Monday, August 27, 2012

Tomato, Blue Cheese and Corn Galette

Like most people mucking their way through the world, I aspire to do things because they are, essentially, worth doing — to find reward in my own internal sense of accomplishment. But the truth is that nothing spurs me onward like external validation. Because I am very, very lazy. Have I been coming home sore from my weekly Women on Weights (or, if you will, WOW) gym class because I've found an inner reserve of willpower? No. It's because the ranks have thinned out with summer vacations, and I'm striving to impress the teacher who actually has time to see what I'm doing (and by 'impress' I mean 'actually try to do the exercise correctly for the entire epic-seeming 60 seconds allotted each station'). And recently, I came up with this deliciously inspired summer savory pie — solely because a friend was having a pie contest.

Regardless of my lower chakra motivations, this combination is delicious. I was initially inspired by last year's high-season combination of corn and tomato, all wrapped up in a cheddar biscuit crust (which, incidentally, netted me the prize for that summer's competition).  But in the name of innovation I dropped the delicious biscuit, highlighting the perfect of-the-season produce in a simple open-faced rustic pie instead. Because cheese is always a good idea, I alternated rounds of tomatoes and sprinklings of sliced-off-the-cob corn with thin slabs of rich, fusty blue cheese. And, because I am a teacher-pleaser, I gilded the lily with a quick brush of garlicky, herby olive oil. And the results were amazing — the from-the-farm sweetness of summer corn and tomatoes, given a sophisticated, rich counterpoint from the blue cheese, and a flaky, buttery crust. Perhaps it's a good thing that I've been giving it my all at the gym.

Tomato, Blue Cheese, and Corn Galette

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
handful chopped fresh herbs (tarragon, basil, etc)
salt and pepper
1 unbaked pie crust (I'm still obsessed with a half-recipe of this)
1 pound tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
2 ears corn, sliced off the cob
1/4 pound blue cheese (you want something that's buttery-tasting but not too soft (lest it melt in the oven), cut into thin slices

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Farehnheit.

In a small bowl, mix togehter the olive oil, garlic, herbs, and a bit of salt and pepper. Set aside.

Roll out the crust to a 13-14-inch diameter, and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. In a spiral, lay overlapping slices of tomatoes, corn, and blue cheese, arranging to use up all of the vegetables and fill the tart up to about an inch of the edge (you can sprinkle with salt and pepper if you like, but the blue cheese may likely provide enough flavor, if it's a strong one). Crimp the crust over the filling, pinching to pleat, then give everything a good wash with the herbed oil. Place in the oven, and bake until the tomatoes are cooked, the cheese is melty, and the crust is lightly browned, ~45 minutes. Let cool slightly, then serve in wedges.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

S'more Pie

I've long been a fan of substituting the word "caramelized" for "burnt" — and not just because my somewhat laissez-faire cooking practices and lack of a kitchen timer require it. In general, I'm of the opinion that the most delicious flavor comes just-this-side of carbonized, and people need to embrace the darker colors of a well-developed Maillard reaction. But clearly, this pie goes a step beyond caramelization. Like a good campfire s'more, it's full-on burnt. And it's delicious.

If it's been a few years since you've eaten a s'more, there's a chance you might dismiss them as cloying, overly-sweetened candy kid's stuff. And you'd be wrong. They're amazing. Not-too-sweet graham cracker, meltingly soft chocolate, and the burnt bitterness playing off the sticky-sweet strands of marshmallow. Like I said: amazing.

This recipe comes from Gourmet, and while I don't know that I'd serve it as a Thanksgiving pie (their initial recommendation), it makes a phenomenal summertime dessert. The graham cracker crust is crumbly and buttery (and not too sweet), and the filling is like a lightly-set chocolate ganache (a bittersweet step above the usual Hersheys). And then the marshmallow topping: gooey, vanilla-scented, and broiled to perfection. Having grown used to overabundant pies that spill from their tins, I initially thought of upping the quantities of this somewhat small pie, but it turned out to be perfectly balanced. It's like the best of campfires — of childhood summers in general — all pulled together in one grown-up (slightly burnt) bite.

S'more Pie

adapted from Gourmet, with thanks to Smitten Kitchen for flagging
yields 1 9-inch pie 

Also apologies for not having a shot of the delicious graham-chocolate-marshmallow layers in each slice — I brought it to a pie party, wherein it was demolished into sticky crumbs in a matter of minutes. I suppose I must make another one.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter (or use salted, and omit the salt later)
10 full-size graham crackers (1 1/2 cups crumbs)
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch salt (I borrowed smoked salt from a neighbor to up the campfire quotient, but that's totally optional)

Chocolate Filling:
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (Gourmet specifies no stronger than 70% — I used a 54% bar from Trader Joe's, and it was great), chopped to bits
1 cup cream
1 egg
pinch salt

Marshmallow Topping:
1/2 cup cold water, divided
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (I've done some marshmallow experimenting with different vegetarian and kosher gelatins — the kosher fish gelatin tends to work for a substitute (though I haven't tried them with this particular recipe), the carageenan-based ones, not so much)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.

To make the crust: Melt the butter. In a food processor, blitz the graham crackers into crumbs, and then add the sugar and salt, and drizzle in the melted butter. Process until well combined. Press it evenly into the bottom and sides of a pie or tart pan, compressing it so that it stays together (I use a metal measuring cup, smoothing out the sides first, then the bottom). This is a somewhat shallow pie, so don't worry about the sides going above and beyond. Bake until just beginning to color, ~10—12 minutes. Remove and let cool (leave the oven on for the filling).

To make the chocolate filling: Place the chopped chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Pour the cream in a saucepan, and heat it until it's just about to boil. Immediately pour the hot cream over the chocolate, then let sit, undisturbed, for a full minute. After it has sat, whisk until the chocolate has melted to form a smooth mixture. Whisk in the egg and salt until well-combined, then pour into the cooled graham cracker crust. Using a pie shield or some carefully-positioned foil, cover the edge of the crust to prevent it from over-browning (the graham cracker crust is fragile, so be delicate to avoid crumbling it more than necessary), and bake until the filling is softly set but still trembly, ~10-20 minutes. Set aside and let cool slightly.

To make the marshmallow topping: Place 1/4 cup of the water in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a heat-proof bowl you can use with a hand-held mixer), and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let sit while you move on to the rest of the topping.

In a small saucepan, place the remaining 1/4 cup water, sugar, corn syrup, and salt, and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Have a small dish of cold water nearby, and cook until the mixture reaches the firm-ball stage, wherein a droplet will form a firm-yet-slightly-malleable ball when you drop it in (this takes a little more than 5 minutes, and the mixture will thicken visibly — you're aiming for about 250 degrees on a candy thermometer). When it has reached that stage, move fast!

Begin beating the gelatin mixture at a medium speed, then quickly pour in your hot sugar syrup (if it hits the beaters, it will get flung to the sides of the bowl and harden there, so aim to pour it so that it hits the side of the bowl just above the surface of the mixture, and gently pours down). When all the syrup is in (which should happen quickly), increase the speed to the maximum, and beat until the mixture doubles in size, becoming light, cool and airy, ~5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.

When it's reached the proper consistency, pour it over the pie, gently smoothing it out to the edges (it will spread somewhat on its own accord, so don't worry too much). Transfer the pie to the refrigerator, and chill for at least one hour (and up to overnight, covering with oiled plastic wrap after the first hour if you're doing that).

Before serving, preheat your broiler, with a rack that will put the pie no closer than 3-4 inches from the heating element. Make sure again that the crust is protected with a pie shield or foil, and broil until it is burned to your liking. WARNING: This will happen ridiculously quickly, so keep an eagle eye on it, turning the pie as needed, to ensure that you don't go from pleasantly broiled to a carbonized lump (although if, say, your broiler door gets stuck and you literally CAN NOT OPEN THE BROILER DOOR for several minutes, and a flamey mess occurs, rest assured that you can actually lift the carbonized top off, as a piece, and give it another go. I imagine). Let cool a few minutes to set, then devour.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Çılbır (Poached Eggs on Garlicky Yogurt)

Sometimes it takes a summer heat wave to remember how delicious the simplest things can be. A cold gin and tonic. Lying in the backyard looking up at the stars. A bowl of vanilla ice cream with fresh blackberries. Poached eggs and garlicky yogurt.

I know, I know. On the surface, a meal of eggs and yogurt sounds kind of basic, unexciting (if not downright unappleaing). But in truth, it's phenomenal. The yogurt is tangy and savory, a perfect pillow for a runny poached egg. Topped with a drizzle of red pepper-infused oil and scooped up with some crusty bread, it's pretty near perfect.

This classic Turkish combination takes many forms — sometimes there's dried mint or sage leaves, or melted butter substitutes for the olive oil. I'll scoop it up with some toasted flatbread, a baguette, or the random ends of Russian rye from the freezer. It's quick enough for a quick weeknight supper, or too-hot-to-cook summer afternoon. As with any pared-down recipe, it helps to start with quality ingredients. But with the right building blocks (flavorful chiles, farm-fresh eggs and good bread), and the right Turkish inspiration, simplicity can be oh so delicious.

Çılbır (Poached Eggs on Garlicky Yogurt)

adapted from several traditional recipes
serves 2

garlicky yogurt:
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 garlic clove, pressed

seasoned oil:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon flavorful-but-not-hot red pepper (Aleppo or Marash are particularly nice), or a hefty pinch smoked paprika

4 eggs

crusty bread for eating

optional additions:
chopped fresh tomatoes
a handful of olives
steamed or sauteed greens

To make the yogurt sauce: In a bowl, mix together the yogurt, garlic, and salt to taste. Set aside.

To make the seasoned oil: Pour the olive oil and pepper in a saucepan, and gently heat over a medium-low flame until the oil just warms and takes on color from the pepper (you don't want to overheat and darken things). Turn off and let sit.

Poach the eggs — there are numerous tutorials on this, but I'm fond of slipping a cracked egg into a whirlpool of barely-simmering water with a splash of vinegar, and simmering until just barely set.

To assemble: Lay down a bed of the garlicky yogurt on a plate, and ladle two poached eggs on top. Add whatever additions you favor, then top with a sprinkling of salt and a good amount of the seasoned oil. Serve with crusty bread for dipping.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Syrian-spiced Tuna

We all wax poetic about the seasonality of certain foods. The spring-is-here heralding spears of asparagus, the autumnal snap of a good apple. But in fact everything has a season — even those things we think of as perennial. Like tuna fish.

Right now is high time for Oregon albacore, something I was fairly late in realizing. These fish run right off the coast, and tend to be smaller and younger (and, consequently, lower in mercury) than their deep-ocean brethren. They're also troll- and pole-caught, methods that avoid the by-catch of a big net approach and give them a high sustainability rating. The meat is rich in healthy oil, a boon for those (like me) who tend to overcook, and it's cheap, delicious, and takes well to a marinade. Which is all to say I've made this dish twice in the past two weeks.

Tweaked from a sort of Ottoman fusion cookbook I'm obsessed with, this recipe features citrus, spice and an addictive bit of heat that goes surprisingly well with the flavor of tuna. You can serve it with rice, tuck it inside a pita with a drizzle of tahini (the original recipe calls it a shawarma), or, as I did, pair with a simple chopped salad (I chunked up some cherry tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, and parsley, along with a splash of lemon juice and olive oil). It's a deliciously simple way to celebrate the season.

Syrian-spiced Tuna 

serves ~4, depending upon other dishes served

adapted from the monkfish schwarma in Silvena Rowe's Purple Citrus an Sweet Perfume, credited to the Al-Halabi restaurant at the Four Seasons Damascus. I pan-seared the tuna due to some last-minute grill complications, but you can easily cook it on the barbecue if you prefer — simply thread on skewers and grill until done to your liking.

juice of 1 orange
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons chili paste (Rowe recommends a Chinese chili-garlic sauce)
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 — 1 1/2 pounds albacore tuna, cut into chunks
high-heat oil for pan searing

Mix together all of the ingredients (except the tuna) to form the marinade, and then add the tuna and stir to combine. Refrigerate for half an hour, turning once to make sure the tuna absorbs the marinade evenly.

When the tuna has marinated, heat a cast-iron or other heavy pan over high heat until crazy hot. Pour in a splash of oil and immediately add the tuna (depending on the size of the pan, you may want to do this in two batches, so that the tuna doesn't crowd the pan and cause the temperature to drop too much). Let sear (it should only take a minute — you'll be able to see the color change on the sides of the chunks), then turn to sear on another side. If your chunks are small, you may only need to sear two sides, but if they're large you can sear another side or two until they're cooked to your liking. Remove from the pan and serve.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Grilled Kale Salad with Ricotta and Plums

A few years ago, I spent Thanksgiving with some friends in a little rented cabin, where we opened (for reasons too ridiculous to go into) a $100 bottle of wine. Nobody at the table had ever drunk that much money before, so we made some jokes, took some deep breaths, and sipped. After a pause, everyone looked around the table, sighed deeply, and let loose with a "holy shit." Well, everyone except me.

While my friends were gasping over how amazing it was, and lamenting that it would make it that much harder for them to enjoy the cheap stuff, I was just sitting there saying yeah it's good, or well sure it tastes different from other wines, but doesn't every bottle of wine taste different from every other bottle of wine? and other such statements that caused people with discerning palates to roll their eyes.

As much as it should be a point of shame in my culinary identity, I'm totally fine being a cheap date when it comes to certain things. While I don't doubt that some can appreciate the difference, I figure there are some foods where the line between gourmet and grocery store wasn't all that significant. I mean, once you leave the chemical stuff behind and go for real salt, can you really appreciate the trace minerals in salt harvested in one sea versus another? Or does ricotta, the blandest of cheeses, really taste all that much better when it comes fresh-packed in a $10 artisanal bucket instead of an industrial $4 plastic tub? Well for the last one, it turns out it the answer is yes. A lot. Who knew?

Fancy ricotta is not an everyday purchase for me. But for a salad with just a few simple ingredients, I figured I'd seek out the quality stuff. Our local natural store had stopped carrying it, but in a spectacular feat of customer service, they not only allowed me to taste spoonfuls of the two brands of ricotta on the shelf, but then (when the staff person told me that those flavors didn't compare), called their supplier to make an extra stop on their afternoon run and drop off a special case of the best stuff (in related news, I now have lovedreams about New Seasons market). I picked up a tub after the special delivery that night, and made this salad. And it's amazing (and, as an added bonus, the leftover fancy ricotta made for a stellar baked ziti).

I am in awe of the person who thought up this inspired combination. Creamy, cold cheese, smoky kale, and punchy plums, tied together with a thyme-scented vinaigrette. Even setting the kale on fire a few times (I have grilling issues) did nothing to diminish the impact. Altogether, it's like nothing else I've ever tasted. I imagine regular ricotta would be alright in this salad, but the milky-fresh, sweet-tasting version makes it just amazing, and it's sure to go on my list of summertime scene-stealers.

Grilled Kale Salad with Ricotta and Plums

adapted from Bon Appetit
serves 4-6

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon honey 
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper 
1 large bunch kale leaves (curly is especially pretty, but lacinato is also nice)
3/4 cup fresh ricotta
4 medium plums, halved, pitted, thinly sliced
Whisk 3 tablespoons of the oil, vinegar, thyme, and honey in a medium bowl. Season vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.  

Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to high. Coat kale leaves with the remaining tablespoon of oil (you can brush it on, or drizzle and then shake-shake-shake the leaves between two large bowls) and grill, turning once, until crispy and charred at edges, about 2 minutes (mine lit on fire several times — not sure if this is due to a crappy grill or user error, or whether it's just an inevitable hazard). Transfer to a work surface, and let stand until cool enough to handle.

Remove the large center stems with a knife and discard (just trim the tough ends from smaller, more tender kale stems), and chop/rip into smaller pieces if desired (larger pieces make for a more dramatic presentation, though they're a bit harder to navigate).

Divide ricotta among plates, and top with a scattering of kale leaves and a tumble of plums. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, and serve.