Monday, April 30, 2012

Asparagus Pizza Redux

Despite the thumbnail-sized hail pelting down from the sky a few days ago, it is indeed spring. Which means asparagus. Which, in turn, means asparagus pizza.

I've talked before about the joys of asparagus pizza, in its many forms. And now I've gathered them together over at The Oregonian. Click on over to read about the delicious things that happen when asparagus meets white pies. I'm fond of this mint and hazelnut variation, though the shrimp, leek and mascarpone pie might be just about the best thing I've had all season.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Green Tonic

When I was little, I used to come down with strep throat fairly regularly. But I almost looked forward to it. I'd get a box of chocolate candies, a few days off from school, and some attention. And in some ways, I still don't mind getting sick. It's a chance to slow down, to watch trashy television without judgment, and to be taken care of. It can actually be kind of fun. Except for the whole 'being sick' part.

Whenever I come down with a full-blown fever or flu — the sort where I feel truly awful, like I barely fit into my own skin — well, then I can be kind of insufferable. I tend towards the overdramatic, the nobody has ever been as sick as me or this is why people used to die from the flu sentiments. I know, I'm awful. But the upside is that it makes me fairly sympathetic to the illnesses of others. And so, when my neighbor was feeling lousy this past weekend, I made her a fresh glass of this tonic.

I've never paid much mind to juicing or raw foods. But when you're sick, there's nothing like clean, fresh-squeezed juice to cut through the fog of illness. In this version, the fresh-squeezed lemon and orange give you a tart burst of vitamin C, the ginger clears a path right through to your sinuses, and the parsley just feels healthy. It may just be the placebo effect, or the basic goodness of rehydration going on. Or just that sometimes, when you're feeling lousy, it's nice to sit back and be taken care of.

Green Tonic

makes 1 fairly large serving (but hey, you're supposed to drink a lot of fluids)

1-inch ginger, roughly chopped
juice of 1 meyer lemon
juice of 1 orange
large handful parsley, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon maple syrup
carbonated water

Place the ginger, citrus juice, parsley and maple syrup in a blender, and puree until smooth. Pour through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, squeezing to extract all the possible juice from the pulp. Pour into a glass with ice, and top off with seltzer. Drink and be healed!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sesame-Coated Chocolate Chip Cookies

The past day or so, I have been craving a good old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie. And then I saw a picture, and suddenly I was craving a good new-fangled chocolate chip cookie. With a coating of sesame seeds. And, hidden underneath, just the merest whisper of clean, fresh ginger, and the salt jolt of soy sauce. Who knew there could be an improvement upon the chocolate chip cookie?

This brilliant sesame-studded idea came from Joy the Baker. She tucks some seeds inside, but I like the idea of the standard smooth dough-and-chocolate cookie on the inside (I swapped in my current favorite recipe), with a crunchy, nutty coating on the outside. And I love the idea of using soy sauce instead of salt for a slightly malty Asian spin (I also added a bit of ginger, after loving the combination in these sesame-ginger rice krispie treats). The flavors in these cookies are fairly subtle—they don't knock you over the head with gingery heat, or a wow-that's-salty hit of soy-based umami. They're just a classic chocolate chip cookie, with all of the goodness that entails, given a slight tweak. And a coating of crunchy sesame seeds. And they're really, really good.

Sesame-Coated Chocolate Chip Cookies

combination inspired by Joy The Baker, recipe tweaked from Jacques Torres in The New York Times
yields 2-4 dozen cookies, depending upon size, and must be made at least 1 day before baking

8 1/2 ounces flour (scant 2 cups) — substitute up to a (slightly scant) quarter rye or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
10 Tbsp (5 ounces) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
5 ounces (2/3 cup) brown sugar, packed
4 ounces (1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp ginger juice (it's easiest to grate the ginger, then press it through a garlic press to extract the juice)
6 ounces chocolate of your choosing, chopped into small cubes and bits (~1 cup)
~1/2 cup black sesame seeds
coarse salt (optional)

Sift together the flour(s), soda, powder and salt. Set aside.

Place the butter in a mixer or large bowl, and beat together with the sugars until very light. Add the egg, vanilla, soy sauce, and ginger juice, and stir until well combined. Add the flour mixture, stir until just mixed, and then add the chocolate and stir to distribute evenly. Place in a bag or covered container, and chill 2-3 days.

When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and line a few baking sheets with parchment (or grease them well and hope for the best). Scoop the dough out into cookies of the size you prefer — large, 3-inch balls of dough easily make for a nice crisp-outside-gooey-inside consistency, but I find you can arrive at something similar if you make small cookies and watch them like a hawk. Roll in the sesame seeds to give a fairly heavy coating, and place on the prepared sheets. If you fancy a bit more salt in your sweet, you can also top each cookie with a whisper of coarse salt.

Bake until golden brown on the edges yet soft, 10-15 minutes depending upon cookie size. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for a couple minutes until they firm up enough for you to move them, then transfer to a rack to cool completely (it's difficult to end up with soft cookies if you don't pull them soon enough). Devour when warm, with milk (or, if you'd like to keep with the theme, soymilk).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chez Panisse Almond Tart

 A few weeks ago, I described the fairly epic meal I ended up cooking in trade for a blissful ninety minute massage. I still dream about that massage. But the whole involved affair, from handmade ice balls to truffled cheese, actually came out of a fairly simple request: something made with almonds. And so, in the midst of all of those courses, I actually did deliver as promised. With an amazing, crisp-yet-soft, rich-yet-light almond tart.

Going above and beyond the actual request is partly a result of my sporadically-manifesting perfectionism, and partly because I really, really wanted to make sure that this trade would be repeated. But honestly, I could have stopped with the tart itself. Because it's amazing.

This recipe comes from David Lebovitz, and was a favorite during his stint at Chez Panisse (favorite with the diners that is—I think the kitchen staff, like me, cursed its fussiness just a wee bit). It is like nothing you've ever had before: a buttery tart shell filled with an almost candy-like paving of almonds, bound with something that's sort of like caramel but without the overly cloying sweetness. And it's surprisingly simple: once you wrestle with the fiddly crust, you just simmer together equal parts cream, sugar, and sliced almonds, along with a dash of extracts to bolster the flavor. Pour it into your shell and bake it, giving a stir now and then as it sets to make sure things stay nice and pretty. As long as you actually place the tart on a pan to catch the drips, and have a false-bottom tart pan to make short work of any overflow-related-crust-adherence issues, it should be fairly easy (I failed on both of these counts, but please don't be like me).

And because, as stated, I can't leave well enough alone, I served it with a blob of lightly sweetened whipped cream, and a puddle of candied kumquats. The combination of the bright and punchy kumquats, soft cream, and crisp almond tart is truly special. Hopefully special enough for another massage...

Chez Panisse Almond Tart

adapted from the amazing David Lebovitz

I have made this tart twice, and once it behaved exactly as expected, whereas the other time it bubbled over wildly in the oven. I'm not sure why. Both were delicious, and as long as you (unlike me) place the tart on a pan to catch any drips, bubbling over shouldn't be too much of a bother).

1 cup flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup (aka 1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
1 Tbsp ice water
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp almond extract

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 cup sliced almonds (blanched or skin-on are both fine)
1/8 tsp almond extract
2 tsp orange or almond liquor (such as Grand Marnier, Triple Sec, or Amaretto)

optional: whipped cream and candied kumquats for serving (for the latter, just cut kumquats into thick slices, pop out the seeds (I find a skewer fairly helpful,  but sometimes you can just squeeze them out), and simmer in a 1:1 sugar/water (or sugar/water & white wine) syrup until soft and translucent)

To make the crust: Mix together the flour and sugar. Using a food processor or pastry cutter, cut in the butter until it's reduced to rice-sized bits. Add the water and extract and work until the dough just comes together. Shape into a chubby disk, wrap with plastic and let rest in the refrigerator until chilled, about an hour.

After the dough has rested, remove and let come to room temperature. Using your hands, press the dough into a 9-inch tart pan until you form a thin-yet-relatively-even layer, pricking the bottom a few times with a fork to prevent it from bubbling up. Reserve a small bit of dough for patching any holes. Place the shaped crust in the freezer for about half an hour to chill thoroughly.

While the tart is freezing, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit. Bake the frozen shell until set and lightly golden, ~20-30 minutes (a bit of slumping is okay, but if it sinks too much, take it out mid-way and shape it back up). Remove and let cool slightly, patching any holes with the reserved dough (or just sort of smushing the partially-baked dough around to cover—it's fairly forgiving). Leave the oven on.

To prepare the filling, place the cream, sugar and salt in a large saucepan or pot, and bring to a boil over a high heat. When it foams up, turn off the heat and add the almonds, extract, and liquor. Stir to combine.

Pour the filling into the par-baked crust, and place it on a baking sheet. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes until golden, with no remaining gooey white bits. After the first 10-15 minutes, tap the surface of the top a bit with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon, to keep it from forming an unattractive top crust. Repeat five minutes later, and again until the tart begins to set and become golden (if your tart happens to be bubbling over wildly, you needn't worry about this). Remove, and let cool for a few minutes. Remove from the ring and base—this may be a bit difficult if the tart has bubbled over and glued itself to both of them, but slip a small knife in until you can loosen it easily. Serve with whipped cream and candied kumquats, if desired, or enjoy as-is.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Passover 2012: Parsley Semifreddo with Manischewitz Syrup

I've long been of the opinion that food can represent a great many things, that it can point to the bigger ideas in our lives. And so it's no surprise that I gravitate towards holidays like Passover, where the very meal itself is a symbol of big ideas—namely liberation, in all senses of the word. It's a weighty concept, for sure. But it's also lovely and light. And a bit of fun. Like this semifreddo.

This recipe, my particular contribution to the pantheon of Passover desserts, takes two familiar seder flavors—parsley and Manischewitz wine—and combines them into a sweet confection (I initially attempted to throw in a third traditional note, horseradish, but that was quickly realized to be a Truly Terrible Idea). Fresh green parsley infuses some heavy cream, which is whipped into peaks and folded with beaten eggs, then frozen into lovely ice cream-like concoction. The slightly-vegetal herbal note of parsley is tempered by the dairy, and then sweetened by everyone's favorite kosher plonk, Manischewitz. You can find the recipe (along with a revamped much-easier-and-even-more-perfect version of my favorite blueberry macarons) over at The Oregonian.

And I apologize for the late notice, as I'm sure all those who celebrate are already finished with their preparations (if they, like good responsible grownups, actually pull things together in advance). As for me, I'm still mopping the floor, game-planning a reprise of my favorite Sephardic Passover feast, and desperately trying to figure out how I can fit nearly twenty people into my tiny house (don't ask). Oh, freedom.