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
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)

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.