Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Roasted Beet Sandwich

Earlier this month I was in the Twin Cities to attend a family graduation. While I was there I had the privilege of spending a few days with my good friend Bonnie. As usual we talked about, cooked and ate lots of good food. We visited the St. Paul Farmers' Market (one of my favorite markets) and also made a quick trip to a little mid-week market in the town of Excelsior. (I say "quick" because the weather was unseasonably cool and I hadn't packed appropriately. It was windy and way too chilly for my shorts and light jacket.) At the end of the market there was a food truck (called "The Moral Omnivore...ethical eats from bacon to beets") that we had been encouraged to visit. We ordered a quinoa salad and a couple of their featured sliders and then raced back down the length of the market to enjoy our lunch in the warmth of the car.

Everything we had was very good, but it was the beet slider that stood out. It was good I was tempted to brave the cold to run the length of the market to get another...but I didn't want to be a pig. Filled with thinly sliced roasted beets, egg, and goat gouda...I loved everything about it. Normally when I eat something I like this much, I write down a short description of it so I can recreate it (or use it for inspiration) at a later date in my own kitchen. I don't know why I didn't write anything down about this sandwich...I enjoyed it so much I probably thought I wouldn't be able to forget it.

I'm not sure what it says about my mental note keeping faculties, but I completely forgot about that wonderful little sandwich until today. Yesterday I purchased a couple of bunches of beets at my farmers' market. Typically I roast my market beets while I'm unpacking the rest of my purchases, but work prevented me from doing this yesterday. Instead I roasted them this morning while I was getting ready for church and then left them on the counter to cool while I was gone. When I got home from church I started to pull out everything I needed to make one of my favorite Sunday lunches...a fried egg sandwich. As I was doing this I had to move the beets. It was then that I remembered the beet slider.

Unfortunately I don't remember a lot of the details of the slider other than the thinly sliced, roasted beets. I should call Bonnie so she can fill in the details I'm missing. Honestly, I'm not even sure that the beet slider included egg...I may be confusing it with something else I had over that weekend... In any case, today there was something about the action of making a sandwich and the sight of the roasted beets that tripped my memory. And even if there weren't eggs in the original...eggs are wonderful in combination with beets.

Since I don't keep slider buns on hand, I used a couple of toasted slices of a miniature Boule (I think Focaccia would be a good bread choice too). I slathered both pieces of bread with mayonnaise (I am never skimpy with the mayo on a sandwich) and Dijon mustard. The beets I sliced for my sandwich were simply roasted and peeled. I almost always dress roasted beets with a little bit of vinegar (to draw out their sweetness) but for this sandwich, you don't need to. If you happen to have some roasted, dressed beets on hand though, I'm sure they would be fine.

Since I was planning on frying an egg, I went ahead and used a fried egg, but hard cooked egg—or a thin smear of egg salad—would be good too. To finish I knew I needed something green and a bit of cheese. I didn't have any goat gouda on hand, so I used P'tit Basque—but any medium-soft (so you can get nice, thin slices), salty and mild cheese would work well. I'm fairly certain that The Moral Omnivore's slider also included arugula...I used a leaf of Boston Bibb instead.

This sandwich has lots of possibilities. If I had had it on hand, a little black olive tapenade would have been a nice touch...arugula pesto would be good too. If you don't like egg, some sliced avocado would be excellent. In the fall, maybe some thinly sliced roasted sweet potato.... The main idea is a sandwich filled with sliced, roasted beets and other good things that go with those beets.

My beet and egg sandwich was delicious....just like its inspiration, it was loaded with flavor and very satisfying. It was so good I wanted to make another...but I was out of bread...and just like before, I really didn't want to be a pig.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Market Inspiration...Salmon with Wilted Greens, New Potatoes, Olives & Lemon

For our dinner Sunday evening we had a simple meal of pan-seared salmon with wilted greens, potatoes, olives and lemon. Both the new potatoes and the greens (a mixture of chard and beet greens) were from my Saturday trip to the farmers' market. I love cooking this time of year...with a fridge and pantry full of market produce, dinner practically makes itself.

Typically when I cook chard or beet greens, I simply add the trimmed and rinsed greens directly to a sauté pan of hot, seasoned (garlic, onion, pepper flakes, anchovies, etc.) olive oil. The relatively tender greens will collapse and cook to tenderness fairly quickly. An alternate method of cooking is to first blanch the greens in boiling salted water. Then, when the leaves are tender, transfer them to a colander to drain before spreading them on a baking sheet to cool. After squeezing out most of the excess moisture from the cooled greens, they can be warmed through in the seasoned olive oil right before serving. Restaurants use this method because it allows the line cook to quickly produce a serving of wilted greens to order (not to mention that it reduces the amount of space the greens take up on the cook's station). It's a great method to use if you are serving greens for a crowd or working ahead for a party. At home (where I cook for two) I am most likely to use this alternate method when I'm cooking sturdier greens (like kale) simply because it saves takes much less time to blanch sturdy greens to tenderness than it does to wilt them directly in the hot oil.

Sunday evening I chose to use this latter method for another reason: I was preparing two different types of greens and I had no idea if they would cook in the same amount of time or not. Blanching allowed me to cook each separately (different batches in the same pot of water) and then warm them up together for serving.

The reason I mention this is that you might find yourself in a similar situation. The "bunches" of greens that you purchase at the farmers' market can vary in size from vendor to vendor and if you have a smaller bunch...or extra greens left from a larger might find yourself combining different types of greens in order to make up the volume you need for a particular preparation or for a specific number of servings.

In my case, the bunch of chard I purchased on Saturday was a bit small. An average bunch of chard will produce about five ounces of trimmed leaves. This is just about right for two portions of wilted greens. The chard I purchased had a yield of only 3 1/2 ounces of leaves. Fortunately, I had also purchased some beets at the market, so I decided to supplement my chard with some of the beet greens. Once picked through and trimmed, I had another 2 1/2 ounces of greens—making six ounces...more than enough for two portions.

Beautiful beet the same family as Swiss Chard
...if you have never had them, you should definitely give them a try.

To make the greens, warm some olive oil (about 1 1/2 to 2 T.) in a wide sauté pan. Trim a couple of spring onions so that the length of the green portion is about equal to the length of the white and pale green portion. Trim away the root and any wilted bits of green. Halve the onions lengthwise and slice thinly cross-wise (you should have about 1/2 cup of sliced onion). Add the onion to the oil along with a pinch of salt and a few hot pepper flakes. Gently stew until the onions are soft and tender—about 10 minutes. Set aside until you are ready to heat the blanched greens. To serve, add the cooled, blanched greens to the pan and cook over moderate heat until hot through. If the greens seem dry, add a bit more olive oil. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt & pepper.

If you like, you can finish the greens with a squeeze of lemon. But since I was serving the greens with salmon—which is also nice with lemon—I chose instead to serve each plate with a wedge of lemon so we could each dress our greens and fish to our liking at the table.

To cook the salmon, heat a heavy sauté pan (I prefer carbon steel or cast-iron) over medium high heat—the pan should be just large enough to hold the fish. Dry the filets (I used skinless filets) with paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper. Add enough olive or canola oil to the pan to barely coat the bottom. When the pan is hot enough, the oil will slide easily across the pan. One or two wisps of smoke curling off of the pan is just about right—if the oil smokes profusely, the pan is too hot. Add the fillets to the pan (skinned side up) and cook without disturbing until golden brown—about 3 minutes. Carefully slide a slotted spatula under each filet, gently flip them over (tilting the pan helps to prevent a big splash of hot oil) and continue to cook until the fish is cooked to your liking. The "fisherman's rule of thumb is to cook the fish for 10 minutes per inch of thickness...I like mine a little less done than that. However you like your fish done, remember that it will continue to cook after it has been removed from the pan, so cook it so it is just a bit under done. If you have very thick fillets, You may need to lower the heat a bit while it finishes. Or, you may transfer the pan to a 375° to 400º oven to finish the cooking. Remove the fish from the pan and let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

Along with the salmon and greens, I served new potatoes roasted with garlic, thyme and black olives. I particularly like this roasting method for firm little, freshly dug (before the green portion of the plant dies back), new potatoes.

You may add the olives or you please.

To prepare the potatoes, preheat the oven to 375°. For each person, you will need 4 to 6 oz. of potatoes (depending on appetites—four ounces is plenty for me). Scrub the potatoes well. If you have true new potatoes, most—if not all—of the skin will simply rub off as you scrub them. Halve the potatoes if they are large. Place the potatoes with some whole (unpeeled) cloves of garlic (1 or 2 per person) and some sprigs of fresh thyme (or rosemary). Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat generously and season with salt and pepper. Spread the potatoes in a baking dish (stoneware, ceramic or enameled cast iron are all good choices) that is just large enough to hold the potatoes in a snug single layer.  Add a splash of water (just a tablespoon or so)

and cover tightly with foil. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, add some Kalamata olives (pitted or not...about 5 or 6 per person) and give the pan a gentle shake to coat the olives in the oil and redistribute the potatoes. Continue to roast until the potatoes are tender to the tip of a knife—another 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs. The garlic may be removed and reserved for another use or served with the potatoes. Set aside and keep warm.

I loved the way this meal came together in a harmonious whole...the lemon, olives and garlic adding just the right touch. If you aren't crazy about fish, you might try this combination of greens and potatoes with a grilled or sautéed chicken breast. But don't wait too long. True new potatoes are a fleeting treat ... and they won't be around for long.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

A meal of gathered ingredients

Earlier this year I posted this picture on Facebook:

My caption read: "On a lazy Saturday in January...lunch of a few of my favorite things (Clementines, Medjool Dates, Almonds & Manchego Cheese). Sometimes you don't need to cook... "

This is so don't always need to cook to eat well. Frankly, sometimes you can't're too tired...too busy or stressed out...too --- something. But these occasions don't have to be occasions when you eat processed or fast food. The idea that a meal has to be cooked—by you or someone else (or in the case of fast and/or processed food, by an industrial processing facility)—is narrow and limiting. Some of the very best meals—like my January lunch—are simply gathered. Or, as in the case of our dinner last Sunday night, made up of a combination gathered and minimally cooked items.

I should clarify that when I say "gathered", I don't mean foraged. Although a meal of sautéed fiddleheads and morels that I had gathered on a long walk would be delicious, it isn't what I have in mind here. No, the kind of meal I'm talking about is one that features a few quality purchased items—items that, when combined thoughtfully, make a meal. Your gathered items can be any number of things— a delicious pâté, cured sausage or cheese...maybe some olives or some purchased pickled or marinated vegetables...fresh, perfectly ripe fruit or some soft, chewy dried fruits...a few nuts (freshly roasted)...simply prepared fresh vegetables (maybe with a nice purchased or leftover sauce...pesto...aioli...salsa verde...)...a small handful of baby lettuces, dressed with a drizzle of good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon...a nice crusty loaf of bread or some tasty crackers... You get the idea. Whatever you serve, just make sure that it is something you love and is of a quality that pleases you.

I don't think any complicated recipe I might have prepared would have been any better than the meal we had this past Sunday evening. It was simplicity at its best. A delicious, oozy goat Robiola, a nice crusty loaf of raisin walnut bread,

and market fresh, early summer vegetables...simply prepared.

The beets were roasted and dressed with sherry vinegar and olive oil. The snap peas were blanched and tossed with olive oil and fleur de sel. The new potatoes (freshly dug...the first of the season) were poached in a small amount of water and olive oil and were finished with more olive oil and chives from my garden. A perfect meal.

The only thing that would have made our dinner better would have been a nice dry Rosé...but I didn't happen to have any in the house...and my "gathering" for this particular meal didn't extend to exerting myself to make a run to the store.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Ice Cream... For me, it's the quintessential sweet treat of summer. Recently, when I found myself in the unusual position of having a glut of egg yolks (resulting from an order for Financiers from a client), making ice cream seemed the obvious thing to do. And since my mint patch has been in dire need of a trimming, a mint ice cream of some kind seemed to be in order.

A couple of years ago David Lebovitz posted a delicious looking recipe on his blog for a Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream that used loads of fresh mint instead of extracts and food coloring. The ice cream I made uses Lebovitz's mint infusion method and my preferred ice cream base.  For the liquid I use half whole milk and half cream and for each cup of liquid I use 2 egg yolks and 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar. As is my habit most of the time, I substitute honey for a little over half of the sugar (by weight)...I love the silky texture this gives. For this particular ice cream, choose a mild honey (clover honey is fine—I prefer raw). The effect is about the texture, not the flavor. If you don't have (or don't want to use) any honey, you can use all sugar. Just follow the directions in the "notes" section of the recipe.

My Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream was quite different from its store-bought counterpart. The mint flavor is front and center, aromatic and lingering. And the color is a beautiful pale, muted green. I loved the natural color imparted by the fresh mint, but I suppose if you want your ice cream to be a brilliant "minty" green, you could always add a drop or two of green color.

If you don't have your own large patch of mint (in need of a trim), you might try to find a friend who does have one. You will need a generous 2 ounces of mint leaves to make a quart of ice cream. You can also find mint at your farmers' market, where it will be more abundant and less expensive than what you will find at the grocery store (not to mention fresher). The resulting ice cream is absolutely worth the time it might take to find a plentiful source of mint. And I am certain that if you have only had commercial varieties of mint ice cream, you will find this one to be a true summer treat.

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
pinch of salt
60 grams fresh mint leaves (2 cups tightly packed mint), well washed and dried
6 large egg yolks (120 grams)
1/3 c. sugar (65 grams)
1/4 c. honey (85 grams)
5 oz. semi-sweet or bitter-sweet chocolate, melted

Place the milk, 1/2 cup of the cream and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Heat until just beginning to simmer. Add the mint leaves. When the mint collapses and is submerged,

remove the pan from the heat. Cover and let steep/infuse for an hour or so.  (I let mine steep for an hour and a half, but be don't want it to be bitter or too strong.)

Place the remaining 1 cup of cream in a medium sized bowl and chill.

When ready to make the ice cream base, strain out the mint, pressing hard with a spatula or ladle to extract all of the liquid and as much color as you can.

Discard the mint. Set the strainer aside for straining the finished custard.

Return the infused milk/cream mixture to the heat and bring to a boil. While the milk is heating, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until smooth and thick. When the milk boils, temper the egg yolks by gradually whisking in about half of the hot milk. Stir the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan and place the pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard is thickened and forms a path when you draw your finger across the back of the spoon (if you like. you may check the temperature with an instant read thermometer—it should be about 170° to 175°). Immediately strain the custard into the bowl of cold cream. Add the honey and stir until the honey has melted. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Freeze the ice cream in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. How you add the "chips" will depend on your style of ice cream maker. The basic idea is to drizzle the chocolate into the finished, softly set ice cream a bit (maybe an ounce?) at a time and fold it in before drizzling in some more and folding again. The process is repeated until all the chocolate has been added. The chocolate freezes almost immediately upon coming into contact with the frozen custard and the folding process breaks the drizzles up into chips. I have a hand-crank, chilled canister-type maker, so to add the chocolate, I removed the paddle from the ice cream and then added the chocolate using the process described above while the ice cream was still in its chilled canister. I then transferred the finished mint chip ice cream to a chilled container for the freezer. David Lebovitz suggests layering the chocolate into the ice cream as you transfer it into another container. He has good pictures of his process on his post.

Chill the ice cream until firm before serving. Makes about 1 quart ice cream.

Notes: To make an all sugar version (no honey) of the ice cream, use 3/4 cup (150 grams) of sugar. Whisk half of it into the yolks as directed in the recipe. Add the other half to the strained, mint-infused milk mixture while bringing it back to a simmer prior to tempering the egg yolks.

(Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz)

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Blondies with Dried Tart Cherries, Pistachios & White Chocolate Chunks

I have been asked to prepare bar cookies for a nephew's high school graduation party this year. The request was for simple, familiar, teenage-boy friendly kinds of bars. So, I have been making large quantities of brownies, blondies and mixed berry crumble bars. Lemon bars are still on the "to do" list. Per the request, the blondies I made are simple and typical...a brown-sugary, slightly chewy bar cookie, loaded with chocolate chips. To satisfy my own desire for something a little different, I made a small pan of the same blondies over the weekend, replacing the chocolate chips with white chocolate chunks, pistachios and dried tart cherries.

The basic recipe is a slightly amended version of a blondie that appears in multiple guises in Martha Stewart's Cookies. The main change I made to the basic recipe was that instead of baking the blondies in an 8-inch square or 9-inch round baking pan, I have spread the batter out into a quarter sheet pan (a 13- by 9-inch will work just as well) for a thinner, more "bar cookie"-like look.

I have always liked these cookies, but I really love them in their thinner form.  They still have enough heft and "chewiness" to qualify as a blondie, and they have a very nice, even texture...tender and moist from edge to edge—no raised, hard edges and no rawness in the center. They also slice beautifully and are sturdy enough to travel. Just about perfect.

These cookies are excellent when made in their "plain" form with just chocolate chips. But you can of course load them up with anything you like. I really like this white chocolate-cherry-pistachio version....they are particularly delicious. Those teenage boys have no idea what they are missing.

Blondies with Dried Tart Cherries,
Pistachios & White Chocolate Chunks

190 grams (about 1 2/3 c.) all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
3/4 t. salt (scant...see variations)
10 T. (140 grams) unsalted butter, softened
200 grams (1 c.) golden brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
4 oz. white chocolate, chopped (about 2/3 c.)
2/3 c. dried tart cherries (chopped if large)
65 grams (1/2 c.) toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Butter a quarter sheet pan (or, you may use a 13- by 9-inch baking pan). Line with parchment. Butter the parchment and flour the pan. Preheat the oven to 350°.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar at medium speed until smooth and beginning to lighten in color—about a minute. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture. When almost fully incorporated, add the white chocolate, cherries and pistachios. Mix until well incorporated.

Scrape the patter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. Bake in a 350° oven until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean (a few crumbs are OK)—about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan. Run a knife around the edge and place a baking sheet over the pan. Flip the blondies out onto the baking sheet. Peel off the parchment and flip the blondies back over onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut into 24 to 48 bars.

• Omit the white chocolate, tart cherries & pistachios. Add 1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chips.  I use a full 3/4 t. table salt with the all chocolate variation.  The original recipe called for 3/4 t. kosher salt (which isn't as strong as table salt...which is what I alway use for baking).
• Use any combination of nuts, dried fruit & chocolate you prefer.

(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies)

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