Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Plump and sweet: homemade cinnamon buns

I’ve had some extra time this week and have put it toward catching up on some cooking “to dos” that have been languishing on my list. Among them, the Daring Bakers’ cinnamon buns have been calling out my name, begging for first dibs.

The Daring Bakers made cinnamon buns right before I joined and I regretted missing such a fun challenge. I’ve been known to get sucked in by the intoxicating aroma of cinnamon buns in many a Midwestern airport, and I figured it would be fun to be able to make such a winning treat from scratch.

I thought I would offer this up as a great Christmas day breakfast treat. It turns out they are very simple to make – just a bit time-consuming as the dough needs to rise and then proof for several hours. But the actual active time is minimal and the dough is made easily with a dough hook in a stand mixer.

The buns can be made into cinnamon buns or sticky buns with a change of glaze and topping. The dough, in either case, is identical. There’s nothing more fun than watching the buns grow in size and squish together on the baking sheet, promising a sweet-tooth satisfying, decadent cinnamon experience that can only be delivered by a cinnamon bun!

The recipe for both cinnamon and sticky buns can be found here, on Pip in the City's blog, the sponsor of the event.

On another note, I wanted to let you know that I am experimenting with selling selected images on ImageKind. You can purchase both prints (framed or unframed) and greeting cards on the site. Both would make a nice belated holiday gift for a cooking enthusiast. Hop on over and have a look - let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Satisfying a meat craving: rack of lamb with mustard-thyme crust

Those of you who have been following this blog know that it’s a rare occasion that I blog about red meat. It’s not that I don’t enjoy meat every once and a while, I just don’t eat it often enough to buy it and cook it at home. As a result, I'm not the world's most confident meat cook. That said, there are a few reliable (and satisfying) meat dishes that I make over and over again when meat cravings take over: one of them is rack of lamb baked with a mustard-garlic-thyme-bread-crumb crust.

The recipe is an old stand-by from Gourmet 1999 if you can believe it. It works equally well on beef tenderloin. It’s quite simple: essentially you slather on the mustard mixture and cook away. The mustard mellows out during the cooking process and the seasonings permeate the meat. When done you are left with delicious, flavorful meat coated with a satisfying crust. It is a great choice for dinner guests. A rack of lamb (or beef tenderloin) is unfussy, serves many, and is a crowd-pleaser (especially with a nice potato side). It also looks impressive, even though it's quite simple to prepare.

Rack of lamb with mustard-thyme crust (adapted from Bon Appetit, 1997 via epicurious.com)

1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 1/4-pound rack of lamb, well trimmed
1 cup plain bread crumbs (variation: Matzo meal)
Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)

Preheat oven to 425°F. Whisk mustard, garlic and chopped thyme in small bowl to blend. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper. Place lamb on a roasting rack, rounded side up. Spread mustard mixture evenly over lamb. (Lamb can be prepared up to 6 hours ahead. Refrigerate uncovered.)

Press bread crumbs onto mustard coating on lamb. Roast lamb until thermometer inserted into center registers 130 to 140 degrees F for medium rare or 140 to 150 degrees F for medium. Will take 30-45 minutes: check periodically. Garnish with thyme sprigs, if desired, and serve.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Appreciating fellow bloggers: Gourmet Girl's flourless chocolate cake

Bringing you this flourless chocolate cake was a labor of love. I made this as one of two Thanksgiving desserts with the ulterior motive of photographing it and posting the recipe for you, but of course, I ran out of time and never photographed it. Determined to share this wonderful recipe, I made it again a few days later but I thought I’d second-guess the instructions and cook it for five minutes less. When I unmolded the cake from the springform pan, it spread out into a chocolaty puddle of $25 Valrhona – becoming un-photographable and teaching me a lesson: do not second-guess the recipe (note: it still tasted great!).

A little annoyed but nevertheless still determined, I set off to make it again yesterday. This time I took my time and followed the tried and true recipe. It churned out the best version of the cake I have made yet: rich, dense and moist with a light crust on the top. It’s very sinful dessert, and one that looks more impressive than it is hard to make.

Where did I find this gem? On Gourmet Girl’s (Louisiana-based Katia Mangham) great site. It takes a lot for me to get motivated to make something I read about. I read dozens of blogs and many cooking-related magazines and have a treasure trove of recipe books. With that much fodder for culinary creativity I need to really be impressed by a new recipe for it to actually get to the top of my “to try” list. Gourmet Girl’s site always gets me. She has wonderful, unusual original recipes that are sure to be crowd pleasers. I also tried her wonderful Torta di Risso - faboo.

The only things I altered in the recipe were to remove the brandy, increase the quantity of vanilla extract to one tablespoon, and use semi-sweet chocolate for the garnish (I'm a monochromatic girl). See her original post here.

Flourless chocolate cake (from Gourmet Girl)

24 oz. dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 lb butter (3 sticks)
1/2 cup sugar
8 eggs
1/4 cup Brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 oz. white chocolate, melted after cake cools- for garnish

1. butter a 9" springform pan, line bottom with parchment and butter parchment. Wrap pan in aluminum foil and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F. (Cookbook Catchall note: at this point, I fill my roasting pan half full of water and allow it to preheat in the oven so that the bain marie water mentioned in step 4 is hot by the time I put the cake into it).

2. Over a bain marie, melt chocolate and butter. whisk together until smooth, then set aside to cool for a bit.

3. In a mixer bowl, beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy- about 10 minutes on high speed. Lower speed to low and gradually add chocolate mixture to eggs. Add brandy and vanilla, and mix until just incorporated. Remove bowl from mixer stand, with a rubber spatula lighlty fold batter just to be sure it's homogenized. (sometimes there is chocolate at the bottom of the bowl which has not mixed in).

4. Pour batter into springform, then place pan in a roasting pan. Fill roasting pan with hot water (I use the water use the already warm bain marie water), fill pan to half way up the saide of the springform pan. Carefully place in the oven and bake 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, unmold, drizzle white chocolate on top and serve with whipped cream and berries.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Appreciating old favorites: linguine vongole

I've been revisiting an old favorite lately: Martha's linguine with clams. It's an old stand-by, and one that I posted about when I first started blogging. I'm still making it, but I've adjusted it with little tweaks that I've come to prefer along the way. I thought I'd share my adapted version, and the updated photos I've shot of the dish that are much more consistent with my current photography style.

I'm elbow deep in Thanksgiving preparations - I'm sure you are too. I have a wonderful flourless chocolate cake recipe from a fellow blogger to share and perhaps a couple other goodies from the feast. Would love to hear about what you are cooking!

Linguine vongole (adapted from Martha Stewart Living)
Serves 4 to 6

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound linguine
1/4 pound slab bacon, cut 3/8 inch thick
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1/8 - 1/4 cup dry white wine
3 pounds Manila clams or cockles, scrubbed and rinsed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place bacon on a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for ~20 minutes until fat renders. Remove from oven and drain on paper towels. Cut into 1/8 inch strips or small cubes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and pasta, and cook until just shy of al dente (note: it is important to not fully cook the pasta as it will continue to cook in later steps). Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds; do not let garlic brown. Stir in 1/8 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of black pepper; cook for 30 seconds. Add wine, and simmer for 1 minute. Add clams and bacon; increase heat to medium-high, and cook, covered, until clams begin to open, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in butter until incorporated. Stir in parsley. Add pasta to skillet, and toss to coat, adding reserved cooking water a tablespoon at a time to loosen, if desired. Transfer to a large serving bowl, and serve immediately.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Chicken soup reimagined

Chicken soup is not my favorite. It always reminds me of being, well, sick. It’s often a little too chicken-y and uni-dimensional for my taste. There’s not typically a lot of imagination that goes into it. The way I see it, either you love the familiar, comforting taste of the typical chicken soup, or you are like me, and are a little tired of it.

That’s until my aunt introduced me to an amazing stock that comes from an old Italian cookbook. It’s made with brisket, veal and chicken and has a deep, hearty, sophisticated flavor that is intensely satisfying and anything but boring. The downside is it requires a large quantity of different meat - the upside is the leftovers provide a sandwich feast for some time.

My aunt usually makes it for Passover and adds some wonderful chicken dumplings from the same cookbook. I made a big batch recently and experimented with the add-ins, making an Asian-inspired chicken, pork and rice ball in one version and chicken and pork dumplings in wonton wrappers in the other. Both were hits. I had planned to freeze the remaining broth in muffin tins (a great way to freeze individual portions), but we ate our way through the entire batch of stock before I had time to even consider freezing it for a later use!

Brodo delle Feste (holiday broth) (from The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews, I: Traditional Recipes and Menus and a Memoir of a Vanished Way of Life by Edda Servi Machlin) (serves 12)

1 small fowl (about 3 pounds, or 2 pounds turkey legs and wings
1 pound brisket of beef
1 pound breast of veal
1 pound spongy beef bones
1/2 medium onion
1 small carrot, peeled
1 small stalk celery
3 or 4 stalks Italian parsley
4 quarts cold water
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
3 whole peppercorns

Carefully remove all the breast from fowl and save for another use. Place the remainder of the chicken or turkey legs and wings in a large stockpot with the other meats, the bones, and all the vegetables. Add 4 quarts of cold water and bring to a boil. Remove the scum and add salt and pepper. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 2 to 3 hours. Strain and refrigerate several hours. Remove and discard all coagulated fat before using.

Chicken and pork rice balls or wontons

For the filling:

½ pound ground chicken
½ pound ground pork
1/4-1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4-1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
One egg, lightly beaten
Generous sprinkling sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Generous sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese

For the exterior:

Wonton wrappers (for the wontons. Available in Whole Foods or your Asian grocery)
1 cup rice (for the rice balls)

For the garnish:

Chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
One carrot, peeled and steamed per bowl, if desired
Grated parmesan cheese, if desired


Combine all filling ingredients. Adjust seasonings if desired. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. One by one, carefully place 1 scant teaspoon of filling on top of wonton wrapper. Brush sides of wrapper lightly with water. Place another wrapper on top and gently press along sides to seal. Place in a single layer on top of parchment paper until you are done filling the rest of the wrappers. Boil a large pot of salted water. Cook wontons for ~4 minutes and gently remove with a slotted spoon (note: cook only enough for what you need. Freeze the rest in a Ziplock bag). Place 3 or 4 in a bowl of hot broth. Garnish with a sprinkling of flat leaf parsley, one carrot, and grated parmesan if desired. Serve immediately.

Rice balls:

Soak one cup of rice for two hours. Drain. Combine all filling ingredients. Adjust seasonings if desired. Line a bamboo steamer and a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a small ice cream scoop or melon baller to form tablespoon-sized balls of the mixture. Store in one layer on baking sheet. Pour rice onto a large plate or other flat surface. Roll balls in rice so that rice covers all sides. Place balls in one layer in bamboo steamer and steam for 15 minutes. Rice will fluff up and balls will cook through. Place ~3 balls in each bowl of hot broth, garnish with a sprinkling of flat leaf parsley, one carrot, and grated parmesan if desired. Serve immediately.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Beyond food: a brief personal indulgence

A quick word beyond the usual subject here - please excuse the indulgent deviation! I have been meaning to share (but couldn't quite figure out how to fit it in) the launch of my new pet product company, Greedy Pup. Yes, pets and product design are other passions of mine!

We are a functionally-oriented dog product company focused on providing effective solutions to pet and pet owner needs with great quality, value, and beautiful design. Our first product is the Eat Slow Bowl, a bowl designed to slow down the pace at which dogs eat. It provides a solution to a common concern among pet owners in a safe, gentle and effective way. Eating rapidly, and gulping air (in case you don't know) can result in issue ranging from irksome (choking, coughing, vomiting) to serious (gastric dilatation). It's a beautiful bowl that has been selling well - I am very proud of the start we have gotten.

If you live in Manhattan, you can find it at some of my favorite pet stores including Beasty Feast and the Barking Zoo. If you are elsewhere, you can find it at sitstay.com (an amazing site) or our company site, greedypup.com. I hate to self promote but please keep us in mind as you think about holiday gifts for your furry friends! Thanks for the indulgence . . .

Monday, October 13, 2008

Poha revisited: eggs poha

Do you remember the cooking session I had with my friends Devesh and Tara during which they shared their recipe for classic Indian poha (a flattened rice dish served at breakfast)? Well I had the enormous treat of getting together again to cook with Devesh and Tara recently, but this time it was with Devesh’s mom who shared her recipes. She made a number of different Indian breads – parathas - plain and stuffed with all sorts of fillings (alu paratha (stuffed with mashed potatoes), gobi paratha (stuffed with grated cauliflower), and dal paratha (stuffed with mung bean)). It was absolutely amazing, and we all sat around the kitchen island watching her churn out hot breads and ate them while standing, like complete gluttons, before they even had a chance to cool on a plate.

I have been thinking about sharing some of the recipes and techniques but - well, I am not sure I could replicate those breads – particularly given that Devesh said that after years of watching, he still doesn’t have the technique down.

So rather than frustrate you, I thought I’d share a spin on poha that is eminently doable by the layperson – I’m calling it eggs poha. Ever since I had poha the first time I envisioned it going well with eggs. My enthusiasm for Indian flavors and spices was rekindled during the bread making session and I was eager for more.

The simplest way to combine poha and eggs would be to put a fried egg on top of a bowl of poha. But, to take it one step further (of course), I mixed a lightly beaten egg into the poha mixture, greased 4-5 ring molds with vegetable oil and packed poha into them. I baked the ring molds in a 350º oven for ~15 minutes until the egg had set and the poha had turned into a cake. Meanwhile, I used ring molds (I have Ateco molds that are 3” high and 1.75” tall) of the same size to fry eggs (again, greasing them – this time with butter) so that they would fit perfectly on top of the poha cakes. I ran a knife around the insides of the molds, turned the cakes onto a plate, and topped them with the egg and a sprinkling of rock salt, pepper, and flat leaf parsley (or cilantro). I could maybe see a drizzle of spiced yogurt on the top but I don’t think it needs it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Appreciating Mark Bittman: perfect pancakes

I love Mark Bittman. His recipes are always straight-forward and just work. I’m so glad he’s blogging for the New York Times – you can never have enough Bittman. A while back he did a piece on the perfect pancake. Four different fool-proof versions to try. I love the fluffy rendition that features ricotta. He’s right – why do so many people buy pancake mix when it’s almost as quick to whip up your own batch?

Check it out.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Styling super talent: Paul Lowe

"Black fig shoot." Styling by Paul Lowe. Photography by Colin Cooke

Have you heard of Paul Lowe? He’s a brilliant food and interiors stylist who captures his styling adventures and inspirations on his blog, Sweet Paul. I find Paul’s work completely inspirational. He has a wonderful modern aesthetic in the very best sense: beautiful, natural, warm, clever, clean, soulful and crisp. Quite hard to describe so you will have to see for yourself.

Paul started out as a florist, and when a photographer friend of his suggested that he would be quite good at styling, he gave it a try. A few jobs and rave reviews later, Paul was hooked. Even though Paul only moved to the U.S. (from Oslo) a few years ago, his amazing artistry has already attracted the attention of an impressive array of talented U.S. photographers: Ellen Silverman, Gemma Comas, Colin Cooke and Frances Janisch to name a few.
"Black fig shoot." Styling by Paul Lowe. Photography by Colin Cooke

I spent a couple of hours with Paul last week as he styled for a shoot for European magazine, Interior Magasinet, for photographer by Colin Cooke. The theme of the shoot was “Christmas desserts” and I fully expected to see a lot of red, green, tinsel, evergreen and all of the other clichés. Not so in the world of Paul Lowe: it was a beautiful rustic-natural shoot with white the only inkling of a winter-holiday connection. He integrated flowers and knits into the shoot and everything had an “effortlessly casual” style that is so difficult to create.
"Black fig shoot." Styling by Paul Lowe. Photography by Colin Cooke

I was amazed to see Paul in action: there were eight or nine different shots captured. Paul had developed all of the recipes for the shoot himself (which he did on little notice, and only a few days before the shoot) and was not only in charge of the food styling but also the prop styling. He created the sets and styled the food quickly and effortlessly. While I sat there mesmerized for two hours, I saw three complete shoots from start to finish. There was no over-manipulating the props or undue set adjusting. Colin shot tripodless, un-tethered and with natural light and breezed in and out of the set capturing a number of different angles for each shot swiftly and confidently – a perfect match for Paul’s own approach. Paul swooped in, did his magic, and swooped out. Everything created was entirely edible, and in fact, when done, Paul and Colin sat down to a healthy helping of fondant spice cake and orange vanilla cake.

Styling comes completely naturally to Paul: so much so that it’s difficult for him to articulate how he does what he does other than to say that he just tries “to create beautiful things” but I did get to talk to him about his inspirations, approach, and general advice to budding stylists (and ahem, certain avid food photographers who fancy themselves as “do-it-alls”):

"Christmas dessert shoot for Interior Magasinet" Styling by Paul Lowe. Photography by Colin Cooke

What is your approach to developing the look of a shoot?
I often use neutral colors as they are timeless. I want the food to pop. The overall image needs to be pretty. That’s hard to describe but I want people to want to tear my image out of a magazine and tape it to the wall because it’s pretty and inspirational. I hate mediocrity.

Are there any tips or tricks you regularly employ?
I don’t do anything “fake” except use Cool Whip instead of whipped cream. It’s important to not cook certain things through, like pasta. It’s also important not to overly fuss over the food. I like to keep it simple and keep it real.

What has changed over the years that you’ve been in the business?

On aesthetics, everything is moving toward a “natural” look and a “green” direction: natural, organic, fresh, high-quality. Food is no longer plastic looking. The day of the painted, plump, shellacked, monster Thanksgiving turkey is over. Even commercial shoots are beginning to take on a much more natural, “editorial” feel. On the business side, one key change is that more and more companies and magazines are hiring and using photographers in-house. That has changed the landscape for freelancers and the economics of the business. On the technology side, the digital age has changed the business tremendously. Not only is it easier because you can immediately see the images you are producing, but it also makes fixing issues much more possible.

Where do you find inspiration?
Many different ways. While eating a meal at a restaurant. At the grocery store looking at ingredients. At the flower market. On Ebay. Another way is reading blogs. You can get such quick information from so many different sources with unique perspectives. I also find inspiration in the Sunday New York Times. I keep an idea file with photographs, illustrations and other things that generate ideas. The hard thing is to come up with an idea, the easy thing is to execute on the idea.

What blogs inspire you?
The Bedlam of Beefy
Hoping for Happy Accidents
Cannelle et Vanille
Souvlaki for the Soul

What magazines do you find inspirational in the food world?

Donna Hay, Côté Sud, Vogue Entertaining (Australian), Delicious (Australian)

"Christmas dessert shoot for Interior Magasinet" Styling by Paul Lowe. Photography by Colin Cooke

What are your favorite types of shoots?
Editorial shoots where there is a lot of leeway to envision the image and make it my own. Commercial shoots are much different since a room full of people often drives them and it might take all day to produce one shot that everyone can agree on. I do my own prop styling in addition to food styling, which is somewhat unusual in the business. I prefer when I am hired to do both. My work is 70% editorial and 30% commercial.

What is some tactical advice you would give to budding stylists?
Test, test. Experiment. Fail. Work with photographers to practice. Begin to develop a sense for what works and what types of foods are photogenic. Try to develop a unique style. Work whenever you can. Meet people and gain exposure and experience. Be alert. Look out for ideas and props.

Any “watch-outs?”
1. If you don’t feel comfortable, you shouldn’t take the job. I have gotten into trouble with that in the past. Once I had to do a pizza shoot and it was way over my head at the time. It was a commercial shoot and required an enormous amount of control over the food.
2. Don’t take too long styling. Just go with your gut. Don’t second guess. You have to move on and you have to teach yourself to work quickly.
"Christmas dessert shoot for Interior Magasinet" Styling by Paul Lowe. Photography by Colin Cooke

Monday, September 15, 2008

Healthy start: quinoa breakfast porridge

Thanks so much for your empathy and commiseration about my computer failure! It turns out that both my hard drive and logic board died, and when I returned to pick up my computer, they handed me a completely revamped device void of any programs or data. It was one of those stereotypical computer repair experiences: they looked at me blankly, informed me of what had happened and then gave me that judgmental: “that’s why you should always back up”. Luckily, I have been backing up automatically regularly – to two different hard drives, but I have never tested the back ups. So I was still slightly panicked when I left the repair shop and dreaded having to re-load and re-set up everything from the operating system to email. To my great surprise, when I restored my computer absolutely everything re-loaded, settings, passwords, software, everything – restored to the minute my computer crashed – how wonderful is that? Please back up your computer – mine is only a year old and I never imagined something this catastrophic would happen!

Last week had one great piece of news despite the computer saga: I placed first in last month’s DMBLGIT for my jam jar muffin image. Thanks so much Andreea for hosting and to Alessandro and Simone for judging. You guys made my week – thanks again. See here for the roundup and all the other amazing images that placed.
I also wanted to share that a few weeks ago I had my first “cook and style” shoot for the New York Times Dining Section. It was featured on Wednesday, August 26 and was for the Feed Me column by Alex Witchel. This particular article was about burritos – and I cooked, styled, and shot the image. It was terrifically fun and I hope that there will be more of the same to come in the future.
The fresh air and wild blueberries of Maine inspired the recipe for this week (see throughout for some memories from the trip). Actually, it’s been on my “to-cook list“ since it was featured on 101cookooks. It’s from Chef MD's Big Book of Culinary Medicine: A Food Lover's Road Map to Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Getting Really Healthy by John La Puma, M.D., a book I most likely never would have taken notice of had Heidi not written about it on her blog.
The book sounded so compelling I bought it and true to promise it is chock full of wonderful advice on healthful eating. What I like most about it is the detailed discussion about the health benefits of different ingredients. What’s least effective is that it has absolutely no photos to accompany the recipes which I’m sure was an important cost consideration but it certainly gives the book little visual food appeal. Fortunately, Heidi’s photo of the breakfast quinoa recipe and her review of the dish drew me in.

Quinoa is a grain that I am just learning about. It has wonderful health benefits including cholesterol lowering benefits and has a high protein content for a grain. It comes in blond and red varieties (the red being very pretty in this dish). Regarding preparation, it seems most prefer to rinse the grain, let it dry, and then toast it in a dry skillet to bring out its nutty flavor and remove the bitter-tasting saponins that coat it. I cooked the porridge this way and was not disappointed. The porridge is a cross between oatmeal, grape nuts, and wheat germ in consistency and flavor.
It’s cinnamon-y and fruity and has just he right toothsome texture. You can add whatever nuts or berries most appeal to you and can substitute honey for agave although the latter is quite nice in this. If you rinse the grain the night before and allow it to dry in a strainer, the dish is very quick to prepare in the morning and easier than oatmeal since you don’t have to worry about scorching. Give it a try.
Quinoa breakfast porridge (from Chef MD's Big Book of Culinary Medicine: A Food Lover's Road Map to Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Getting Really Healthy, reprinted from 101cookbooks)

1 cup organic 1% low fat milk
1 cup water
1 cup organic quinoa (rinsed. can also toast the dry grains to bring out their nutty flavor)
2 cups fresh blackberries, organic preferred (I used a combination of blackberries and blueberries)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted* (or other nut - I used sliced almonds)
4 teaspoons organic agave nectar (can substitute honey)

Combine milk, water and quinoa in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Turn off heat; let stand covered 5 minutes. Stir in blackberries and cinnamon; transfer to four bowls and top with pecans. Drizzle 1 teaspoon agave nectar over each serving.

Serves 4.

*While the quinoa cooks, roast the pecans in a 350F degree toaster oven for 5 to 6 minutes or in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 3 minutes.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Perfect portion: chioggia beet and goat cheese tartlets

I had the nightmare experience of trying to turn my computer on yesterday only to find that no matter what I did, the screen remained black. Two computer repair places and several hours later, I accepted the fact that it needed to be sent out for repair, and that I would be without my lifeline for four days. Luckily I have a backup system that would make Bill Gates proud, and am not worried about my files. That said, it has taken a while for me to get set up so that I can access my critical files from a borrowed computer and be able to write this week’s post. I’ll save what I was going to share from Maine for next week when I have my own computer back, and in the meantime have a bright lunch idea for this rainy weather.

I love anything cooked in individual portions. Somehow, everything looks and tastes better served that way. Tartlets are no exception – they are even easier to make than full-sized tarts since forming the dough size is simpler. Inspired by the beautiful Chioggia beets in the farmer’s market, I set off to make beet and goat cheese tartlets for lunch and served them with wonderful farmer’s market greens. I love Chioggia beets – they are even more exotic-looking raw and can be eaten that way. I like thinly slicing them in salad: they are a beautiful contrast to greens. Cooked, their concentric rings lose some of their punch but they become beautifully mottled with pink, white and orange colors.

These tartlets (with a great green side salad) are the perfect light, highly civilized lunch.

Beet and goat cheese tartlets

For the dough, use any basic pâte brisée such as this one (dough for one 9 inch pie will make 4-5 tartlets)

For the filling

4-5 beets (Chioggia are beautiful but standard beets would be nice too), drizzled with olive oil, wrapped in foil and roasted in the oven at 350˚ for ~45 minutes or until a knife easily passes through them)
5 oz goat cheese
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, well washed
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme plus one spring thyme to garnish each tart
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Press dough inside fluted mini tart pans (~4.5 inch diameter) with removable bottoms. Roll rolling pin over tops of tarts to cut off any dough above the edges. Prick dough with a fork in several places. Allow to rest in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes. Place parchment paper inside tart pans, covering sides and fill with pie weights. Blind bake for 25 minutes until dough is a golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

While tart shells are blind baking, slice leeks into thin rounds and sauté over medium/medium low heat with a splash of olive oil, small pat of butter and sprinkle of salt and pepper until they are soft and translucent. Mix ~1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves, and a sprinkle of pepper into goat cheese. Stir to soften the cheese.

When beets are cool enough to handle, remove skins and slice very thinly and evenly, ideally using a mandolin.

When tart shells come out of oven, fill bottoms with sautéed leeks and then dot goat cheese evenly on top, using your finger or a fork to gently distribute the cheese.

Bake tarts for ~10 minutes until cheese has softened. Remove from oven and neatly place beet slices on the top, drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with remaining teaspoon chopped thyme leaves and heat in oven until warm, ~5-7 minutes, taking care to ensure beets do not dry out.

Remove from pie pans, garnish with a spring of thyme and serve with a green salad.

p.s. I'm entering the top-down image in this month's "click" event

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Soaking up the last of the summer produce: Vietnamese summer rolls

Apologies for the posting lapse! I had intended to post one last recipe before our long vacation in Maine but time got away from me and I unfortunately left without putting my post up.

We had a wonderful time in Maine. I am going through photos and will have some to share next week. It was great to get away to a completely different environment, and I’ve come back with all sorts of recipe and photography ideas that I’m excited to get to!

Before we left, I revisited an old recipe for Vietnamese summer rolls that is so perfect for lazy summer lunches or light dinners. It does light duty of cooking and makes use of fresh produce. I always feel healthy and light on my toes after a meal of these!

The recipe is informal; you can stuff the rolls with whatever you like or have on hand. It takes a little practice to wrap a nice-looking roll: the trick is to wrap them tightly, folding the ends down over your ingredients and starting with the insides placed off-center toward the long side you begin rolling from. As you go, place the ingredients you want to peak through the outside toward the end of the roll so they are visible when fully wrapped.

You can stuff the rolls with whatever appeals to you: there is no need for a formal recipe. Some favorite fillings include cellophane (rice) noodles (seasoned with a little lime juice and sesame oil), steamed, room-temperature shrimp or chicken, chives, bean sprouts, cucumber, red and yellow peppers sliced lengthwise, avocado, cilantro and mint. The vegetables are added raw and lend a fresh, satisfying crunch.

The classic way to serve these is with a dipping sauce and some nice crunchy lettuce to wrap on the outside along with the mint and cilantro.

Vietnamese summer rolls

To prepare the rice paper wrapper, dip wrapper in a bowl of warm water for five seconds, then transfer to your work area and wrap the roll. Keeping a wet towel or paper towel draped over the rolls will keep them from drying out as you finish the others. Serve rolls immediately when done.

Vietnamese dipping sauce (from Cooking Light)

½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 green chile pepper, very thinly sliced

Stir to combine and serve alongside rolls for dipping.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Purple reign: stuffed baby eggplant

I completely adore eggplant and have been feasting on it lately. In Chelsea market, there’s a green grocer that currently has many different varieties including Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Zebra, and baby eggplant. They are as beautiful to look at as they are delicious.

I couldn’t resist picking up some beautiful neon Japanese eggplants and some adorable, plump baby eggplants. The Japanese eggplant got steamed and served with a spicy soy-based sauce. I wanted to use the baby eggplants in a recipe that would preserve their form and found a wonderful recipe for Geek-style stuffed eggplants with an eggplant-lamb-feta filling on the food network website of all places! I wish I could say that I added a stunningly original twist to the recipe but all I did was use baby eggplants instead of larger ones and add in some sautéed red pepper to the recipe.

The recipe sounded amazing and I knew it would hit the spot. It’s a great summer main dish. I served it with Israeli couscous which is a new favorite. The next day, I took leftover couscous, put it in ramekins, topped it with the remaining lamb-eggplant stuffing, sprinkled fresh feta on the top and broiled it in the oven for a great individually-proportioned leftover feast!

Greek-Style Stuffed Eggplant
(From Sara’s Secrets as printed on the Food Network website, adapted from Gourmet Magazine)

3 (1/2-pound) eggplants
1 teaspoon salt, plus 1 teaspoon
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
2 cups chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound lean ground lamb
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
3 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
3 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into julienne strips
1 cup crumbled feta
(optional: one red bell pepper)

Halve 2 of the eggplants lengthwise, score their pulp deeply with a sharp knife, being careful not to pierce the skins, and with a grapefruit knife scoop out the pulp, reserving it and leaving 1/2-inch-thick shells. Sprinkle the shells with 1 teaspoon salt and invert them on paper towels to drain for 15 to 30 minutes. Cut the reserved pulp and the remaining whole eggplant into 1/2-inch pieces, in a colander toss the pieces with the remaining salt, and let them drain for 15 to 30 minutes.

Pat the shells dry with paper towels, brush them with 1 tablespoon of the oil, and broil them on the rack of a broiler pan, skin side down, under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat until they are tender, about 5 minutes.

In a skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Saute the onion and the garlic until translucent (add ~ 1/2 diced red bell pepper if using). Add the ground lamb and the eggplant pieces, patted dry, stirring, until meat loses all color and eggplant is tender.

Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the parsley, mint, tomatoes, feta, and salt and pepper to taste, and divide the filling among the shells, mounding it. Broil the stuffed eggplants in a large flameproof baking dish for 5 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and golden.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Perfect for a picnic: jam jar muffins

A friend of mine who founded my favorite flickr food photography group, the food photography club, posted an image of little cakes baked in preserving jars. I thought the idea was so cute and would work well with an adapted muffin recipe. Thorsten’s cakes are made with cream cheese and egg whites and apparently can be kept in the jars for up to two weeks. I would be afraid to represent that my recipe would fare equally well (and afraid to poison you!) – but the good thing is that these delicious little lemon poppy seed muffins will not last that long anyway! I used little jam jars with a tad less than 1 cup capacity. Baked in these jars with a little spoon tied to the outside, they make the perfect summer picnic accompaniment. They’re self-contained, won’t squish in the picnic basket and are simply adorable!

My muffins have a little surprise at the bottom: a tablespoon of jam that comes out of the oven molten and delicious. When you cut or spoon into the muffin you end up with a dollop of jam in each bite. Strawberry jam is perfect with the lemon poppy seed muffins – I could easily see it working equally well with corn muffins.

Jam jar muffins
(yield: six large muffins)

3 lemons, scrubbed and patted dry
½ cup butter, room temperature
1 cup plus 2 Tbs sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
2 cups flour
2 Tbs poppy seeds
¼ cup plus 4 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 tablespoons strawberry jam

Heat oven to 375. Grease inside of jam jars. Lightly spread one tablespoon of jam into the bottom of each jar. Finely grate lemon peel to yield 2 Tbs.

In a large bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add lemon peel.

In a separate bowl, stir baking soda into yogurt (it will bubble).

Fold flour into butter mix 1/3 of the time alternating with the yogurt mix. Stir in poppy seeds. Stir in 4 tablespoons lemon juice. When well blended, scoop into jam jars until ~2/3 to ¾ full (muffins may pop up beyond the top of the jar when baked but will easily compress when the lid is closed). Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Combine remaining ¼ cup with 2 tablespoons sugar. Spoon mixture evenly over the top of each muffin.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Chinese street food in your kitchen: Zha Ziang Mian

Even before I lived in Beijing I loved Chinese food. Living there only increased my fondness for the cuisine as it is so much more varied and interesting than what we are used to being served in American-adapted Chinese restaurants in this country. Chinese food is far more flavorful and vegetable-filled and far less heavy, fried and saucy than we are led to believe based on what is available here.

Up until recently, I seldom cooked Chinese food for lack of a good cookbook. I now have one that I love thanks to my dad who found The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco by Cecilia Chiang (complete with an Alice Waters foreword). The cookbook is full of stories from the author’s childhood, which, I will admit, I’ve only skimmed, as I have been completely focused on the wonderful recipes and beautiful photos that accompany them. The recipes are well written with clear explanations of any out-of-the-ordinary ingredients or procedures that make them virtually foolproof. The book covers all of the expected categories including soups and noodles. There’s a great chapter on street food that contains one of my personal favorites: Zha Ziang Mian.

Zha Ziang Mian is a noodle dish topped with ground pork cooked in a soy-bean-hoisin-garlic sauce. It’s completely irresistible if not too photogenic. I made a little adaptation and used thinly sliced pork tenderloin instead of ground pork and added a few extra toppings for color. But if you stick to the original, you can’t go wrong either.

Zha Ziang Mian (adapted from The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco by Cecilia Chiang)
(serves 4)

2 Tbs bean sauce
2 Tbs hoisin sauce
2 Tbs soy sauce

3 Tbs peanut oil
1 Tsp minced garlic
½ lb coarsely ground pork shoulder (pork butt) or ½ lb pork tenderloin, sliced thinly
1 Tbs Shaoxing wine
1 Tsp peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 Tbs minced green onions
½ pound fresh 1/8-inch-wide Chinese noodles
½ English cucumber, partially peeled, cut into 2-inch-long julienne pieces (about ½ cup)

Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Have remaining ingredients pre-measured and standing by as cooking the pork takes just a few minutes.

Boil water for the noodles.

Heat a large wok over high heat, add oil and swirl to coat pan. Add garlic and cook until fragrant and slightly golden, about 10 seconds. Add pork and stir constantly to break the meat apart. Cook pork until just a bit of pink remains and it begins to brown (about 2 minutes). Add wine and ginger and continue to stir for a few second more. Pour in the reserved sauce, bring the liquid to a boil, and stir to thoroughly coat the pork. Add the green onions and toss to combine well. Remove pan from the heat.

Cook the noodles until tender (about 2 minutes). Immediately drain. I like to put the noodles in individual serving dishes, top with the sauce, and garnish with the cucumber, allowing each person to toss their own noodles to combine them with the sauce.

Serve warm, cold or at room temperature as desired.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Udon noodle soup your way

When I worked in midtown Manhattan, there was a Korean deli that, while typical in all other ways, had one special feature: make-your-own udon. At a little station, a cook would fill an enormous styrofoam cup (the size of a super-sized soda from a fast food restaurant) with plump noodles and broth, and then you would select your add-ins from a wide variety of vegetables, meats, tofu and garnishes. It cost $6.50 and was incredibly filling and satisfying. I used to walk all the way across town in search of the soup, which was only available during the winter months.

I was reminded of my love of Udon (and making it just they way you like it) recently when seeing a couple of posts pop up with udon recipes. One was on Just Hungry, and the other on Cook and Eat. I started with the Just Hungry recipe and some Japanese flour which was labeled "Hakuriki ko flower nisshin" and although it didn’t appear to be high gluten, I was assured by the store it was appropriate. Other than having to add quite a bit more water than suggested (in total, I used 2/3 - 3/4 cup water), the recipe worked perfectly. I tried it once in the Kitchenaid with the dough hook, and once in the Cuisinart with the normal blade attachment – both worked fine. Making the noodles was amazingly simple: no egg, no rolling through a pasta machine – just kneading, resting, rolling and cutting. If I said I spent more than 10 minutes of active time on the noodles, I would be exaggerating.

The broth was a little trickier. I found the Just Hungry recipe way too strong. Cook and Eat used Harumi’s recipe (for the udon noodles as well, which call for a mixture of all purpose and bread flours), and I have had great luck with hers in the past. Depending on your taste, you might want to dilute the broth. You can also buy a pre-made concentrated soup base and dilute it to your taste.

The fun part is adding your own mix-ins. I went with thinly sliced, sautéed pork shoulder, spinach, shiitake and enoki mushrooms, scallions and a healthy pinch of Japanese shichimi togarashi. You could add anything: broccoli, carrots, onions and chicken to name a few. Delicate greens like spinach need not be cooked – they wilt in the hot broth and are ready to eat by the time the soup gets to the table.

Udon noodles

See here or here.

For the soup (adapted from Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking: Simple, Elegant Recipes for Contemporary Tastes):

1 2/3-2 cups homemade udon noodles
1 cup dashi stock
1/3 cup basic mentsuyu sauce (see below)
finely chopped spring onions to taste
Add-ins to taste including: enoki mushrooms, fresh spinach leaves, shiitake mushrooms, egg, thinly sliced pork shoulder sautéed with a little garlic and ginger
chili powder or sichimi togarashi to taste

Metsuyu sauce:

4-inch piece dried kombu seaweed
1 cup water
1 3/4 cup soy sauce
1 1/4 cup mirin
2 tbs superfine sugar
4 1/2 tbs dried fish flakes

Heat noodles by pouring boiling water over them in a colander. Drain well and place in individual serving bowls.

Mix three parts dashi stock with one part Metsuyu sauce and heat in a pan. As it comes to a boil, turn the heat off and pour over the udon. Add in additional toppings. Sprinkle with spring onions and chili powder or shichimi togarashi to taste.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Fresh pea soup and a little news

I'll start with the news! I placed second in last month's DMBGIT awards with my tapioca pudding image. Thank you so so much Helen and the other judges, Jen, Graeme, Nadia and Alyson! I love this monthly event because it's a great way to see what everyone else is up to and get caught up on posts you might have missed. See the roundup and the other wonderful images here. I have been focusing much more on food photography lately. I hope to broaden my focus beyond my own little world, and as as such have set up an on-line portfolio (a work in progress) that you can see here. If you know anyone looking for a one-stop shop photographer, cook, and stylist, please send them my way! Now, on to the post . . .

There are beautiful, fresh peas of all kinds everywhere right now. I’ve been eating them in salads, raw and cooked, and snacking on English peas right out of the pod.

I love fresh pea soup, and I’d like to think I have the patience to shell the peas myself, but that never seems to happen. Luckily, the farmer’s market has been selling freshly shelled peas by the half pint and I feel like that’s close enough to shelling them myself.

Taking advantage of this short pea season, I made pea soup and served it with fun garnishes and a radish and ricotta tartine on the side. It’s the perfect lunch or light dinner and can be served both hot or cold.

I learned a tip from Alice Waters that takes a little more time but makes a difference: after puréeing the soup, place it in an ice bath and stir it until cooled. This helps to maintain the soup’s bright green color.

Fresh pea soup

4 cups freshly shelled peas
1 quart chicken stock
One onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 cup plain yogurt
2-3 cloves garlic, roasted and peeled
1 sprig thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Garnishes (optional):

Chopped chive
Thinly sliced radish
Pea pods
Pea shoots

Sauté carrot and onion in olive oil until translucent. Add chicken stock, garlic, thyme, tarragon and celery seeds. Bring to a boil, simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes. Remove one cup of stock from the pot and reserve.

Add the peas, simmer until soft (5-10 minutes maximum). Purée soup in a blender or with an immersion blender and then pour into an ice bath (a heat proof bowl placed on top of a bowl filled with ice). Stir until cooled to room temperature and then remove from the ice. Stir in one cup plain yogurt. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Check soup for desired consistency. If too thick, slowly add in reserved stock until it is as thick as you like it.

Reheat or keep at room temperature to serve. Garnish with chopped chive, pea pods, and radish or as desired.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Burst of color and seasonal flavor: beet bruschetta

A completely lovely friend went to Israel to visit her family recently and came back with an Israeli cookbook for me. She selected the most perfect cookbook – it is beautifully laid out on large, glossy paper, the photography is colorful and gorgeous, and it is very modern and young. It is full of stories and history related to food. Israeli food is a cuisine I am largely unfamiliar with: this book is the perfect seduction into Israeli cooking.

Having coincidentally picked up both beets and pomegranate seeds at the market, I was intrigued to find the perfect use for my acquisitions: a beetroot and pomegranate salad. Strange coincidence to spot a recipe that makes use of both, no?

I have had bruschetta on the brain recently and decided to morph the salad into a bruschetta topping, and of course, make my own little adjustments, namely swapping out the cilantro and replacing it with chopped Italian flat leaf parsley and chives, and adding some crumbled ricotta salata to the top. Perfection. I love the contrast of the dark, dense beets with the translucent seeds, and the green of the herbs adds wonderful color and freshness.

Beet and pomegranate seed bruschetta (heavily adapted from Beetroot and Pomegranate Salad from The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey)

3-4 medium beetroots, stem ends trimmed to ~1 inch length, washed lightly
2 tablespoons pomegranate concentrate
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2-3 dried chili peppers, crushed
2 tablespoons fresh chopped chives
1 cup pomegranate seeds
¼ - ½ cup coarsely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
¼ cup delicate olive oil
Crumbled ricotta salata to top
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 fresh baguette, sliced diagonally into ~1/2 inch rounds

Sprinkle beets with olive oil, wrap individually in aluminum foil packets, and roast in a 375º degree oven for ~45 minutes or until tender. Let cool. Peel and chop into small dice.

Mix with pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice, peppers, sea salt and pepper. Set aside for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Spoon mixture onto bread rounds. Sprinkle with parsley and ricotta salata. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The best of the berry: strawberry frozen yogurt

I promise to get off frozen desserts soon, but I’m having so much fun experimenting with all of the fresh fruit that’s in the market now, I have to slip one more recipe in.

I recently gave in and purchased David Lebovitz’s Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments cookbook. I usually limit the cookbooks I buy on a single topic because they don’t get enough play, but this one is going to be an exception: there are so many wonderful and refreshing sounding desserts in it that I am sure it will quickly become a regular in the rotation.

Strawberries are everywhere right now. We brought home a few pints of beautiful fresh picked ones from Long Island last weekend. Wanting to use them all up while they were at their freshest, I flipped through the Perfect Scoop for ideas. There were several great-sounding recipes: strawberry frozen yogurt, strawberry-sour ice cream, and strawberry granita, to name a few. I started with the frozen yogurt, and it was such a hit I went on to make the strawberry-sour ice cream the next day!

The frozen yogurt is particularly great because it only requires five ingredients (one of which is optional) and is made without cooking. No pots and pans to clean up and no custard to cook. The color of the frozen yogurt is a gorgeous hot pink, and the taste? Amazing, deep, fresh strawberry flavor that will make you swear off store-bought frozen yogurt forever.

Strawberry frozen yogurt (from the Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments by David Lebovitz)
(makes about 1 quart)

1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vodka or kirsch (optional)
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Slice the strawberries into small pieces. Toss in a bowl with the sugar and vodka or kirsch, if using, stirring until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring every so often.

Puree the strawberries and their liquid with the yogurt and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth. If you wish, press the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove any seeds.

Refrigerate for 1 hour then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.