Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mushroom Paprikash with Nokedli

There are times, as I mentioned last week, to rage against the shackles of winter. To take yourself on a culinary holiday and cook up something befitting a spicier, sunnier clime. And then there are times to embrace the cold slog. To cook up something roasted or long-simmered, something hearty and comforting. Ideally enriched with a few Eastern European spices and a swath of sour cream, and served over buttery noodlebits.

A few months ago I received a package from a European friend — one who had previously expressed an aversion to spices, no less — with two little parcels of paprika from his recent trip to Hungary. Foreign post and imported foodstuffs? Needless to say it was a thrilling day for me. I've been spooning the rich, red spice into my everyday cooking here and there, but wanted to find a recipe where it could really shine. So why not go with the dish named for it?

Paprikash (or paprikás, if you're feeling Hungarian) is a simple homey recipe, usually made of chicken stewed in a creamy, paprika-scented sauce. I swapped out mushrooms instead, and a splash of sherry (because I couldn't help it), and put my own slight tweak on that rich red sauce. Egg noodles would make a fine bed to sop it all up, but when I couldn't find any in the pantry, I decided to complete the Hungarian theme with a batch of nokedli. These little dumpling are cousin to spätzle, a simple egg-and-flour dough that's formed into small, sauce-grabbing bits. A spätzle-maker would work well, but I just used a spatula to push the batter through a large-holed cheese grater, and it made for surprisingly quick and easy work. And while this meal isn't the most photogenic, it's crazy delicious and satisfying, perfect for fortifying you against a cold winter day.

Mushroom Paprikash with Nokedli

serves ~4

2 tablespoons butter, plus more if/as needed
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 pound mushrooms, sliced (thinly or thickly, as you choose)
splash sherry
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup broth
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper
a few tablespoons minced parsley, dill or chives (optional)

2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups flour
few pats butter for finishing

Melt the butter over a medium heat in a heavy saucepan. Add the onion, and saute until softened and translucent but not colored, ~10 minutes.

While the onion is cooking is a fine time to start your nokedli batter. In a bowl, mix together the eggs, salt and water until combined, then stir in the flour. Mix gently until smooth, though a bit of lump is okay (they may dissolve while the batter rests). Set a lid or towel over the top, then set aside to rest. Put a large pot of salted water to boil, then go back to your mushrooms.

When the onions are done, add the garlic, and cook another minute. Add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and the liquid has mostly evaporated, ~7 minutes. Add a splash of sherry, and let it cook off.

If the pan is dry at this time, add another pat of butter. Add the paprika and flour, and stir until they're coated with the fat and liquid in the pan. Add the broth, pouring it in slowly at first, and cook until the liquid comes to a simmer and thickened (raise the heat as needed if your broth is cold), ~5 minutes. Stir in the sour cream, and turn off the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Now to finish the nokedli! At this point your water should be at a boil, and your batter rested a bit. Grab a large-holed cheese grater or colander, and a spatula.

Hold your grater or colander over the pot of water, and place a blob of batter in it. Using your spatula, wipe the batter over the holes, firmly pressing it through. Little noodly bits of dough will form, and fall into the water below. Working quickly, press the batter through, stopping once or twice to give the pot a stir. The nokedli will float to the top and be done in just a few minutes. Repeat with all the batter. I found the process surprisingly quick and easy, and did it all at once and then dumped the mass in a strainer set in the sink. But if you find it slower going (and don't have the magic cheese grater I seemed to have), you can just scoop the nookedli out with a simmer as you go, and dump into a waiting bowl. Either way, place your cooked nokedli in a bowl, and toss in a few pats of butter to keep them from sticking together (and to make them more delicious).

Serve the nokedli with the paprikash, and top with the chopped fresh herb if desired.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Harissa Salmon with Lemony Herbed Couscous

Although it seems hard for me to imagine (as I shiver every time the temperature drops into the low 40s), I spent my college years in Minnesota. And for the most part, I stomached the arctic cold with good grace. I pulled on my long underwear, and layers upon layers, and trundled to class and library and work and coffeeshop without too much complaint. But there came a point — usually around late January/early February — when I was just done. Tired of being bundled into countless layers, tired of the fact that the very air itself would hurt my face. It felt personal, it felt painful, and I just wanted it to stop already.

These days, I live a somewhat more temperate existence, where the winds never bite into your skin and crush your soul. But culinarily, I go through a similar winter fatigue. This time of year, I eat my root vegetables, my kale, my roasted squash. And then I eat them again. And after a while, it can feel a bit tired and monotonous, a whole lot of muddy wintery brown, and I just want it to stop already.

When I hit my winter weather fatigue in Minnesota, I would usually take that as a sign to strip off my layers and go swimming (indoors, of course), to easily move without the weight of long johns, surrounded by welcoming warmth. And when I hit my winter culinary fatigue here in Oregon, I take it as a sign to put away my roasted squash and root vegetables, and surround myself with excitingly bright flavors. Like piles of fresh herbs and lemon juice. Like spicy North African harissa paste and floral saffron. Like this recipe.

This dish is like a bright shaft of sunlight in these heavy winter days. Salmon is rubbed with an exciting, fragrant (yet ridiculously easy) marinade, then simply baked and flaked atop a lemony, herb-packed couscous. It cuts through the heavy layers of winter roots, lets you move through warm, inviting flavors that you've missed for too long. Because even though long-cooked, stick-to-your-ribs meals do a fine job of fortifying you through the long slog of gray and brown, it's nice to be reminded that the bright and sunny world is still out there.

Harissa Salmon with Lemony Herbed Couscous

adapted from Lizzie Kamenetzky's Great British Bake Off: Winter Kitchen
serves 4-5

2 tablespoons harissa paste (this North African spice paste can usually be found at Middle Eastern markets and well-stocked grocery stores — they recommend rose harissa, which I cleverly faked with some regular old from-the-tube harissa combined with some dried rose petals)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, lightly bashed in a mortar and pestle
salt and oil as needed
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 pound salmon fillet
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed to finish
2 cups Israeli couscous
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
hefty pinch saffron
several large handfuls herbs, roughly chopped (parsley, cilantro, mint, scallions)

In a small bowl, mix together the harissa, coriander seeds, and half the lemon zest (reserve the remaining zest and juice). If your harissa is particularly thick, you can drizzle in some oil to make it spreadable.

Lay the salmon fillet out on a baking sheet, and gently spread the harissa mixture over it. Let it marinate at room temperature while you preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Bake the salmon until it just barely begins to flake (or think about flaking), ~10 minutes or so, depending upon thickness. Remove, and let sit for a few minutes.

While the salmon is baking, prepare the couscous. Heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a medium pot, then add the couscous and stir for a minute to toast. Add the broth and saffron (and additional salt if your broth isn't terribly salty), and raise the heat to a boil. Lower until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer, and cook, covered, until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender, ~10 minutes.

When the couscous is done, stir in the reserved lemon zest and juice, and the fresh herbs. Add an additional drizzle of olive oil if needed to moiston, and salt to taste. Turn out onto a serving platter or individual plates, and top with the salmon, flaked.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mushroom Leek Quiche with Goat Cheese

Last week I made mushroom quiche for our weekly lunch club. And as one of my office-mates took a big, rich bite (accompanied by a big, richness-cutting arugula/squash salad), he sighed in contentment. "Who came up the idea that quiche is somehow not something men eat?" he wondered. "Quiche is good." He went back for a second piece.

It turns out that the branding of quiche as sissyfood comes from some stupid "humor" book of the 80s. And I don't know if it has something to do with that, or the general move away from rich dairyfat and carbohydrates, but quiche doesn't seem to be that popular anymore. Which is a shame. As last week affirmed, a warm quiche, paired with a healthy salad, makes for a fine, fine lunch.

I love a good quiche. And by good, I mean that it has a real flaky butter crust (even with some whole wheat flour added in); a tender, trembling custard; and is filled with both grated cheese and hefty helpings of fresh vegetables. It's good morning or night, and thus routinely makes my short list of food delivery items for friends in the first weeks of parenthood (when the two begin to blend together). Plus it's something that most people don't make for themselves, so it feels a bit special.

I'm a big fan of quiches filled with spinach or chard, complementing the cheesiness with some dark leafy greens. But since I was also bringing a big salad for this meal, I decided to take the quiche in a slightly different direction. I cooked down a whole pound of mushrooms until they were dark and flavorful (and, equally important, had shed the moisture that could sog things up), along with a tangle of softened leeks. And to keep things from feeling too brown, I tossed in a few chunks of tangy soft goat cheese. The resulting quiche is rich, satisfying, and well deserving of a popular resurgence. 

Mushroom Leek Quiche with Goat Cheese

1 pie crust, par-baked if you have the patience for it (I made this latest one with a half whole-wheat rough puff pastry)
2 tablespoons butter, plus a few thinly-sliced pats for dotting the top
1 large leek, or 2 small, washed and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon high-heat oil, such as grapeseed
1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
1/4 pound Swiss cheese, grated (you can substitute gruyere or emmental)
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled into big hunks
2 cups milk or half-and-half
2 egg yolks
3 whole eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch white pepper
pinch grated nutmeg
handful chives, minced (optional)

Melt the butter in a large saute pan or cast-iron skillet over a medium flame. Saute the leeks until well softened, but not browned, ~10 minutes (adjust heat as needed). Transfer to a small bowl, and set aside.

Raise the heat in the pan to high, and add the oil. When hot, add the mushrooms — you don't want it to be more than a generous layer or so deep, so you made to do this in batches. Salt lightly, and cook without moving until the liquid comes out and then evaporates (a few minutes). Stir, and cook the other sides until done. Repeat with remaining mushrooms and additional oil, if needed. These steps can be done in advance.

When you're ready to assemble your quiche, preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Take your (possibly par-baked) crust, and scatter the grated cheese over it. Add the leeks and mushrooms, then top with the goat cheese. You can leave as is, or tumble it up a bit.

In a large bowl, mix together the milk or half and half, eggs and egg yolks, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and chives, if using. Whisk gently, so that the mixture is combined but not frothy. Pour this custard mixture into the quiche shell (depending on its depth, you may not need all of it). Scatter the butter over the top.

Carefully place the quiche in the oven, and bake until only the center inch or so wiggles when you nudge it (about an hour). Remove from the oven, and let set a bit before serving.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Apple Cardamom Cakelets

One of the things I loved best about working in a bakery growing up (beyond the buttery samples) was the opportunity to be part of someone's little treat. Going to the bakery isn't an errand. It's a sweet indulgence, a small moment that can light up your whole day. You can see it in the customers' eyes, and you get to be a part of that. It's not a bad way to make your way in the world.

Last week I attended one of the 0—3 concerts I annually make it to these days, a lovely folk-ish singer with some family ties to the bakery where I worked growing up. And so I came home, with those sweet bakery memories going through my head (along with those sweet songs). And the next day, I baked this cake.

This isn't a recipe from my bakery. But it's a lovely little seasonal treat, a way to create that happy bakery moment in your own oven. A cardamom scented cake is topped with thin slices of apple, and a deliciously high ratio of crisp, sugar-crusted topping to tender, buttery crumb. It's got a lot going on in a delicate little package, and served warm from the oven it's just about perfect. Sadly I don't get to bring this sort of day-changing taste of happiness to everyone walking down the street anymore. But for myself and a friend, paired with an afternoon cup of tea, it made for a moment as sweet as those memories.

Apple Cardamom Cakelets

adapted from Simone's Kitchen
Yields 1 10-inch cake, or 6 4-inch cakelets (you can also easily cut it in thirds, if you just want two cakelets for a smaller treat). Also most people probably realize this as a matter of common, but somehow it seemed like an insider revelation to discover that if you're baking in several small dishes, it's much, much easier to place them all on a single cookie sheet, which you can remove from the oven in one swoop.

~18 cardamom pods
150 grams (1 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus an additional pinch for the topping
150 grams (1 1/3 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
150 grams (2/3 cup) granulated sugar, plus an additional 3 tablespoons for sanding the tops
3 eggs
3 crisp apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced

To prepare,  preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease and flour your baking dish(es), and set aside. Bash the cardamom pods and pick out the seeds, then grind to bits with a mortar and pestle. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.

In a stand mixer or large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. One by one, beat in the eggs. Add the sifted flour mixture and half the cardamom, folding gently until combined (don't overmix).

Spread the batter into your prepared pan(s) — it's thick, so an offset spatula or finger is helpful. Take the apple slices, and place on top — you can fan them artfully, or just sort of place them upright like stegosaurus plates and let them slump as they will. Mix the reserved 3 tablespoons sugar with the reserved cardamom, along with a pinch of salt, and generously sprinkle this mixture over the top.

Transfer to the oven immediately, and bake until the exposed cake is starting to turn golden, ~25-35 minutes, depending on cake size and various variables. Serve warm, with tea and friends and music.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Greek Braised Cauliflower in Cinnamon-Scented Tomato Sauce

When I was young, my mother would often end up making something that we've jokingly come to think of as "the white meal" — mashed potatoes, some sort of baked flounder or sole fillet, and steamed cauliflower. Despite its ghostly nature, the meal was both healthy and tasty. In fact, I still get cravings for steamed-unto-softness cauliflower. But while I do love the subtlety of cauliflower's quiet background brassica notes (more on that sometime soon), I also find that it's perfect for pairing with other flavors. Like a cinnamon-scented tomato sauce.

Although this meal has a bit more color going on, it also has a similarly beautiful simplicity. The nearly melted grated onions and double hit of cinnamon (both stick and ground) in the tomato sauce manage to add both warm sweetness and savory depth, which the cauliflower gladly sops up. In some ways it's not all that different from a standard tomato sauce, but it's subtly so much more. I paired the flavorful braise with some garlicky lemony spinach and a briny wedge of feta, and scooped it all up with some crusty chunks of bread. Because if the world around you is cold and white (sorry, Midwest!), it's nice to have a warm bit of color on your plate.

Greek Braised Cauliflower in Cinnamon-Scented Tomato Sauce

adapted from the kounoupidi kapama on Souvlaki for the Soul
serves 2-4, as part of a larger meal

¼ cup olive oil (you can use less, but c'mon, it's Greek food)
1 onion, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cauliflower head, broken into florets
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup tomato puree
¼ cup water
1 small stick cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste

feta (optional)
crusty bread

Heat the olive oil in a pot over a medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic, and saute, stirring occasionally, until translucent but not colored, ~5 minutes (adjust the heat as needed).

Add the cauliflower, and saute for a few minutes, until it takes on a bit of color. Add the cinnamon, tomato puree, water, cinnamon stick, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until the cauliflower becomes tender, ~15 minutes. Stir occasionally (and gently).

Serve with feta, if desired, and crusty bread (and garlickly lemony spinach isn't too bad either).