Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Plenty: Sweet Potato Cakes

I absolutely love potato cakes. Maybe it's my German background. Maybe it's my deep passion for potatoes in all of their forms. Whatever the reason, I can't think of much I like more than a crispy exterior, soft interior, and some sour cream on top. I was just wishing for a reason to make these, so I guess my request was granted when I got three sweet potatoes in my CSA box.

Nothing fancy here. Sweet potatoes, green onions, chile. Oh, yes. The chile. The recipe calls for 1 red chile. No specifics. Just a chile. I would advise a Thai chile if you want some spice, because the Fresno I used added nothing. I may have to make these again with a spicier chile just to see how much more I like them.

The cakes were admittedly a little difficult to turn. I added the flour that was indicated in the recipe, but I think my sweet potatoes were still a little too watery. I even patted them with paper towels, but I think next time they need to be made a while ahead of time so they can drain forever. Once I finally got the hang of it, they crisped up nicely in the pan. And that yogurt sauce smeared over the top? Delicious.

Sweet Potato Cakes
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

2 large sweet potatoes, cut in to large chunks
2 teaspoons soy sauce
¾ cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoon chopped green onion
½ teaspoon finely chopped red chile
Butter for frying

3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
salt and black pepper to taste

Steam the sweet potato until soft, then drain in a colander for an hour. Meanwhile, whisk the sauce ingredients until smooth and set aside. In a mixing bowl, work all the fritter ingredients by hand - it should be sticky, so if it's a little runny, add some flour. Do not overmix.

Dip your hands in water and shape walnut-sized balls with the fritter mix, then flatten so you have round cakes around 2 inches in diameter and less than 1/2-inch thick. Place on an oily surface.

Melt some butter in a nonstick pan. Using a spatula, lift the cakes into the pan and fry on moderate heat until you get a nice, brown crust, turning as necessary - about six minutes. Place between two sheets of kitchen towel, to soak up the excess butter. Serve hot or warm, with the sauce on the side and a crisp green salad.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Plenty: Spicy Moroccan Carrot Salad

I got a ton of carrots in my CSA box, so it was time to do something about it. I found a nice recipe in Plenty for a Moroccan carrot salad that sounded spicy and delicious. Plus, it would get rid of a whole bag of carrots. That was a definite plus.  The ingredient list looks pretty long for a salad, but it's mostly the different spices. I had them all in my cabinet, so there wasn't really anything to search for. All I had to find at the store was some Greek yogurt.

The salad smelled so good while I was cooking it that I actually started eating it warm. I know I was supposed to let it cool, but darn it, it just overwhelmed me. I threw some in a bowl and dropped some cold yogurt on top...and that is as good as it gets. So far so good with the veggie dishes, Chef Ottolenghi.

Spicy Moroccan Carrot Salad
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

2 pounds carrots
 cup olive oil, plus extra to finish
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 serrano chile, finely chopped (and seeded, if you want less heat)
1 green onion, finely chopped
 teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon
2½ cups cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped, plus extra to garnish
½ cup Greek yogurt, chilled

Peel the carrots and cut them, depending on their size, into cylinders or semicircles one-half-inch thick; all the pieces should end up roughly the same size. Place in a large saucepan and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until tender but still crunchy, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and leave to dry out.

Heat the oil in a large pan and sauté the onion over medium heat until soft and slightly brown, about 12 minutes. Add the cooked carrots to the onion, followed by the sugar, garlic, chile, onion, cloves, ground ginger, coriander, cinnamon, paprika, cumin, vinegar and preserved lemon.

Remove from the heat. Season liberally with salt, stir well and leave to cool.

Before serving, stir in the cilantro, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve in individual bowls with a dollop of yogurt, a drizzle of oil and a garnish of the extra cilantro.

Makes 4 servings

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Plenty: Mushroom and Herb Polenta

I am not a vegetarian.  No way, no how.  I like meat too much.  If I stop eating it for a period of time, I start craving it.  So the vegetarian or vegan thing is probably never going to happen for me.  And I'm okay with that.  But this book by Yotam Ottolenghi has really made me question things.  If I could eat like this, every day, I might just be okay with not eating meat.  I mean, this is vegetarian food that actually tastes good.  And it doesn't feel like you're eating the side dish with no main course.  If I ever did go vegetarian, I think this book would be my Bible.  No joke.

Note: I think Taleggio smells and tastes like dirty gym socks, so I used fontina.  I also used chicken broth instead of vegetable stock because I like the way it tastes.  For the mixed mushrooms, I used cinnamon caps, hen of the woods, and cremini, but go for whatever looks good.

Mushroom and Herb Polenta
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups mixed mushrooms, very large ones halved
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon truffle oil
Salt and black pepper
2¼ cups vegetable stock
½ cup polenta (instant or traditional)
3 ounces Parmesan, grated
2½ tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped chervil
4 ounces Taleggio (rind removed), cut into ⅜-inch slices

Heat half the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add half of the mushrooms and fry for a few minutes, or until just cooked; try not to move them much so you get golden brown patches on their surface. Remove from the pan, and repeat with the rest of the mushrooms and oil. Off the heat, return all the mushrooms to the pan and add the garlic, tarragon, thyme, truffle oil, and some salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Bring the stock to the boil in a saucepan. Slowly stir in the polenta, then reduce the heat to the minimum and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. The polenta is ready when it leaves the sides of the pan but is still runny. If you are using instant polenta this shouldn't take more than 5 minutes; with traditional polenta it could take up to 50 minutes (if it seems to dry out, add some more stock or water but just enough to keep it at a thick porridge consistency).

Preheat the broiler. When the polenta is ready, stir in the Parmesan, butter, rosemary, and half the chervil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the polenta over a heatproof dish and top with the Taleggio. Place under the broiler until the cheese bubbles. Remove, top with the mushrooms and their juices, and return to the broiler for a minute to warm.

Makes 2 servings

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Martha Stewart: Jerusalem Artichoke Gratin

So, it's still kinda cold outside.  I don't know about you, but I'm ready for summer.  The cold wind and ice need to leave.  Now.  Until then, I'm going to eat this delicious casserole.  Creamy, cheesy, a little tangy, and full of carbs.  That's how you do cold.

Jerusalem Artichoke Gratin
From Martha Stewart

1 pound Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick and reserved in cold water until ready to use
3 cups whole milk
8 ounces crème fraîche
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch-thick
5 ounces shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
5 ounces peeled chestnuts, halved lengthwise
4 slices white bread, lightly toasted, crusts removed, and torn into small bits (to make 1 to 1¼ cups)

In a large saucepan, combine Jerusalem artichokes and milk. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Drain, reserving ¾ cups of the milk.

Preheat oven to 450°F. In a medium bowl, whisk crème fraîche, reserved milk, lemon juice, ¼ cup Gruyère, thyme, salt, and pepper. Add artichokes, potatoes, chestnuts, shallots; gently mix to combine. Transfer to a 6-cup shallow baking dish, and cover tightly with parchment-lined aluminum foil. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until artichokes are tender, about 1 hour. Remove foil, and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and remaining ¾ cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 8 servings

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Baking and Books: Butternut Squash Lasagne with Fresh Sage and Thyme

Here's a question for you: why go out on Valentine's Day?  I mean, you know that they've taken what is essentially a $20 dinner and marked it up to $45.  You have to call way ahead to get a reservation and then hang out in the bar as the couple at your table stares into each other's eyes way past time to pay the check.  And you can tell the waitstaff would much rather be with their own sweethearts, not getting you a refill.  Why not make some delicious food at home and savor the time alone instead?

Butternut Squash Lasagne with Fresh Sage and Thyme
From bakingandbooks.com

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2½ cups diced yellow onion
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch thick slices
1¾ cups vegetable broth
4 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, divided use
4 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, divided use
2 (15-ounce) containers whole milk ricotta cheese
4½ cups shredded mozzarella, divided use
1 cup shredded Parmesan, divided use
3 large eggs
3 biscotti cookies (not sweet ones, we used almond & walnut biscotti with a hint of anise flavoring)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (10-ounce) package no-boil lasagna noodles

For béchamel:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¾ cups whole milk
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Raise heat to high and continue to cook, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

In the same pot, add the sliced squash, vegetable broth, 3 tablespoons of thyme, and 3 tablespoons sage. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

While squash is cooking, in a medium bowl combine ricotta, 2 cups of mozzarella, ½ cup Parmesan, and the remaining 1 tablespoon thyme and 1 tablespoon sage. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the eggs and mix well. Set aside.

When squash is done, cool slightly and remove ¾ cup of the excess liquid (1 cup if there is an excessive amount of liquid). Transfer to food processor. Break the biscotti in half and add to the processor. Blend until smooth, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking frequently. Whisk in the nutmeg. Make the béchamel just before assembling the lasagna, if it sits too long it will develop a skin.

Now it is time to assemble the lasagna. Coat the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish with ½ of the béchamel. Then layer the rest of the lasagna as follows: ⅓ of the ricotta mixture, noodles (make sure they are not overlapping), ⅓ of the squash mixture, ½ of the onions, ⅓ of the remaining mozzarella, ⅓ of the ricotta mixture, noodles, ⅓ of the squash mixture, ½ of the onions, ⅓ of the ricotta mixture, ⅓ of the mozzarella, the rest of the béchamel, noodles, remaining squash mixture.

Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan over the top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Then remove the aluminum foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is completely melted and starting to color a bit.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes.

Makes 10 to 12 servings

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Family Meal: Meal 21 - Gazpacho, Black Rice with Squid, Bread with Chocolate & Olive Oil

When I lived in South Korea for a couple of months, the school I was teaching English at would offer us lunch. This was the same stuff that the kids were eating, and it normally involved rice, kimchi, and whatever the main dish of the day was. Every couple of weeks, this spicy squid dish would come up in the rotation. Being relatively adventurous, I tried it. It was actually pretty good. Until the next day when my stomach felt like it was imploding. I chalked it up to coincidence. The next time the squid was served, I tried it again. Same reaction the next day. So, I basically discovered that squid and I do not get along. But here's the weird thing...it's only the tentacles. As long as I stick to the rings, I'm fine. Needless to say, when I saw this dish come up in the meal rotation, I was a little wary. Plus, the rice is black. That's enough to make any reasonable American take a step back.

Squid ink is apparently completely unknown here in Dallas. I even called Italian groceries, and they kept repeating the name like they were trying to figure out to what I was referring. Squid ink....hmmm....squid ink, huh? YES. SQUID INK. No dice. Luckily Amazon had a vendor that got me some within the week. The squid came from the seafood case at Central Market. For the chocolate bread, I cheated a little bit. The recipe calls for a rustic white bread, but they had the cutest little brioche loaf at Central Market. Hey, it's white bread, right? Plus, I used the leftovers for French toast.

The gazpacho was refreshing, but incredibly oniony. Is that a word? Overpoweringly oniony. See, Chef Adria does not specify exactly what he means by "small onion", so I had to cut a quarter out of one of my onions and hope it worked. I can tell you now that "small onion" means shallot size. In fact, just add a little bit at a time. I think this soup would be a great summertime dish, but since it's still pretty much winter, I wasn't enthused.

The black rice with squid turned out surprisingly tasty. Kinda salty, like ocean water. I was afraid the squid would turn out rubbery since the cooking time was more than a brief grill, but it was pretty tender. It was a little strange getting past the black color, but I think I would try this again, although probably in a restaurant.

The chocolate bread was also a bit of a surprise. The toasting made the bread a little crunchy, and the chocolate shavings melted down onto the toast as I sprinkled it on. The olive oil added a fruity undertone, and the salt really enhanced all of the other flavors. For something so simple, it was pretty darn good. Those Spaniards sure know their food.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

DamGoodSweet: Red Velvet Cake

A friend had a birthday recently, and the cake request was for red velvet.  Now, I'm not a huge fan of red food coloring in my food, so I scoured the internet for a recipe with natural color.  Most of the recipes I found used beets as the coloring agent.  I could get on board with some beets.  So, I found a recipe that sounded good, and I finished the cake.  What did it taste like?  Beets.  And it was pink.  Which is fine, but that means it's not a red velvet cake.  And that is no bueno.

So back to the internet I went.  I needed to make sure that I found a stupendous recipe this time.  Something mind-blowing to make up for the horrible beet cake.  I came across a recipe on Fine Cooking's website from the book DamGoodSweet.  There was plenty of sugar and cream cheese and red food coloring, so I went for it.  I will admit I used more red food coloring than is called for because I wanted the cake to be RED.  And I also scrapped a vanilla bean into the icing to make it super deluxe.  The result?  Sweet cakey goodness.  I could die of food coloring-related cancer at 60, and I would still eat this cake every day.  Good golly, that's good.

Red Velvet Cake
From DamGoodSweet by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel

For the cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 (1-pound) box light brown sugar (about 2¼ cups)
3 tablespoons red food coloring
2½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1¾ cups buttermilk

For the frosting:
1¼ pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
2½ sticks (1¼ cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (2-pound) bag confectioners’ sugar (about 7¼ cups)

Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans with 1 tablespoon of butter each. Add 2 tablespoons of the flour to each pan and shake the pans to coat the bottom and sides. Tap out the excess flour and set the pans aside.

Sift the remaining 3 cups of flour with the cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) cream the remaining butter with the brown sugar, food coloring, and vanilla on low to combine. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and pale, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition and using a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and add one-third of the dry ingredients followed by half of the buttermilk. Repeat, finishing with the final third of the dry mix. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans, spreading it out as evenly as possible.

Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean and the center of the cake resists slight pressure, about 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then run a paring knife around the edges of each pan to release the cake from the sides; invert the cakes onto the cooling rack. Cool for 1 hour, and then wrap each cake in plastic wrap for at least a few hours.

Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) on low speed to combine. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and light, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and add a few cups of the confectioners’ sugar, incorporating it into the cream cheese mixture on low speed until combined. Repeat with the remaining sugar, adding it to the mixer in two additions. Once all of the sugar is added, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute.

Unwrap the cake layers. Slice off the rounded top ⅛-inch of each cake and place the trimmed-away portion in the bowl of a food processor. Slice each cake in half horizontally (you’ll end up with 4 layers), working over a baking sheet to catch any crumb. Add the crumbs to the food processor and pulse until fine.

Place one cake layer on a cake round or large plate (make sure that the diameter of the plate is at least 1 inch larger than the cake). Use an offset spatula to evenly spread a heaping ¾ cup of frosting on the first cake layer. Repeat with the remaining three cake layers, ending with a bottom half of a cake on top, browned-side up (so you don’t get cake crumbs in the frosting). Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake (the sides don’t have to look perfect—you’re going to cover them with cake crumbs anyway). Gently press a handful of the reserved crumbs into the side of the cake until all of the sides are evenly coated.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Family Meal: Meal 23 - Tagliatelle Carbonara, Cod & Green Pepper Sandwich, Almond Soup with Ice Cream

This cooking project has certainly been a learning experience, in more ways than one. I've eaten some things that I never thought I would try. I've made some things I never thought I would make. And I'm actually kinda enjoying the scavenger hunt aspect of finding the ingredients for the Spanish recipes that are part of The Family Meal. I don't think Chef Adria realizes how difficult some of these things are to find. As in, nearly impossible. It's like a challenge. And my OCD will not let me fail. I will not fail!!

Chef Adria calls for peppers for his sandwich, but he never says what kind of peppers. That leaves quite a lot to the imagination. In looking at how the peppers are prepared, it seemed like a Padron pepper would be about right, as these are cooked just like in the traditional tapas dish. But where do you find a Padron pepper in Dallas in February? So I looked for shishito peppers, a good substitute, which I had seen in Fiesta two weeks ago. Guess what? Not one single store in the entire metroplex had shishito peppers. They had all run out just before I called. I honestly thought this menu was never going to get made. Then I was walking through Whole Foods one afternoon, and what do I see? A box of Padron peppers. I almost knocked this poor man to the floor in my rush to grab them. For the almond soup, I was never able to find nougat ice cream. Apparently nougat is an almond confection very popular in Europe. Not so popular here. Chef Adria said I could substitute a nut ice cream, so I got some super expensive toasted almond gelato to make up for my nougat failure. Okay, I got it because it looked delicious.

I have nothing bad to say about noodles smothered in egg yolks, bacon, cheese, and cream. Nothing. Anyone who thinks this sounds gross is ignoring the cries of their fat cells. This is really rich and really filling. And smoky. And creamy. And you could probably just have this for dinner.

Okay, the sandwich was not good. This is the first time I have actively not liked something out of this cookbook. The fish was blah. The sandwich was blah. I pulled my sacred peppers out and ate them separately. The peppers were fabulous. The fish desperately needed some help. And I even sacrificed one of my beautiful organic, free range, super petted happy chicken eggs for the coating, hence the very yellow tinge. This one is definitely a no. Unless I figure out a way to doctor up the fish. And no, I did not toast my bread. I pretty much hate toast. Don't know why. Maybe it would have helped to toast the bread, but I doubt it.

The almond soup was amazing. It was kind of a pain to drain all that almond milk through a sieve, but once it's in the bowl....dang. Creamy and light, and then a dollop of creamy and sinful gelato in the middle. I've never had dessert soup, but this may change my mind about alternative dessert possibilities.