Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Almond Sticks with Cacao Nibs



I've been trying to make my peace with the coming winter. The shortening days, the rain, the wind, the farewell to reading in the backyard on a camping chair in the last of the light. The light that now disappears before 5:30. Sigh.

I once read a list of ways to make yourself happier around the home, that included this excellent suggestion: If you can't get out of something, get into it. This mantra, cribbed from one of the legions of how-to-get-happier books on the market, encourages you to let go of what you would have frankly rather been doing, and just embrace where you're at. Doing the dishes? Do those dishes! Heckyeah dishes! And so forth. So I'm trying to do that for winter. I'm flirting with picking up a cheap little sunny picture to tack to my walls, as a sort of wintertime gift that'll make me feel better about the gray outside. Oh, and I'm baking cookies.

Far be it from me to decry the value of a gooey, oozy brownie. Or a galette that spills sugary fruit syrup over its edges. But bittersweet cookies seem just the thing for turning my bitter feelings into sweetness.

These particular cookies, from pastry guru Alice Medrich, have been likened to biscotti. But really they're more of a shortbread stick, with ground almonds taking the place of some of the butter. And then they're studded with cacao nibs, the full-flavored-yet-unsweetened building blocks of chocolate (which, as a bonus, add nice little crunchy nubbins throughout). As the days darken, and the possibility of something called a "wintery mix" enters into the forecast, I'm still struggling to get into winter. But cookies? I'm so into those. I'm trusting the rest will follow.


Almond Sticks with Cacao Nibs

adapted from Alice Medrich's Seriously Bitter Sweet
yields ~18 cookies

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour  
3/4 cup whole almonds (Medrich recommends blanched, but I'm not that fancy)
2/3 cup sugar  
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt  
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed  
1/4 cup roasted cacao nibs  
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cold water

Pulse the flour, almonds, sugar, and salt in a food processor until smooth. Add the butter, and pulse until pea-size crumbles form. Add the cacao nibs, vanilla, and water, and pulse just a few times until a crumbly dough forms.

Form the dough into a 6- x 9-inch rectangle, about 1/2-inch thick, and wrap in plastic wrap, parchment, or a plastic bag. Transfer to your refrigerator, and chill at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.

When you're ready to bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or two baking sheets, if yours are small). Unwrap the dough onto a cutting board, and slice crosswise into 1/2-inch x 6-inch thick batons. Transfer to your baking sheets, leaving an inch between cookies. Bake until cookies are golden around the edges, ~20 minutes. Transfer to a rack, and cookies cool completely before serving.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Apple Walnut Salad with Bread, Cheddar and Lime



I was in something of a groove with summer salads. Soft butter lettuces, drippy-sweet peaches or melon, a handful of basil leaves. Maybe some corn shaved off the cob, or mild and briny feta. These were less salads than summer celebrations. And then the rains set in, and corn and peaches and basil leaves disappeared. And salads became the same. Lettuce, carrots, maybe some beets or toasted pumpkin seeds if I was feeling fancy. You know, salads. Boring salads. And then I saw this recipe. Crisp apples, fresh croutons, cheddar cheese and scallions. Oh, and parsley, all tied together with a limey dressing. Hello, fall salads!

This recipe comes from Joshua McFadden, the genius behind the ur-kale salad, way back in our kale-free days of 2007. McFadden now, blessedly, has set up shop in Portland, where I was lucky enough to eat at his restaurant. And he does have a way with vegetables.

This salad is just lovely — much like my summertime versions, more celebration than salad, a curated assembly of the fruits of the season. The dressing is aggressively limey, but is perfectly balanced by the cheese, bread, and scallions. And then there's the nuts! And apples apples apples! Can you tell I'm excited? It's just that sort of salad.

And if you'd like another reason to wax enthusiastic about the autumnal harvest, I recently produced a story about eating acorns (or, if you prefer to think of them this way, oak nuts). You can hear all about it over at NPR.


Apple Walnut Salad with Bread, Cheddar and Lime

adapted from Joshua McFadden, via Bon Appetit
serves ~6 small first courses, 4 larger courses

1/2 cup walnut halves
1 generous cup rough-torn pieces of crusty bread
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the bread
1/4 cup lime juice
dollop honey
generous pinch chili flakes
2 crisp apples (Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, etc)
1/4 cup parsley leaves, plucked off the stems
4 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1/3 cup crumbled sharp white cheddar

Preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Spread the walnuts in a rimmed baking sheet, and toast, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (~8-10 minutes). Give them a rough chop (or just crush them with your hands), and set aside in a small dish.

Raise the oven temperature to 450° Fahrenheit, and place the bread chunks on that same baking sheet. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of salt, then toast, stirring occasionally, until toasted to a golden brown on the edges, ~10 minutes (you can also do this in a skillet, but hey if you've got the oven on it's easy). Remove, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, honey, and chili flakes, along with salt to taste. Core and thinly slice the apples, then toss them with the dressing to coat (which, conveniently, will keep the apples from discoloring). Then add the parsley, scallions, cheddar, and reserved walnuts and bread, and gently toss. Transfer to plates and serve.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mushroom Barley Soup



Several years ago, the little hippie natural market down the street was going out of business. I must admit I wasn't terribly crushed to see it go — their prices weren't great, the in-house bakery didn't make the sort of breads and cookies I fancy, and they would never mark produce down to the half-priced bin until it was nearly in a state of active decomposition. But in addition to clearing the way for a less flawed grocery store to move in, their departure had another unexpected benefit: the Going Out of Business Sale.

I remember filling up a few bags of marked-down groceries, though all these years later I don't remember what they were. But here's what I do remember: an enormous, gallon-sized glass jar of dried porcini mushrooms.

Dried porcinis are the shortcut to deep, amazing flavor. They are also beyond expensive. So when I asked a clerk the price on the unmarked jar, I expected something ridiculous. "Um, $20?" he suggested. "But we're in our final days, so everything's half-priced. $10." I grabbed the jar, hit the checkout, and ran home before anyone reconsidered.

It's a deal so good I kinda feel a bit guilty. And it was quite the haul — although the dwindling supply has been transferred to smaller and smaller jars over the years, I'm still making my way through them. But that's okay. Because I can just keep making mushroom barley soup.  

Like many with roots in Eastern Europe, I grew up with mushroom barley soup. It's hearty, delicious, and perfect for these blustery days. This recipe comes from the lovely Zingerman's deli, and uses the dried porcinis to add some fusty oomph to the sliced fresh mushrooms. I upped the vegetable component, because that's what I do, and even stirred in a few ribbons of tender baby collards. Even if you don't have your own stash of dried porcinis, it's still likely a good soup. But with them, it's even better.


Mushroom Barley Soup

adapted from Zingerman's Deli, via Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America
yields one enormous pot of soup (which also freezes well)

1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms  
2 tablespoons butter, oil or margarine

1 large onion, diced
2 ribs celery with leaves, diced  
1/4 cup parsley (I swapped this out with a few leaves of young collards, as I love me some greens) 

2-3 carrots, peeled and diced  
3 cloves garlic, chopped  
1 pound fresh mushrooms (buttons or criminis), thickly sliced
1 tablespoon flour  
2 quarts broth or water  
1 cup whole barley  
bay leaf
salt

Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Place your dried porcinis in a small heat-proof bowl, and pour the hot water over them to cover completely. Let soak half an hour. Swish out any dirt from the dried mushrooms, transfer to a cutting board, and pour the soaking liquid through a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Reserve this mushroom liquid. Coarsely chop the dried mushrooms, and reserve those as well.

Melt the butter or oil in a large soup pot over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery, half the parsley, carrots, and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened but not colored, ~5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and cook until they give off their liquid and soften, another ~7 minutes. (If your pot isn't huge, you can split this process into two pots, and then combine at this point.)

When the mushrooms have softened, sprinkle on the flour, and stir until for a few minutes, until the mixture is well combined and beginning to thicken. Gradually add the broth or water, a cup or so at a time at first, stirring and raising the heat until it begins to simmer. Add all of the liquid, along with the reserved mushrooms and their liquid, and they bay leaf and barley. Stir well, add salt to taste.

Simmer, partially covered, stirring every now and then, for at least an hour, until the barley is tender and the soup is delicious (if you're a hippie like me and want to use some kale or collards, add them in for the last 15 minutes or so).  Remove the bay leaf, add the remaining chopped parsley, adjust seasonings and serve.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ful Medames (fava puree)



I have split and peeled fava beans in my pantry, and they are generally there for one purpose only: to make falafel. This is a noble purpose, enough to warrant them permanent residence on my over-full shelves. But still, it seems a little silly. I can't but wish I had something else I could do with them. Which is why I was quite excited to come across a recipe for ful medames.

Ful medames are a beloved Middle Eastern fava bean preparation. Not the ridiculous-amount-of-work fresh favas, but the fully mature beans, cooked into a simple yet satisfying dish. I'm a big fan of the dish, but pretty much exclusively from a can. My local Middle Eastern store stocks a full shelf of ful cans with enthusiastic banners on the label — Egyptian style! Saudi style! Palestinian style! — each a slight tweak on whole or pureed beans, maybe some cumin, lemon juice, possible garlic or tomato paste. I love em all. But while the can is easy-peasy, I figured fresh was best. And cheapest. Also: I had the favas on my shelf.

And so I tried this recipe. And I liked it. It's sort of like a tweak on your usual hummous, but with the favas' slightly deeper flavor (and, thanks to the dried beans being peeled and split, quicker cooking time). I soaked the beans overnight, then simmered them up to a mush (which I then pureed into an even smoother mush). Garlic, tomato paste, and lemon juice give it a nice balance, but really the fun comes in the toppings. I brought it to a brunch (as this dish is actually a common breakfast offering in the region), and sprinkled on some olive oil, cilantro leaves, and the *sniffle* last of the garden tomatoes. But you could just as easily go with a dollop of tahini, drizzle of yogurt, or sprinkle of aleppo pepper or sumac. With favas as your canvas, it's hard to go wrong.



Ful Medames (split fava puree)

adapted from Ya Salam Cooking
yields ~2 cups

1 cup dried split fava beans, soaked overnight
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt to taste
toppings: cilantro leaves, chopped tomato, olive oil, plain yogurt

Place the beans in a pot with water to cover by an inch or two. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer, and cook until the beans are totally soft, ~30-40 minutes. Halfway through, add the tomato paste and garlic cloves.

When the beans are cooked through, drain off the excess water, and transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the cumin and lemon juice, and a bit of salt, and process until smooth.  Taste and adjust flavors — feel free to doctor it up to your taste (and keep in mind the lemon will fade upon standing).

Transfer the ful into a bowl (I like to create a bit of a depression, so as to better contain what's coming next), and top with any or all of the toppings. Scoop up with wedges of pita bread.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Chocolate-Dipped Almond Horns


When you move, there are things you miss immediately. The local market, the friends you cooked dinner with, the bar where you ruled at trivia. And then there are things that, years later, you suddenly realize oh wait! Where did that go? Has it literally been years? Seriously, why is it that no bakery around here seems to be selling almond horns?

Now, it's possible I'm just looking in the wrong places (a side effect of not liking to venture too far from my house). But it's also possible that the by-the-pound Italian bakeries of my New York youth just don't exist here. Which would be a shame. Especially when it comes to chocolate-dipped almond horns.


These cookies are lovely. Just lovely. And, requiring a tube of almond paste for just a half dozen cookies (large, but still), they ain't cheap. And yes, you can make your own almond paste (more on that later). But they're worth it. So when I came into a tube of the stuff thanks to a generous friend, I knew just what I wanted to make.

The almond paste (reinforced with almond meal and sliced almonds) creates a cookie that is rich and moist, but not overly sweet. That's what the glaze is for. They're so, so perfect for enjoying with a cup of coffee. I hid the leftovers in the freezer, where they stay perfectly fresh (and, if you're generous, at the ready should you want to treat an unexpected visitor). As a huge trafficker in nostalgia, I of course still miss the bakeries (sfogliatelle, anyone?). But honestly, this recipe is just as good. Maybe better.


Chocolate-Dipped Almond Horns

adapted from Love and Olive Oil
yields 6 large cookies

Cookies:
8 ounces (about 3/4 cup) almond paste (not marzipan)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten in a small dish
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons almond meal or almond flour
~3/4 cup sliced almonds (they'll toast up in the oven, so no need to pre-toast)

Glaze:
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 pat of butter
squirt corn syrup (optional, but makes for a nice gloss)
generous 1/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Directions:

Line one baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease well and hope for the best. Set aside.

In a bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, break almond paste into almond-sized chunks. Add sugar and 3 tablespoons of the beaten egg whites (reserving the remainder), and mix on medium-low speed until a smooth, sticky dough is formed, with no lumps. Add almond flour and mix until combined.

Whisk 1 tablespoon of water into the remaining tablespoon or so of egg whites, and set aside.

Pour the sliced almonds onto a shallow dish or plate. Take 1/6th of the dough, shape into a rough ball, and drop onto the plate sliced almonds. Roll, using the almonds to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands, into a 4-inch log. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and gently shape into a crescent, pressing down to flatten slightly. Repeat with remaining dough.

Let cookies sit, uncovered, for 30 minutes, to dry out slightly. As they're drying, preheat your oven to 375° degrees Fahrenheit. When the cookies are ready, brush with the remaining egg white mixture. Bake for ~15 minutes, or until bottoms and almond edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven, and let cool on cookie sheet while you prepare the glaze (if the bottoms are too brown, you can transfer to a rack to cool — but be careful, as they're delicate while warm).

When the cookies are cooled, make the glaze. Place the cream, butter, corn syrup and chocolate in a dish, and melt on low in the microwave in 10-second bursts (alternately, melt carefully in a saucepan or, less carefully, a double boiler). Cool slightly, and dip half the cookies into the glaze (or sort of spoon it over the top). Return to the baking sheet, and let sit for 30 minutes until glaze is set (or longer, depending on the temperature — you can place in the refrigerator to speed the process). Enjoy immediately, or transfer to an airtight container or the freezer.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Salmon Gefilte Fish Terrine



There are some novelists who seem to write the same book over and over. Whether it's a lost child, a distant parent, a romance soured — the titles may change, but the themes stubbornly persist. It's as though they try to move on to new ideas, but these tropes push their way in and demand to be reworked again and again, until they finally are made right. And I know how this is. I'm the same way with gefilte fish.

My gefilte fascination has become something of a running joke. I tell stories of West Coast variations, and Russian gefilte history. I make fancy chefs and scholars eat several variations. You would think that I would run out of gefilte stories to tell. But please. There are always more.

This year, as the Jewish holidays approached, I explored the surprisingly rich story of the sweet-savory gefilte divide. But you can't eat a story. And so, when it came to my own holiday table, I had find a new way to bring the gefilte to the plate.

I've long been fond of this smoked gefilte fish recipe, yielding patties that are both smoky and delicate. But I was ridiculously busy this week, and didn't quite have the time to shape and steam round after round of hand-shaped patties. And so when I saw a recipe for a single gefilte terrine made in a bundt pan — not to mention using our local West Coast salmon — I was sold.

But, of course, I couldn't resist changing the story a bit. I added some smoked fish and scallions, as I love what they add to my other variation. And instead of grating, I simmered and pureed the carrots, to integrated them a bit more fully into the mix. I dropped the dill and mustard, to better let the fish flavor come through (and allow it to better pair with a carrot-citrus horseradish). And it was delicious. I may just tell this same exact gefilte story next year.


Salmon Gefilte Fish Terrine

adapted (heavily) from Joan Nathan, via Tablet Magazine
yields ~ 15-20 slices

2 carrots, peeled and chunked
3 tablespoons olive or other oil, plus addition for topping the terrine
3 medium onions, peeled and diced
1 bunch scallions, sliced
2 pounds salmon fillets, cut into large (~2 inch) cubes
1 pound cod, flounder, rockfish, or whitefish (I used Oregon petrale sole), cut into cubes
1/2 pound smoked whitefish or mackerel (this gives a subtle smoked flavor — if you prefer, you can swap out more smoked fish for some of the fresh white fish, but you'll want to reduce the salt to accommodate)
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons matzo meal
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Place the carrot chunks in a small saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the carrots are quite tender, ~7-10 minutes. Set aside.

While the carrots are simmering, pour the oil into a large saucepan or Dutch oven, and bring to a medium-high heat. Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt, and saute, stirring, until soft and translucent but not browned, ~15 minutes (lower heat as needed to keep them from coloring). When done, stir in the scallions, cook for another minute, then turn off the heat. Let cool slightly.

Drain the carrots, and place them in a food processor, along with the onions and scallions. Puree until smooth. Toss in the eggs and matzo meal, and pulse to combine. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

Place all of the fish in the bowl of the food processor, and pulse until reduced to small bits, but not totally pureed (you want a bit of texture). Transfer this to the mixer bowl with the onions and carrots. Add the eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper, and beat on medium speed for 10 minutes.

While the mixture is beating, preheat your oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Grease a large Bundt pan, and find a casserole dish that it can fit inside. Heat a kettle of water until it's not quite boiling.

When the fish mixture has beaten,  pour it into your prepared Bundt pan, then place the pan in the casserole dish. Smooth the top of the mixture with a spatula, and pour a little bit of oil over the top, then cover tightly with foil.

Place the pan-in-dish in your preheated oven, then carefully pour some of the warm water (not boiling hot, lest you shatter the pan) into the casserole dish, until it comes a few inches up the side of the Bundt pan. Bake for one hour, or until the center seems solid.

When the terrine is cooked, remove from the oven, and remove the Bundt pan from its water bath. Let the terrine cool for at least 20 minutes, and up to about an hour. When cool, slide a long knife around the inner and outer edges (both!) of the pan to free the terrine, then invert onto a flat serving plate. Cover, and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight. Slice and serve with horseradish. Keeps up to five days.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Late Summer Matzoh Ball Soup



There are so many little niceties that fall by the wayside of modern life. But really, they only take a few minutes, and they can turn someone's day around. Get-well cards. Sickbed food deliveries. And don't get me started on thank-you notes. Do I sound like a grandma? Well, let me make you a pot of soup.

I can get as wrapped up in my busy life as the next person. But lately, I've been trying to step up in these little ways. I happened to have a get-well card on hand the other day (because I could not resist a letterpressed illustration of a dog in the Cone of Shame), and so it just took a few minutes to write a note to a friend who broke her ankle (also, Portland has overnight local mail delivery, which always seems like something of a modern miracle). Then the other day, a friend posted that he had a miserably high fever (he described his state as 'writhing'). And since this is a friend who's helped me out many times, I couldn't sit back. So I channeled my inner grandmother, and made up some matzoh ball soup.

But there was one complication — despite what the calendar may say, summer is still kind of in effect. And, in the midst of hot, sunny days, a bowl full of my usual dill-and-garlic, parsnip-filled standard just seemed a bit too much. So when sickbed duty called, I gave matzoh ball soup a summer update. And it turns out to be delicious.

I threw my frozen bag of vegetable trimmings in the stockpot, with a few additions and subtractions to create a sunny broth heavy on the carrots, garlic and parsley. Then I shaved the kernels off a few ears of corn, and threw the cobs in to simmer as well. I used my standard matzoh ball recipe (also grandparental in origin), but gave it a similar summer update with a mix of chopped fresh parsley, dill and basil. I kept the simmered carrots for a bit of depth, but rounded the soup out with those oh-so-summer corn kernels, and a few halved sungold tomatoes, both floated in the soup right before serving. And then topped the whole summery mess with another dose of those fresh herbs.

The resulting hybrid is clearly matzoh ball soup, full of all that healing goodness. But it's lighter and brighter, perfect for a warm sickbed evening. My grandmother would be proud.

And speaking of trying to be half the people our grandparents were, I recently produced a radio story about learning to be a man in prison (and beyond). You can take a listen over at NPR.


Late Summer Matzoh Ball Soup

yields 1 generous sickbed delivery, plus a few bowls for yourself

Matzoh Balls:
5 eggs
1/2 cup neutral oil, like canola
~3/4-1+ cups matzoh meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
~2 teaspoons salt
pepper
a handful each chopped fresh parsley, dill, and basil

To Finish:
~2 quarts broth (homemade is nice, but if you've got a premade broth you can simmer it with the peelings from your carrots, a few garlic cloves, and the corncobs)
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
corn shaved off of 2 ears
~12 sungold tomatoes, halved
a handful each chopped fresh parsley, dill and basil, mixed together

To make the matzoh balls: Whisk together the eggs and oil. Add as much matzoh meal as needed to make a texture somewhat like thick mud — you want it to have some body, but not thick enough to even mound on a spoon (the mixture will firm up upon standing). Stir in the baking powder, salt, pepper, and chopped herbs. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed (it should be fairly salty). Chill for at least 10-15 minutes.

While the matzoh ball mixture is chilling, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Check the chilled mixture — if it's not firm enough to just scoop after resting, add more matzoh meal, and let rest a bit longer. Shape matzoh balls of your desired size with a small ice-cream scoop, two oiled spoons, or oiled hands, and plop them directly in the simmering water. Turn the heat down just enough to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally to rotate, for at least 30 minutes. They're done when you can cut them open to reveal a ball that's fully cooked through. When done, turn off the pot, and let them cool in the water.

While the balls are resting/cooking, pot the carrot coins in a small pot, and add water to cover by a few inches. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until fully tender, ~20 minutes. Let cool.

To serve, add the carrots (and their delicious cooking liquid!) to the broth. Remove the matzah balls with a slotted spoon, and add to the broth. Heat everything up, and add the corn and tomatoes (just a small bit for each person) for the final minute or so, until just heated through. Ladle into bowls, and top each serving with a smattering of fresh herbs. If you're bringing this as a sickbed delivery, it's best to package the tomatoes and corn together, and the fresh herbs in a separate parcel as well, so that they each can be added later to preserve their fresh taste.