Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Salmon with Blackberry Creme Fraiche Tarragon Sauce

There are some recipes that you just want to grab all of your friends and say ohmygod you need to make this now. Now! What are you waiting for? This is one of those recipes.

It comes from Portland chef Courtney Sproule, and uses that nifty culinary trick of combining just a few ingredients to form an end result that tastes like nothing else. Creme fraiche, white wine, blackberries, fresh tarragon and a bit of lemon zest come together to create a sauce that's rich, light, herbal and punchy all at the same time. And as much as I thought that fruit + fish would be a truly terrible combination, it's just amazing on salmon. It's a perfect greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts dish to wow guests at your next dinner party (or to make a dinner party out of a normal weekday).

Sproule makes this sauce with a variety of fruits, from blueberries to gooseberries, but I think our Northwest blackberries (which are fruiting everywhere around town these days) are just about perfect. You can read about this recipe — as well as other blackberry preparations, and my dogged love for the prickly canes — over at NPR's Kitchen Window.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Marinated Mozzarella

With our quantity-and-transportability-over-quality national food priorities, we often miss the point of delicious regional food traditions (including our own). Take Caprese salad. This combination of mozzarella, tomatoes and basil (and, depending on the interpretation, balsamic vinegar) is inspired simplicity. So perfect together! So summer! But the allure and simplicity can be its downfall. It's so good that we want to have it all the time, even when ingredients aren't in season. And it's so simple that lackluster ingredients can easily take it down. Ever had a toothpick skewered with cubes of lousy cheese and squeaky-hard off-season tomatoes? You know what I'm talking about.

But this dish here — this is what Caprese salad wants to be. Perfect tomatoes (cherry tomatoes are just showing up in the farmer's markets here), fragrant basil, and delicate, fresh mozzarella rubbed with a few simple seasonings. The whole thing is given a douse of good oil, and scooped up with crusty bread. Served along with a green salad, it's a perfect meal for those summer nights where it's too hot to eat a proper dinner. With its fennel seeds and lemon zest, this version's definitely a bit of a tweak, perhaps not in keeping with the Italian original. But its essential spirit — quality in-season ingredients, simply enjoyed on a summer evening — is right in line.

Marinated Mozarella

adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, with thanks to Lottie + Doof for flagging
serves 4-6 as an appetizer, 2-3 as a dinner along with a salad and a good amount of bread

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted and lightly crushed (if you don't have a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, you can just bash them with the side of a knife or chop them up a bit)
grated zest of1/2 lemon
handful basil leaves, shredded
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon good-quality olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 pound buffalo mozzarella
1 ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges (or a few handfuls of sliced cherry tomatoes)
coarse salt and black pepper for finishing

Make the marinade by combining the fennel seeds, zest, basil, oregano, garlic and olive oil in a medium bowl. Break the mozzarella into large chunks with your hands and add it the bowl with the marinade. Smear the mozzarella with the marinade until well coated. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes in the fridge.

Serve by arranging mozzarella on a large serving platter, along with marinade. Scatter tomatoes across the platter. Drizzle additional olive oil over the top, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Peach Lavender Galette

As I've mentioned before, I spent years thinking that I didn't like pie, that it was a terrible waste of good fruit. Only to find that I like pie quite a bit — turns out I just don't like bad pie. Take a stellar crust (preferably all-butter, light and flaky), treat the fruit with a light hand, and you can end up with something truly delicious. Like this peach lavender galette.

I have long been a fan of mixing up fruit and herbs (beyond the token mint leaf in your fruit salad). Tired of making the same old blueberry jam? Add some sage or tarragon! Want your strawberry lemonade to have a more sophisticated edge? Muddle in some basil, or infuse some rosemary into the sugar syrup. Herbs can bring out all sorts of interesting flavors, as well as adding a bit of interest to the same-seeming glut of harvest. It's hard to go wrong.

And yes, a drippy-sweet ripe peach is summer perfection. But a peach lavender galette, softly scented with flowers and a subtle almond layer to absorb the sweet juices? Also amazing.

Peach Lavender Galette

4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided, plus additional for finishing
1/4 cup ground almonds
2 tablespoons fresh or dried lavender flowers (divided), plus a few sprigs for garnish
Pastry for one 9-inch pie (I'm partial to a half-batch of this recipe/technique)
4 good-size unpeeled ripe peaches, sliced into 1/2-inch wedges (1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
3 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. 

In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the ground almonds and 1 tablespoon of the lavender flowers.

Roll out the pie pastry until it's about 13 to 14 inches in diameter; transfer to a baking sheet (or, if you'd like a bit more support/structure, transfer to a pie or tart pan). Sprinkle the almond mixture over the bottom, leaving a 2-inch border, and arrange the peach slices in a single layer over it, scattering with the remaining lavender flowers as you go. Sprinkle on the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, then fold the 2-inch border of the pastry up and over the peaches, pleating together to contain the fruit.

Dot the peaches with half the butter, and then melt the remaining butter and brush it on the exposed pastry. Sprinkle the buttered pastry with additional sugar, and then bake until the peaches are soft and the crust is nicely browned, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly, garnish with the reserved lavender sprigs, and serve.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Bagel Bombs

There's something about being from New York (and, more specifically, being a New York Jew) that makes you feel entitled to hold forth on the subject of bagels. To speak cavalierly of your runs to H&H, of high-gluten flour and barley malt and the ineffable quality of the water. But the truth is, while I may talk smack about the bagel offerings on this side of the country, it's pretty rare that I actually buckle down and make my own.

Partly this is because there actually are a few solid bagel places in town. And partly it's because I'm lazy. But mostly it's because bagels really are at their best within a few hours of being baked. I'll eat a fresh bagel, marvel at its deliciousness, and by the end of the day be packing up the better part of a dozen for the freezer. It seems like a waste.

But recently I was invited to a brunch potluck, which meant a whole lot of hungry people to eat just-baked bagels at their peak. And, at just about the same time, I came across the concept of the bagel bomb.

This long-overdue idea—the doughnut hole of the bagel world—comes from Christina Tosi, the mad genius behind the salty-sweet compost cookies. She wraps dough (softer and more pleasant to work with than a traditional bagel dough) around a frozen packet of seasoned cream cheese, then coats the bombs with traditional bagel toppings and bakes them up to hot, crusty, cream cheese explosions.

Ingrate that I am, I couldn't help tweaking the recipe: upping the quantities to yield an even dozen, tossing some barley malt in the dough for that sweet depth of flavor, dropping the bacon from the filling (sorry), giving the bombs a quick simmer for a true bagel finish, and upping the baking temperature for a nice crisp crust. The end result is just amazing, especially for a group who can eat em up while they're still warm, crusty and oozy at the same time. It's like the best of New York in one messy mouthful.

Bagel Bombs

adapted, a bit heavily, from Momofuku Milk Bar
yields 12 bombs

1 1/3 cups water, at room temperature (275 grams)
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup
1 generous teaspoon active dry yeast
scant tablespoon coarse salt
2 2/3 cups flour (412 grams)

12 ounces cream cheese
1/2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt

2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 heaping tablespoons sesame seeds (a mix of white and black is nice, if you've got it)
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
2 tablespoons dried onions
1 tablespoon dried chopped garlic

To Finish:
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon barley malt

To make the dough: Place the water in the bowl of a mixer, and add the barley malt and yeast. Let sit a few minutes, for the yeast to soften and bloom. Add the salt and flour, and mix on a low speed with a dough hook until fully blended. cover with a dish towel, and let sit for 5 minutes to relax and hydrate. Mix again on low speed for several minutes, until it forms a soft yet cohesive dough that springs back when you poke it. Pour a bit of neutral oil into a bowl, scrape the dough into it, and then flip to coat with the oil (if you're insane and have a digital scale, you can weigh your bowl before transferring the dough so that you know the weight of the entire dough ball, and then can divide by 12 when it comes to shaping the bombs). Cover the bowl with a plastic bag, and let sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes or longer, until the dough no longer springs back when you press a finger into it.

If you have the forethought, you can let the dough rise overnight (or up to two days) covered in the refrigerator, which will result in a better bomb. Just let come to room temperature for half an hour before proceeding with the recipe.

To make the filling: Mix together all of the filling ingredients until well combined (you can do this by hand, or using the paddle attachment of a mixer). Scoop the dough out into 12 equal-sized blobs on a cookie sheet using two spoons or a cookie scoop (and yes, I weighed it out). Transfer to a freezer, and freeze until solid, ~1 hour.

To assemble the bombs: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Farenheit, and line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Set a large pot of water to boil, and drop in the baking soda and barley malt (keep on high until it boils, then lower until it maintains a gentle boil).

Mix together the topping ingredients into a shallow bowl and set aside.

On a lightly-floured countertop, divide the dough into twelve equal lumps, and form each one into a ball (I like to pull the edges of the dough underneath and pinch together, to form a sort of skin on the top pulling it into a round). When your dough balls are formed, remove your balls of cream cheese from the freezer, and loosen with a spatula if necessary.

Take a ball of dough, flatten it into a chubby disk, and place a frozen cream cheese ball in the center. Pull the edges of the dough over the cream cheese, and pinch to seal. Repeat until you have formed three filled bombs. Gently drop in the simmering water, and simmer for about a minute and a half, while you fill three more bombs. Because of the cream cheese, the dough should sink (and thus simmer on all sides), but then float up by the end of its boiling time. Remove one by one with a slotted spoon, and place, top (aka non-seam side) down in your bowl of topping. Grab by the bottom, turn to coat the top and sides fully (no need to coat the bottom), then transfer, right-side up, to your prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining simmering bombs, then repeat the process until all of the bombs have been filled, simmered, and topped.

Bake the bombs until nicely browned, ~25-30 minutes (I tend to like them on the darker side). A few might explode (I had three mild ruptures out of twelve), but just continue baking. Remove when done, let cool only slightly, then devour.

Everyday Indian Cauliflower and Carrots

The time I spend cooking can vary hugely. There are ornate dinners with multiple courses and fiddly elements, and then there are salads and stir-fries that take barely any time at all. It generally depends upon my culinary inspiration, work schedule, and level of interest/fatigue. But there is one exception: Indian food. Every time I cook Indian, it's never a quick meal. It's a production. I haul out half the spices in my cabinet, measure out carefully-diced vegetables or spice combinations into multiple little prep dishes, and create a table-groaning feast. I don't seem to know any other way. It's a delicious undertaking, to be sure (and one that creates a lot of leftovers), but it ain't quick.

But through the genius that is cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey, I've discovered another way. Jaffrey is an amazing Indian cook, and a few years back came out with a book detailing spot-on dishes that don't require a multi-hour commitment. And earlier today, as I was trying to think of a quick, easy, veg-heavy dish to bring to a friend, I leafed through her memoir and found the inspiration for this dish.

This recipe, more of a stir-fry than a simmered-forever dish, is quick, delicious, and makes a great complement to heavier, saucier dishes (if you, like me, decide to negate its time-saving value by making it part of a larger spread). The original dish called just for cauliflower, but I couldn't resist throwing some nice fat carrots in as well. The vegetables are caramelized in a hot pan to give a bit of sweet depth, then tossed with a dusting of spices to create a savory-tangy, light-yet-warm dish. I served it up with some tomato biryani and dal, but you can just as easily enjoy it on its own, with just a bit of rice or flatbread (and the mango pickle that's my current obsession). It's healthy, authentic, and doesn't take much more time than throwing together a salad.

Everyday Indian Cauliflower and Carrots

adapted, a bit heavily, from Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees
yields 5-6 servings, especially as part of a spread of other dishes

1/4 cup oil (Jaffrey recommends peanut or olive, but I went with the much-more-delicious coconut)
4-6 carrots, peeled and cut into thick disks
1 small cauliflower, broken into small florets
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon amchur powder (dried green mango), or 2 tablespoons lemon juice
generous pinch asafoetida
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and julienned
1 handful coarsely chopped cilantro
1 small fresh green or red chili, minced (optional)

Pour the oil into a large frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, add the carrots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized on the outside and cooked-yet-crisp on the inside, ~7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, and then cook the cauliflower until the same, ~5 minutes.

While the vegetables are cooking, mix together the salt, turmeric, cayenne, coriander, and amchur (if using) in a small bowl. When the vegetable are cooked, sprinkle with the herbs (and lemon juice, if using instead of amchur), and toss to combine.

In the same pan in which you cooked the vegetables, add the pinch of asafoetida (if there's a lot of oil left, you can drain some, but I found that the cauliflower sopped up most of it). Let sizzle for a few seconds, then add the cumin seeds and stir until sizzling. Add the ginger, and stir for under a minute. Add the cauliflower and carrot, mix gently, then add a splash of water, lower the heat, and cover. Cook for a minute or two, until the vegetables have softened and the flavors have blended. Sprinkle with the cilantro and chili, and serve.