Sunday, June 27, 2010

Garlic Scape Potato Pizza

Summer didn't really hit Portland until about 3 days ago. These last few weeks featured buckets of rain, and chilly winds that made you want cover any exposed flesh. In mid-June. But once the sun comes out, it wipes away any memory of the blustery past. Right now my clothes are drying outside on the line, the dog is snoozing in the sun, and a lone glass or two still needs to be gathered in from last night's backyard party. There's really not much to remind us of the last few cold and damp weeks. But if you look at the farmers markets, you can see the aftershocks. Harvests are a few weeks late. Oregon's beloved hood strawberries are a touch waterlogged this year, not quite their usual punchy flavor-filled selves. But the biggest loser seems to have been garlic.

Last month I thinned out tasty shoots of green garlic from the garden, and was eagerly awaiting the proper harvest. But within a few weeks, reddish-brown spots started showing up, the sign of garlic rust. According to gardening sites, rust is promoted by low light and high moisture levels, so I suppose we didn't stand a chance. Most of our neighbors are in the same boat. My gardening partner and I pulled out all of the garlic, to prevent the infection from setting into the soil. It's a bit disheartening. But I comforted myself with garlic scapes.

Scapes are the adorably curled tops of the garlic plant, which would turn into flowers if left to grow. But they can be harvested and cooked (even when you don't have to pull up the whole plant), and taste vaguely like garlic-dressed asparagus. You can grind them into a delicious pesto with the usual ingredients, but I think it's much nicer to feature them in recipes that highlight their curls. Like this pizza.

If you make this at home, you don't need to load up quite so many scapes on top of your pizza (I got a bit carried away). But they're so delicious, you might want to anyways. You can also cut them into somewhat more manageable lengths, but where's the fun in that? As with my asparagus pizza, I turned to a sauce-free pie to highlight the flavor of the scapes. I laid down a bed of boiled waxy red potatoes, left over from hash browns a few mornings earlier. You can also use mozarella, but it's surprisingly nice with just potatoes, which create a creamy and satisfying base. A sprinkling of fusty bleu cheese stands up to the equally-assertive scapes, and a scattering of walnuts rounds it out with a welcome crunch and nutty depth.

Garlic Scape Potato Pizza

1 ball of pizza dough, ~10 oz (I'm still a big cheerleader for the recipe in Artisan Breads Every Day by the great Peter Reinhart)
olive oil
2 good-sized waxy red or yellow potatoes, boiled and sliced into 1/4" rounds
3 Tbsp walnuts, untoasted (they'll toast up enough in the oven)
3 Tbsp crumbled bleu cheese
~6-8 garlic scapes, tossed with a light spray of olive oil

Preheat your oven, with a pizza stone if you have, to 500 degrees for 1-2 hours. If your pizza dough has been refrigerated (as most good pizza doughs will be), let it come to room temperature for 1 1/2 hours.

Place the pizza dough on a lightly-floured counter top, and press outward into a thick disk (leaving a 1" unpressed area along the edge as the crust). Pick up the disk and let it drape over the backs of your hands, letting gravity help you stretch it into a 12-14" circle. If the dough resists, let it relax for a few minutes, then try again. Place the stretched dough on a peel (or overturned cookie sheet or cutting board) that's lightly dusted with semolina or other type of flour.

Lay your potato slices evenly on top of the dough, and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Scatter the walnuts and bleu cheese, then top with garlic scapes. Slide the pizza onto the preheated stone in your oven, and bake ~7-10 minutes, until the crust browns and the cheese melts.

Remove the pizza from the oven, and let cool for a moment (I like to move it to a rack for just half a minute, to let the steam escape from the crust while I reheat the peel). Sprinkle with a touch of salt, slice and serve.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Poppy Seed Cake

It's easy to get excited by new flavors. When I first tasted pimenton, the smoked Spanish paprika, I snuck it into whatever dish I could manage (and in case you're wondering, not everything in the world benefits from a whiff of smoke). My first taste of the almost piney preserved lemons knocked me out, and the fusty edge of za'atar led to a serious run on flatbreads in our household. Discovering new tastes makes dinner more exciting, and opens a window to the rest of the world. But it's so much more, almost like discovering a whole new color: the palette expands in ways you wouldn't have thought possible. It's amazing. Except for one little drawback: sometimes in our oh-my-gosh-taste-this enthusiasm, we forget about the simple pleasures we used to know. Like poppy seed cake.

I can't recall the last time I ate a poppy seed that wasn't affixed to a bagel. Which is a shame, because poppy seeds are surprisingly lovely, much more than you'd expect from their ho-hum reputation. Up close, their black color is actually a deep dusky blue, and their round sillhouette is more of a kidney shape. And their flavor is nutty, with a fun bit of crunch. They also contain a good amount of oil, which gives cakes like these a moist richness.

This recipe comes from The Baker's Cafe, where I had the pleasure of working throughout high school and college. Although I ate staggering amounts of all sorts of pastries during my shifts, this poppy seed cake was one of my favorites. It's rich and moist without being too sweet (so as to balance out my inevitable slices of chocolate cake), with a bit of tang from sour cream and a ridiculously generous full cup of nubby poppy seeds. The oil-rich seeds keep it moist for several days, but it will freeze well if you need to keep it longer than that. It's perfect for enjoying with a cup of tea or glass of milk. I'm usually a fan of sneaking some puckery lemon into everything I make, and many poppy seed cakes recipes offset the mild cake with some juice or zest. This bundt cake doesn't, but I find I like it more--the better to taste the poppy seeds.

Poppy Seed Cake

adapted from The Baker's Cafe Cookbook
yields one 9" bundt or tube cake

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 generous pinch salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

In a bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one by one, beating after each addition. Blend in the sour cream, extracts and poppy seeds, mixing until well combined. Fold in the dry ingredients, and mix until barely combined. Pour into the prepared pan, and bake 45-60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan (on a rack, preferably) for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a plate.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Whole Wheat Tortillas

My boyfriend is a very tall man. And also very slim. And for some reason, this particular combination flummoxes the American garment industry. Most clothing manufacturers have taken the term "big and tall" to heart, and can't conceive of one without the other. If a shirt actually hugs his narrow waist, then chances are the cuffs are hovering somewhere mid-forearm. Alternately, if the sleeves stretch nicely to the wrists, then there's likely enough billowy fabric for a good 3-4 torsos. It can be a bit maddening.

I find a similar frustration when I shop for tortillas. Specifically, flour tortillas. I generally like a bit of whole wheat flour in my savory baked goods, to pretend I'm healthy and enjoy a more pronounced wheaty flavor. But I don't want to sacrifice the traditional goodness of a tortilla, where the flour is touched with a bit of salt and fat to create a quality flatbread. For reasons I cannot figure out, my local grocery store isn't with me on this. They figure that if I want whole grains, than I also must be opposed to fat. And so they try to sell me tortillas that omit the shortening in favor of weird cottony binding agents. Unsurprisingly, the resulting tortillas are not so awesome. I like whole wheat, but I also like fat. And I like delicious tortillas, which require fat. Luckily, I can solve this problem. While sadly I don't have the skills to tailor a tall-yet-slim dress shirt, I am fully capable of cutting fat into flour, mixing and rolling dough, and turning out delicious whole wheat tortillas.

Now to the purists who scoff at this idea: I know that whole wheat flour tortillas aren't traditional Mexican food, for the same reason brown rice isn't seen in India: tropical heat + oil = badness. Before such modern conveniences as refrigeration and air conditioning, oily bran and germ needed to be stripped off of grains, so that they could be stored without the danger of rancidity. If we're going for full-on authenticity, these tortillas would feature lard instead of shortening. So evidently I have no qualms about adaptation.

But while whole wheat tortillas may not be traditional, they are definitely delicious. Admittedly, these aren't 100% whole wheat, but a mix of wheat and white flours, so you get a bit of toothsome nuttiness without sacrificing delicacy. Although they're just a millimeter or so thick, they still have a distinct layers, with a toasty crust surrounding a supple-yet-flaky center. They're fun to make (depending on your definition of fun), and keep well in either the refrigerator or freezer.

Flour Tortillas

adapted from Saveur Cooks Authentic American, by way of Orangette
yields 18 tortillas

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (a finely-ground flour will give you the best results)
2 1/2 cups white flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp non-hydrogenated shortening, cut into smallish pieces

In a small saucepan, bring ~2 cups of water to a boil.

In a large bowl or food processor, whisk (or pulse) together the flours and salt until well combined. Add the shortening, and either break it up with your fingers, or pulse briefly in the food processor, until it is reduced to tiny bits. If you're using a food processor, turn the mixture out into a bowl at this point. Add the boiling water bit by bit, mixing first with a spoon and then your hands to distribute the water and work the dough together. Add just enough water until the dough just holds together (generally no more than 1 1/2 cups). Knead the dough for a few minutes on a floured counter top until it becomes smooth. Don't overwork. Shape into a ball, place in a plastic bag, and let relax on the counter for half an hour.

After the dough has relaxed, heat a heavy skillet over a high heat (as with pancakes, you want to make sure you're at full heat or else your first efforts won't be good--aim for just-shy-of-smoking). Cut the dough into 18 equal pieces--you can either do this by weight (the exact weight will vary, depending on the water needed, so weigh your dough and then divide by 18), or cut your doughball into 6 wedges, and then each wedge into 3 pieces. Roughly shape each wedge into a ball.

You want to roll out each ball into a thin circle on a floured counter top, as thin as you can make it, with a ~8" diameter. But you don't need to do this all at once --you'll have time to roll as the tortillas are cooking. I like to give maybe 3 balls a rough pass first, then let them relax a moment, then roll them to full size one by one as I'm cooking. Cover any dough you're not working with with a dish towel so that it doesn't dry out. As each tortilla is shaped, toss it onto your hot skillet. It will puff up, sometimes dramatically. When it is lightly puffed, turn it over and cook the other side. This will take just half a minute or so per side, depending on whether you like light golden spots, or nearly-burnt spots (I tend to favor the latter). Stack the finished tortillas on top of each other, one by one, on a rack or plate. Keep the whole pile covered with a dish towel so that they stay soft and pliable. Leftovers can be refrigerated in a sealed bag, and warmed in a low oven, or heated briefly over a gas flame.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Leftover Salmon Kedgeree

I have a thrifty streak that runs a mile wide. Recently I discovered that the local grocery store sells whole wildcaught salmon, and they go on sale for as low as $2.99/lb. How can I not buy one? But the catch: when I say whole salmon, I mean whole salmon. You only get this price when you take home the entire fish. As one can imagine, a 4 lb salmon + 2 person household = lots of leftovers. A day or two of baked salmon is lovely, but after that I start looking for ways to add a bit of excitement. For a while, the winning treatment was a pan-fried version of fish tacos, slicing the leftovers and frying them up with a homemade mixture of chili and spices. But the new favorite is salmon kedgeree.

Kedgeree is a traditional Indian pilaf, where seasoned rice is mixed with legumes. But when the Brits came over, they replaced the lentils with their beloved smoked haddock. The whole affair is spiced with curry seasonings, perked up with lemon juice and fresh cilantro, and served with hard-boiled eggs. For breakfast. Even a leftovers-in-the-morning fan like myself finds that a bit hard to swallow. But as a lunch or dinner, kedgeree is fantastic. Especially with salmon.

Sharp-eyed readers may note that a version of this recipe appeared on the website Food52 a few weeks ago, and I'm embarrassingly just getting around to posting it here now. The time, she does fly. And in another example of what I believe the kids call a "cross post," last week's sloppy sauce was featured on I'm ridiculously happy to see it sitting there in such a nice layout (and among such nice company).

Leftover Salmon Kedgeree

I came up with this recipe to use up leftovers, but it's good enough to make from scratch--just bake or poach a pound of salmon and start from there. The spinach isn't remotely traditional, but I can't resist adding some greens to make this a one-pot meal.

serves 4

1 Tbsp canola oil (or ghee, if you've got it)
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1-3 Tbsp Indian-style jarred curry paste, such as Patak's (if you don't have this, you can substitute 1-3 Tbsp curry powder (depending on your taste and the spiciness of your curry), mixed with a splash of oil and 1/2 tsp tomato paste)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, julienned or grated
~5 cups cooked long-grain white rice (yeah, my picture has overcooked short-grain brown rice, but long grain white would be better)
1 lemon, juiced
1 lb cooked salmon, flaked into bite-sized pieces
1/2 bunch spinach, washed, dried and roughly chopped (optional)
1 bunch cilantro, washed, dried and roughly chopped
yogurt for serving (optional)

Heat the oil or ghee over a medium-high flame in a heavy pan. When the oil is rippley-but-not-smoking, add the mustard seeds and cover. The seeds will sputter and pop.

When the popping has subsided, add the turmeric and curry paste or powder (start with the smaller amount). Let the seasonings toast for a few seconds, then add the onion, garlic and ginger. Stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent (~5 minutes).

When the onion is cooked, add the rice and stir gently but thoroughly to combine. Add the lemon juice and salt to taste, and more curry paste if desired. When it's seasoned to taste, add the salmon, spinach (if using), and ~ 3/4 of the cilantro, and stir gently to combine. Cook until the fish is warmed through and the spinach has wilted. Garnish with remaining cilantro and serve with yogurt if desired.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Sloppy Sauce (aka Tahini with Miso and Almond Butter)

Several years ago, I left my dog alone at a friend's house for an evening, and returned to find that he had eaten all of the dog food in the house. All of it. When he came to greet us at the front door, he was noticeably larger. We rushed our barrel-shaped pup to the veterinarian, who pronounced him fine (and showed us an amusing x-ray, wherein you could still see all of the individual pieces of kibble in his overly-full stomach). In addition to piece of mind (and a hefty bill), we were given my absolute Favorite Diagnosis Ever: dietary indiscretion. Seriously. Dietary Indiscretion. It's sort of like diagnosis: bad decision-making. I suffer from that all the time.

For the most part, my diet is fairly healthy, full of fresh produce and whole grains and all that good stuff. But sometimes it's not. Sometimes I'm dining out, and the deliciously retro ice cream sundae on the menu calls to me. Or I'm catching up with friends over happy hour, and after a few drinks an order (or three) of fries suddenly seems like a phenomenally brilliant idea. Or I am eating something so addictively delicious, say these little cheese-filled puff pastry palmiers at my friend Sarah's house, and I just cannot stop. Dietary Indiscretion.

After such poor choices, we've come up with a recovery meal known around our household as Hippie Dinner. It's the best way to sop up booze, grease, and bad decisions, and set you on the path to dietary righteousness. There are three elements: whole grains (in the form of some brown rice or quinoa); protein (in the form of marinated tofu or a piece of lean fish); and a huge pile of steamed or sauteed vegetables. Actually, make that 4 elements: the whole plate is topped off with a tahini variation called sloppy sauce.

Sloppy sauce, inspired by a friend who needed to recover from a nearly all-pizza diet, is a great way to make a huge pile of steamed kale and sweet potatoes much more exciting. It starts off like a traditional Middle Eastern tahini sauce, mixing sesame paste with lemon juice and garlic. But it's given a bit of savory heft (and arguable health benefit) from a scoop of miso, and delicious nuttiness from almond butter. I like to further play up the East meets Middle East dimension by stirring in a bit of grated ginger, or a handful of scallions or chopped cilantro if you've got. And sometimes I emphasize the peanut sauce resemblance by using lime juice instead of lemon. As suggested by its name, sloppy sauce is a pretty informal affair, and can be easily adapted to your taste. And it can be enjoyed any time, whether you're recovering from a dietary indiscretion or not.

Sloppy Sauce (aka Tahini with Miso and Almond Butter)

yields ~3/4 cup

1 Tbsp miso (any type)
2 Tbsp tahini
2 Tbsp almond butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2" ginger, grated
juice of 1 lemon
handful minced scallions and/or cilantro (optional)

Mix together the miso, tahini, and almond butter until well combined. Stir in the garlic and ginger, then the lemon juice. Add water, a little at a time, until it reaches a thick-but-pourable consistency (~1/4+ cup). Stir in the scallions and/or cilantro, if using. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Pour over whatever hippie concoction you desire. The sauce will thicken upon standing, so just stir in a little additional water or lemon juice to loosen leftovers.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Pineapple Mojito

If I were a good food blogger, I would have posted this cocktail recipe in advance of this past holiday weekend. Oops. But luckily there are many more barbecues ahead of us this summer. And besides, once you taste this, all will be forgiven.

Several years ago, I came across a recipe in a Jamie Oliver cookbook for pineapple topped with fresh mint that had been mashed up with sugar. Or, I should say, "recipe," as that's literally all that was involved -- just those three ingredients. But for some reason, it's amazing. The clean, almost piney edge of mint is softened by sugar, and sparks up the tangy perfume of pineapple. You wouldn't think you could improve upon a drippy-sweet pineapple, but it somehow does just that. And so, I naturally turned towards the next ingredient that improves all situations: alcohol.

Many people are familiar with mojitos, the Cuban highball that has become a favorite summer cocktail. Rum (the alcohol of choice from sugar-producing countries) is mixed with bashed-up mint and sugar, perked up with lime juice, and lightened with a bit of soda water. Adding pineapple brings a tropical sweetness to the herbal drink, and makes it my new favorite cocktail.

And speaking of things to toast, yours truly was recently profiled on Food52! For those unfamiliar with this lovely site, they've been holding recipe contests every week for the past year. Participants submit original creations inspired by weekly prompts, and site members vote for their favorites. The whole project will culminate in a cookbook of the winning recipes. Some stellar cooks have been participating, and their recipe archive has become one of my go-to sites when I'm looking for inspiration. Had I thought more about the possibility of a wider audience, perhaps I would have used something other than a teenage nickname as my username. Oops. But on the bright side, evidently my kale and quinoa pilaf is legendary. I'll drink to that.

Pineapple Mojito

Brown sugar does a lovely job of underscoring the caramel notes of pineapple, but you can substitute white sugar if needed. The exact proportions will vary, depending on how drippy-sweet your particular pineapple, and how you like your cocktails, so feel free to play around.

yields 2 cocktails

~1/4 cup fresh pineapple chunks
1 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 handful mint leaves
2 shots rum
1 1/2 shots lime juice
soda water

Place the pineapple, brown sugar, and mint leaves in a cocktail shaker (or, as it's known in our house, mason jar). Mash together (you can use the handle of a wooden spoon if your muddler is in the shop) until the pineapple is reduced to bits and small chunks, and the mint is well-bruised and torn a bit. Add the rum and lime juice, and shake with ice to mix and chill. Taste, and adjust as desired. Pour into ice-filled glasses, and top off with soda water.