "sheep-y" quality... yes, it is a sheep's milk cheese, after all. I don't think I've ever wanted to just eat a chunk of it, but it goes so well in thin slivers on this salad.

Sometimes with mushrooms it's visually and texturally pleasing to have different cuts with different types- some thickly sliced, maybe some quartered, perhaps some sort of shredded. When all the mushrooms have been prepped for cooking, it may look like there's far too much (and I suppose it depends on how much one likes mushrooms as to their opinion on the matter). Just remember that mushrooms cook down and can shrink considerably- apparently they can be more than 80% water. They don't require a long cooking time and it's nice if the mushrooms can retain a bit of their original texture.

By no means is it required to use the mushrooms I have listed, that's just what I like. They have different textures, a variety of subtle flavors and qualities. You could use any mushrooms you like or what you can find in about the same total quantity as in the recipe below.

And if I happen to have leftovers, I like to mix things together before storing. The mushrooms/parsley and green onion/extra dressing tossed together are really nice with toast and a poached egg (like a mushroom hash, I suppose).

Warm Mushroom Salad 
Adapted from a recipe by Suzanne Goin in Sunday Suppers at Lucques.
serves 4-8

1/2 c. (64 g) roughly chopped hazelnuts
1 lb. (454 g) white button mushrooms
1/2 1b. (227 g) shiitake mushrooms
1/4 lb. (115 g) chanterelle mushrooms
2 T (22 g) minced and 1/4 c (47 g) sliced shallot, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T (45 ml) sherry vinegar
8 T (120 g) olive oil, divided
1 T (15 g) butter
2 t (2 g) fresh minced thyme leaves (or 1 t dried thyme)
1/2 c (15 g) minced parsley
1/2 c (38 g) thinly sliced green onion
6-8 oz. (170-230 g) mixed greens
a wedge of Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 F/190 C.
Place hazelnuts on a sheet pan and toast in the oven 5-8 minutes, shaking the pan a couple times so the nuts brown evenly. Set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle chop a bit more if you like.

Clean the mushrooms under cool running water and dry gently. Trim and slice as appropriate and set aside in a large bowl.
Place the minced shallots, 1/2 t (4 g) salt, and sherry vinegar in a bowl, mix, and let sit 5-10 minutes. Whisk in 5 T (75 g) olive oil and set aside. 

Toss together the chopped parsley and green onions in a bowl and set aside. 

In a large saute pan heated over medium, place about half the remaining olive oil and half the knob of butter.  When the butter melts and foams, pour in about half of the mushrooms, half of the thyme, and salt and pepper to season. Saute 3-5 minutes, or until the mushrooms have given up some liquid and are cooked but not completely limp. Remove the cooked mushrooms to a plate and repeat with the remaining mushrooms, etc. Once all the mushrooms have been cooked, add the first batch of mushrooms back to the pan with the second batch. Add the sliced shallots and minced garlic and saute everything together a few minutes, until the shallots are slightly cooked and the mushrooms have been heated through. Remove all of the mushroom mixture to a plate. 

Pour the sherry vinaigrette to the hot pan, add a nice pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh pepper, and swirl until it's heated through. 

Divide the greens among plates, sprinkle with the chopped parsley and green onions, and spoon warmed vinaigrette over each salad. Divide the mushrooms among the tops of the salads, shave the cheese over the tops of the salads with a vegetable peeler, and sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts. 
Serve immediately.