Monday, December 29, 2014

Armenian Pilaf with Shrimp, Cilantro and Feta

For the record, I am a big fan a brown rice. Nubby, healthy, delicious. It's my weeknight staple. But I also love love LOVE white rice. A few months back I invested in a mega-sack of Basmati rice. How big is the sack? I don't know, as it's shoved out of the way on an inaccessible shelf, decanted into a more manageable jar as needed. I don't dip in very often, but when I do — oh man. It's aromatic, amazing, delicious. It's like a big warm good-smelling hug. Others may slide into a bowl of mac'n'cheese, or mashed potatoes. And I do so love the both of those. But a delicious pilaf with buttery white rice — that's my comfort food.

A few weeks back, I had some friends in need of a good comforting dinner. So I took my trusty rice, along with some delicious shrimp, and an Armenian cookbook I've had out from the library. I cooked up this easy dish, leashed up my dog, and hauled the cast iron pot through the neighborhood (along with a salad, and mason jar full of Mai Tais). And it did the trick.

This recipe is one of those simple, greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts bits of magic. Shrimp shells are simmered in stock, to give an extra richness to the rice, which is further bolstered with saffron and tomato paste (the original recipe offered either, but I, in my wisdom, opted for both). The shrimp are stirred in at the last minute, so they stay nice and tender (I take the extra step of brining, which also helps), and then everything is topped with feta and cilantro. The end result is intriguing enough to keep you reaching for bite after bite — yet simple enough to wrap you up in starchy comfort. 

Armenian Pilaf with Shrimp, Cilantro and Feta

adapted from The Armenian Table by Victoria Jenanyan Wise
serves ~4

1 pound uncooked shrimp, in shell
3 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 hefty pinch saffron
1 large handful cilantro leaves, plus additional for serving
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon aleppo pepper, plus additional for serving
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Shell the shrimp, leaving the tails intact (if you fancy, for dramatic effect), and reserving the shells. Place the shrimp in a small bowl of water, along with a hefty pinch of salt and a small bit of sugar (this brining is optional, but I feel improves the flavor and texture). Place in the refrigerator.

Place the reserved shrimp shells in a small saucepan along with the broth. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat until high enough to maintain a brisk simmer. Cook until the shells are pink, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

To make the pilaf, melt the butter (or pour the oil) in a good-sized saucepan or pot over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and rice, and saute until the rice is translucent (but not colored), ~2 minutes. Strain the shrimp broth into the pot through a fine-mesh strainer. Add the tomato paste, saffron, cilantro, salt and aleppo pepper, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 22 minutes, until the rice is tender.

When the rice is done, turn off the heat, and take your shrimp from the refrigerator. Drain, and stir into the pilaf. Cover the pot again, and let sit for 5 minutes, until the residual heat cooks the shrimp until they're just barely pink. Serve warm, garnished with the feta cheese, and additional cilantro and aleppo pepper, if desired.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Poppyseed Rugelach

There's the hackneyed (and true) saying that defines insanity as doing the same thing and expecting a different result. And yet. I saw a blog post on rugelach, all splayed and fallen-over, which said that the recipe is both ridiculously flawed and ridiculously delicious. So I somehow thought oh, let me make them! Cut to: scene of a tray of rugelach, all splayed and fallen-over, and me shaking my fist at the recipe. And then swooning over the cookies.

So yes, this is not a foolproof tested recipe — even if the previous intrepid blogger already did some of the heavy lifting, like clearing up actual typos and conversion errors (sigh). But this oh-well-here's-my-best-guess recipe, with its misshapen results, yields one of the most delicious cookies I've eaten in a good long while.

I've long been a fan of our family rugelach recipe, yielding a crisp-yet-flaky cookie studded with cinnamon, rich nuts, and sweet-tart apricot jam. But these are a different animal. They use a cream cheese dough (versus my sour cream version), for a cookie that's also rich and flaky, but softer. The dough is scented with fennel and a spot of black pepper, then rolled around a lightly sweet, rich-yet-nubby poppyseed filling. The whole result is a bit more European, a grown-up, less sweet cookie with a whole lot going on. Oh so perfect with a cup of tea (or, as we proved, a glass of wine and some latkes).

So yes, accept that this is recipe has some flaws. You've got to take some leaps of faith (how big is that rectangle?), and make peace with the fact that the beautiful spirals you put into the oven might look a bit different when they come out. But they're also be very, very good. And even though they're different from my rugelach memories, they still feel like a holiday.

And if you're looking for more holiday food and flavor (without the frustration), here's a recent story I did on the Norwegian-American tradition of Christmas lefse. It's what it all comes down to, really. Listen over at NPR.

Poppyseed Rugelach

adapted from Bar Tartine by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns, as first adapted/trouble-shot by Lottie and Doof
yields ~3 dozen rugelach

Poppyseed Paste:
3/4 cup poppyseeds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light rye flour
1 cup kamut flour (I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for this)
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon fennel pollen (I swapped in 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds)
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch dice, chilled
1/2 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream, at room temperature (I tossed some full-fat yogurt to drain in a dishtowel, which seems close enough for just a few tablespoons)

Egg wash (an egg beaten with a splash on milk and pinch of salt)
coarse sugar for sanding

To make the poppyseed paste: In a spice or coffee grinder, pulse the poppyseeds in batches for 15-20 seconds until broken up and powdery.

In a small saucepan, heat the butter, milk, sugar, honey, lemon juice and zest, and salt over a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts and the sugar and honey dissolve, and it starts to barely steam.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg. Gradually drizzle in the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly, until incorporated. Return the mixture to the saucepan, and heat over a medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, ~5-7 minutes (this won't be full-on pudding-type thickness, but it will thicken, like a custard sauce).

Remove from heat and whisk in the poppyseeds and salt, then let cool completely (it will thicken further as it cools — you can do this up to a week in advance).

To make the dough: In a food processor, combine the flours, sugar, fennel, salt and pepper. Pulse to combine. Scatter the chilled butter over the flour mixture, and pulse until the mixture is crumbly, with rice-sized pebbly bits. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer, add the cream cheese and sour cream, and mix briefly until a smooth dough forms (you can do this by hand as well, with a wooden spoon). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours, or for up to 24 hours.

To make the cookies: On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick (if it's too square-like, you'll have a nice long spiral, but a greater chance that the whole mess will tip over, so aim for something long). Spread the poppyseed paste in a thin layer over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch or so on the far long edge. Starting from the inside long edge, roll up the dough into a log, with the seam on the bottom. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or parchment, and chill until firm, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Brush the log with the egg wash, and sprinkle generously with the sanding sugar. Cut the log crosswise into 1 1/2-inch thick pieces (you can go for 1-inch, which are more delicate, but a bit more inclined to flop over).

Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. Bake until golden brown, ~15 minutes. These cookies are best the first day or two.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hanukkah Gelt!

Oh, Hanukkah gelt. These foil-wrapped chocolate coins, required holiday noshing for Jewish children, are, so often, waxy and nasty. Like, unbelievably so. And yet, I love them. They're like tokens I can slip into a time machine, and go back to childhood. Where they were hoarded, and relished. I counted them, clacking them against each other, until I prized from their wrappers, which could be flattened with a thumbnail and folded into shiny golden origami.

I've been looking into the history of Hanukkah gelt for a radio story, and bought a few bags of the coins to take a picture. And then I ate coin after coin, loving each one. Sure, now I nibble them with a cup of coffee instead of milk. But beyond that, it's pretty much the same.

And if you'd like to hear a bit more about the history of Hanukkah gelt (spoiler alert: not always chocolate!), you can take a listen over at NPR.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Persimmon Smash

Prior to this year, I had eaten exactly one persimmon in my life. One. And the past few weeks? I've been averaging one every other day. I LOVE PERSIMMONS.  I'm talking the firm fuyu persimmons (perhaps I'll leave hachiya for next year) — all orangey-salmon and squat, with their somewhere-between-tomato-and-peach texture, and tropical-yet-autumnal confusingly delicious flavor. Where have persimmons been all my life? It's like suddenly getting a whole new color added to the rainbow.

For the most part, as with any new love, I've been content to just loll about with persimmons, enjoying the simple pleasures. Wedge, peel, consume. Repeat. But as we've gotten to know each other a bit better, I've felt emboldened to play around.

The persimmon smash takes my new best friends and cooks them down into an essence-of-persimmon syrup, perked up with a bit of citrus. I stripped the spices out of the initial recipe (as persimmon itself has enough crazy layered floral notes to more than carry things through), cut down the citrus (same reason), and oh my it's delicious.

And if you're looking for more seasonal drinks to discover, might I interest you in a glass of switchel? You can find my story about this colonial cocktail (well, mocktail) and its resurgence over at The World.

Persimmon Smash

inspired by Marcus Samuelsson, but heavily tweaked
yields 2 drinks (with syrup for about 3-4)
Persimmon Syrup 
3 fuyu persimmons, peeled and chopped  (you can make this without peeling, but it yields a smoother puree)
2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar

Finished Drink
2 ounces whiskey
2 ounces persimmon syrup
3/4 ounce lemon juice 
1/2 ounce orange juice 
sprig of mint, for garnish (I decided to go with rosemary, rather than brave the rain and harvest some neighborhood mint, but mint really is best)

To Make Persimmon Syrup: 
Place the persimmons, water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until the persimmons have softened and the liquid has thickened slightly, ~15 minutes. Cool, then puree in a blender. Chill.

To Make Cocktail:
In a cocktail shaker (or, as it's known in this house, canning jar), combine the persimmon syrup, whiskey,  lemon juice, and orange juice with a bit of ice. Shake well, taste to adjust as needed, and strain (or, if we're being honest, pour) into a cocktail glass with ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Almond Sticks with Cacao Nibs

I've been trying to make my peace with the coming winter. The shortening days, the rain, the wind, the farewell to reading in the backyard on a camping chair in the last of the light. The light that now disappears before 5:30. Sigh.

I once read a list of ways to make yourself happier around the home, that included this excellent suggestion: If you can't get out of something, get into it. This mantra, cribbed from one of the legions of how-to-get-happier books on the market, encourages you to let go of what you would have frankly rather been doing, and just embrace where you're at. Doing the dishes? Do those dishes! Heckyeah dishes! And so forth. So I'm trying to do that for winter. I'm flirting with picking up a cheap little sunny picture to tack to my walls, as a sort of wintertime gift that'll make me feel better about the gray outside. Oh, and I'm baking cookies.

Far be it from me to decry the value of a gooey, oozy brownie. Or a galette that spills sugary fruit syrup over its edges. But bittersweet cookies seem just the thing for turning my bitter feelings into sweetness.

These particular cookies, from pastry guru Alice Medrich, have been likened to biscotti. But really they're more of a shortbread stick, with ground almonds taking the place of some of the butter. And then they're studded with cacao nibs, the full-flavored-yet-unsweetened building blocks of chocolate (which, as a bonus, add nice little crunchy nubbins throughout). As the days darken, and the possibility of something called a "wintery mix" enters into the forecast, I'm still struggling to get into winter. But cookies? I'm so into those. I'm trusting the rest will follow.

Almond Sticks with Cacao Nibs

adapted from Alice Medrich's Seriously Bitter Sweet
yields ~18 cookies

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour  
3/4 cup whole almonds (Medrich recommends blanched, but I'm not that fancy)
2/3 cup sugar  
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt  
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed  
1/4 cup roasted cacao nibs  
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cold water

Pulse the flour, almonds, sugar, and salt in a food processor until smooth. Add the butter, and pulse until pea-size crumbles form. Add the cacao nibs, vanilla, and water, and pulse just a few times until a crumbly dough forms.

Form the dough into a 6- x 9-inch rectangle, about 1/2-inch thick, and wrap in plastic wrap, parchment, or a plastic bag. Transfer to your refrigerator, and chill at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.

When you're ready to bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or two baking sheets, if yours are small). Unwrap the dough onto a cutting board, and slice crosswise into 1/2-inch x 6-inch thick batons. Transfer to your baking sheets, leaving an inch between cookies. Bake until cookies are golden around the edges, ~20 minutes. Transfer to a rack, and cookies cool completely before serving.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Apple Walnut Salad with Bread, Cheddar and Lime

I was in something of a groove with summer salads. Soft butter lettuces, drippy-sweet peaches or melon, a handful of basil leaves. Maybe some corn shaved off the cob, or mild and briny feta. These were less salads than summer celebrations. And then the rains set in, and corn and peaches and basil leaves disappeared. And salads became the same. Lettuce, carrots, maybe some beets or toasted pumpkin seeds if I was feeling fancy. You know, salads. Boring salads. And then I saw this recipe. Crisp apples, fresh croutons, cheddar cheese and scallions. Oh, and parsley, all tied together with a limey dressing. Hello, fall salads!

This recipe comes from Joshua McFadden, the genius behind the ur-kale salad, way back in our kale-free days of 2007. McFadden now, blessedly, has set up shop in Portland, where I was lucky enough to eat at his restaurant. And he does have a way with vegetables.

This salad is just lovely — much like my summertime versions, more celebration than salad, a curated assembly of the fruits of the season. The dressing is aggressively limey, but is perfectly balanced by the cheese, bread, and scallions. And then there's the nuts! And apples apples apples! Can you tell I'm excited? It's just that sort of salad.

And if you'd like another reason to wax enthusiastic about the autumnal harvest, I recently produced a story about eating acorns (or, if you prefer to think of them this way, oak nuts). You can hear all about it over at NPR.

Apple Walnut Salad with Bread, Cheddar and Lime

adapted from Joshua McFadden, via Bon Appetit
serves ~6 small first courses, 4 larger courses

1/2 cup walnut halves
1 generous cup rough-torn pieces of crusty bread
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the bread
1/4 cup lime juice
dollop honey
generous pinch chili flakes
2 crisp apples (Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, etc)
1/4 cup parsley leaves, plucked off the stems
4 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1/3 cup crumbled sharp white cheddar

Preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Spread the walnuts in a rimmed baking sheet, and toast, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (~8-10 minutes). Give them a rough chop (or just crush them with your hands), and set aside in a small dish.

Raise the oven temperature to 450° Fahrenheit, and place the bread chunks on that same baking sheet. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of salt, then toast, stirring occasionally, until toasted to a golden brown on the edges, ~10 minutes (you can also do this in a skillet, but hey if you've got the oven on it's easy). Remove, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, honey, and chili flakes, along with salt to taste. Core and thinly slice the apples, then toss them with the dressing to coat (which, conveniently, will keep the apples from discoloring). Then add the parsley, scallions, cheddar, and reserved walnuts and bread, and gently toss. Transfer to plates and serve.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mushroom Barley Soup

Several years ago, the little hippie natural market down the street was going out of business. I must admit I wasn't terribly crushed to see it go — their prices weren't great, the in-house bakery didn't make the sort of breads and cookies I fancy, and they would never mark produce down to the half-priced bin until it was nearly in a state of active decomposition. But in addition to clearing the way for a less flawed grocery store to move in, their departure had another unexpected benefit: the Going Out of Business Sale.

I remember filling up a few bags of marked-down groceries, though all these years later I don't remember what they were. But here's what I do remember: an enormous, gallon-sized glass jar of dried porcini mushrooms.

Dried porcinis are the shortcut to deep, amazing flavor. They are also beyond expensive. So when I asked a clerk the price on the unmarked jar, I expected something ridiculous. "Um, $20?" he suggested. "But we're in our final days, so everything's half-priced. $10." I grabbed the jar, hit the checkout, and ran home before anyone reconsidered.

It's a deal so good I kinda feel a bit guilty. And it was quite the haul — although the dwindling supply has been transferred to smaller and smaller jars over the years, I'm still making my way through them. But that's okay. Because I can just keep making mushroom barley soup.  

Like many with roots in Eastern Europe, I grew up with mushroom barley soup. It's hearty, delicious, and perfect for these blustery days. This recipe comes from the lovely Zingerman's deli, and uses the dried porcinis to add some fusty oomph to the sliced fresh mushrooms. I upped the vegetable component, because that's what I do, and even stirred in a few ribbons of tender baby collards. Even if you don't have your own stash of dried porcinis, it's still likely a good soup. But with them, it's even better.

Mushroom Barley Soup

adapted from Zingerman's Deli, via Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America
yields one enormous pot of soup (which also freezes well)

1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms  
2 tablespoons butter, oil or margarine

1 large onion, diced
2 ribs celery with leaves, diced  
1/4 cup parsley (I swapped this out with a few leaves of young collards, as I love me some greens) 

2-3 carrots, peeled and diced  
3 cloves garlic, chopped  
1 pound fresh mushrooms (buttons or criminis), thickly sliced
1 tablespoon flour  
2 quarts broth or water  
1 cup whole barley  
bay leaf

Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Place your dried porcinis in a small heat-proof bowl, and pour the hot water over them to cover completely. Let soak half an hour. Swish out any dirt from the dried mushrooms, transfer to a cutting board, and pour the soaking liquid through a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Reserve this mushroom liquid. Coarsely chop the dried mushrooms, and reserve those as well.

Melt the butter or oil in a large soup pot over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery, half the parsley, carrots, and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened but not colored, ~5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and cook until they give off their liquid and soften, another ~7 minutes. (If your pot isn't huge, you can split this process into two pots, and then combine at this point.)

When the mushrooms have softened, sprinkle on the flour, and stir until for a few minutes, until the mixture is well combined and beginning to thicken. Gradually add the broth or water, a cup or so at a time at first, stirring and raising the heat until it begins to simmer. Add all of the liquid, along with the reserved mushrooms and their liquid, and they bay leaf and barley. Stir well, add salt to taste.

Simmer, partially covered, stirring every now and then, for at least an hour, until the barley is tender and the soup is delicious (if you're a hippie like me and want to use some kale or collards, add them in for the last 15 minutes or so).  Remove the bay leaf, add the remaining chopped parsley, adjust seasonings and serve.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ful Medames (fava puree)

I have split and peeled fava beans in my pantry, and they are generally there for one purpose only: to make falafel. This is a noble purpose, enough to warrant them permanent residence on my over-full shelves. But still, it seems a little silly. I can't but wish I had something else I could do with them. Which is why I was quite excited to come across a recipe for ful medames.

Ful medames are a beloved Middle Eastern fava bean preparation. Not the ridiculous-amount-of-work fresh favas, but the fully mature beans, cooked into a simple yet satisfying dish. I'm a big fan of the dish, but pretty much exclusively from a can. My local Middle Eastern store stocks a full shelf of ful cans with enthusiastic banners on the label — Egyptian style! Saudi style! Palestinian style! — each a slight tweak on whole or pureed beans, maybe some cumin, lemon juice, possible garlic or tomato paste. I love em all. But while the can is easy-peasy, I figured fresh was best. And cheapest. Also: I had the favas on my shelf.

And so I tried this recipe. And I liked it. It's sort of like a tweak on your usual hummous, but with the favas' slightly deeper flavor (and, thanks to the dried beans being peeled and split, quicker cooking time). I soaked the beans overnight, then simmered them up to a mush (which I then pureed into an even smoother mush). Garlic, tomato paste, and lemon juice give it a nice balance, but really the fun comes in the toppings. I brought it to a brunch (as this dish is actually a common breakfast offering in the region), and sprinkled on some olive oil, cilantro leaves, and the *sniffle* last of the garden tomatoes. But you could just as easily go with a dollop of tahini, drizzle of yogurt, or sprinkle of aleppo pepper or sumac. With favas as your canvas, it's hard to go wrong.

Ful Medames (split fava puree)

adapted from Ya Salam Cooking
yields ~2 cups

1 cup dried split fava beans, soaked overnight
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt to taste
toppings: cilantro leaves, chopped tomato, olive oil, plain yogurt

Place the beans in a pot with water to cover by an inch or two. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer, and cook until the beans are totally soft, ~30-40 minutes. Halfway through, add the tomato paste and garlic cloves.

When the beans are cooked through, drain off the excess water, and transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the cumin and lemon juice, and a bit of salt, and process until smooth.  Taste and adjust flavors — feel free to doctor it up to your taste (and keep in mind the lemon will fade upon standing).

Transfer the ful into a bowl (I like to create a bit of a depression, so as to better contain what's coming next), and top with any or all of the toppings. Scoop up with wedges of pita bread.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Chocolate-Dipped Almond Horns

When you move, there are things you miss immediately. The local market, the friends you cooked dinner with, the bar where you ruled at trivia. And then there are things that, years later, you suddenly realize oh wait! Where did that go? Has it literally been years? Seriously, why is it that no bakery around here seems to be selling almond horns?

Now, it's possible I'm just looking in the wrong places (a side effect of not liking to venture too far from my house). But it's also possible that the by-the-pound Italian bakeries of my New York youth just don't exist here. Which would be a shame. Especially when it comes to chocolate-dipped almond horns.

These cookies are lovely. Just lovely. And, requiring a tube of almond paste for just a half dozen cookies (large, but still), they ain't cheap. And yes, you can make your own almond paste (more on that later). But they're worth it. So when I came into a tube of the stuff thanks to a generous friend, I knew just what I wanted to make.

The almond paste (reinforced with almond meal and sliced almonds) creates a cookie that is rich and moist, but not overly sweet. That's what the glaze is for. They're so, so perfect for enjoying with a cup of coffee. I hid the leftovers in the freezer, where they stay perfectly fresh (and, if you're generous, at the ready should you want to treat an unexpected visitor). As a huge trafficker in nostalgia, I of course still miss the bakeries (sfogliatelle, anyone?). But honestly, this recipe is just as good. Maybe better.

Chocolate-Dipped Almond Horns

adapted from Love and Olive Oil
yields 6 large cookies

8 ounces (about 3/4 cup) almond paste (not marzipan)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten in a small dish
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons almond meal or almond flour
~3/4 cup sliced almonds (they'll toast up in the oven, so no need to pre-toast)

2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 pat of butter
squirt corn syrup (optional, but makes for a nice gloss)
generous 1/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate


Line one baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease well and hope for the best. Set aside.

In a bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, break almond paste into almond-sized chunks. Add sugar and 3 tablespoons of the beaten egg whites (reserving the remainder), and mix on medium-low speed until a smooth, sticky dough is formed, with no lumps. Add almond flour and mix until combined.

Whisk 1 tablespoon of water into the remaining tablespoon or so of egg whites, and set aside.

Pour the sliced almonds onto a shallow dish or plate. Take 1/6th of the dough, shape into a rough ball, and drop onto the plate sliced almonds. Roll, using the almonds to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands, into a 4-inch log. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and gently shape into a crescent, pressing down to flatten slightly. Repeat with remaining dough.

Let cookies sit, uncovered, for 30 minutes, to dry out slightly. As they're drying, preheat your oven to 375° degrees Fahrenheit. When the cookies are ready, brush with the remaining egg white mixture. Bake for ~15 minutes, or until bottoms and almond edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven, and let cool on cookie sheet while you prepare the glaze (if the bottoms are too brown, you can transfer to a rack to cool — but be careful, as they're delicate while warm).

When the cookies are cooled, make the glaze. Place the cream, butter, corn syrup and chocolate in a dish, and melt on low in the microwave in 10-second bursts (alternately, melt carefully in a saucepan or, less carefully, a double boiler). Cool slightly, and dip half the cookies into the glaze (or sort of spoon it over the top). Return to the baking sheet, and let sit for 30 minutes until glaze is set (or longer, depending on the temperature — you can place in the refrigerator to speed the process). Enjoy immediately, or transfer to an airtight container or the freezer.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Salmon Gefilte Fish Terrine

There are some novelists who seem to write the same book over and over. Whether it's a lost child, a distant parent, a romance soured — the titles may change, but the themes stubbornly persist. It's as though they try to move on to new ideas, but these tropes push their way in and demand to be reworked again and again, until they finally are made right. And I know how this is. I'm the same way with gefilte fish.

My gefilte fascination has become something of a running joke. I tell stories of West Coast variations, and Russian gefilte history. I make fancy chefs and scholars eat several variations. You would think that I would run out of gefilte stories to tell. But please. There are always more.

This year, as the Jewish holidays approached, I explored the surprisingly rich story of the sweet-savory gefilte divide. But you can't eat a story. And so, when it came to my own holiday table, I had find a new way to bring the gefilte to the plate.

I've long been fond of this smoked gefilte fish recipe, yielding patties that are both smoky and delicate. But I was ridiculously busy this week, and didn't quite have the time to shape and steam round after round of hand-shaped patties. And so when I saw a recipe for a single gefilte terrine made in a bundt pan — not to mention using our local West Coast salmon — I was sold.

But, of course, I couldn't resist changing the story a bit. I added some smoked fish and scallions, as I love what they add to my other variation. And instead of grating, I simmered and pureed the carrots, to integrated them a bit more fully into the mix. I dropped the dill and mustard, to better let the fish flavor come through (and allow it to better pair with a carrot-citrus horseradish). And it was delicious. I may just tell this same exact gefilte story next year.

Salmon Gefilte Fish Terrine

adapted (heavily) from Joan Nathan, via Tablet Magazine
yields ~ 15-20 slices

2 carrots, peeled and chunked
3 tablespoons olive or other oil, plus addition for topping the terrine
3 medium onions, peeled and diced
1 bunch scallions, sliced
2 pounds salmon fillets, cut into large (~2 inch) cubes
1 pound cod, flounder, rockfish, or whitefish (I used Oregon petrale sole), cut into cubes
1/2 pound smoked whitefish or mackerel (this gives a subtle smoked flavor — if you prefer, you can swap out more smoked fish for some of the fresh white fish, but you'll want to reduce the salt to accommodate)
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons matzo meal
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Place the carrot chunks in a small saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the carrots are quite tender, ~7-10 minutes. Set aside.

While the carrots are simmering, pour the oil into a large saucepan or Dutch oven, and bring to a medium-high heat. Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt, and saute, stirring, until soft and translucent but not browned, ~15 minutes (lower heat as needed to keep them from coloring). When done, stir in the scallions, cook for another minute, then turn off the heat. Let cool slightly.

Drain the carrots, and place them in a food processor, along with the onions and scallions. Puree until smooth. Toss in the eggs and matzo meal, and pulse to combine. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

Place all of the fish in the bowl of the food processor, and pulse until reduced to small bits, but not totally pureed (you want a bit of texture). Transfer this to the mixer bowl with the onions and carrots. Add the eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper, and beat on medium speed for 10 minutes.

While the mixture is beating, preheat your oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Grease a large Bundt pan, and find a casserole dish that it can fit inside. Heat a kettle of water until it's not quite boiling.

When the fish mixture has beaten,  pour it into your prepared Bundt pan, then place the pan in the casserole dish. Smooth the top of the mixture with a spatula, and pour a little bit of oil over the top, then cover tightly with foil.

Place the pan-in-dish in your preheated oven, then carefully pour some of the warm water (not boiling hot, lest you shatter the pan) into the casserole dish, until it comes a few inches up the side of the Bundt pan. Bake for one hour, or until the center seems solid.

When the terrine is cooked, remove from the oven, and remove the Bundt pan from its water bath. Let the terrine cool for at least 20 minutes, and up to about an hour. When cool, slide a long knife around the inner and outer edges (both!) of the pan to free the terrine, then invert onto a flat serving plate. Cover, and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight. Slice and serve with horseradish. Keeps up to five days.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Late Summer Matzoh Ball Soup

There are so many little niceties that fall by the wayside of modern life. But really, they only take a few minutes, and they can turn someone's day around. Get-well cards. Sickbed food deliveries. And don't get me started on thank-you notes. Do I sound like a grandma? Well, let me make you a pot of soup.

I can get as wrapped up in my busy life as the next person. But lately, I've been trying to step up in these little ways. I happened to have a get-well card on hand the other day (because I could not resist a letterpressed illustration of a dog in the Cone of Shame), and so it just took a few minutes to write a note to a friend who broke her ankle (also, Portland has overnight local mail delivery, which always seems like something of a modern miracle). Then the other day, a friend posted that he had a miserably high fever (he described his state as 'writhing'). And since this is a friend who's helped me out many times, I couldn't sit back. So I channeled my inner grandmother, and made up some matzoh ball soup.

But there was one complication — despite what the calendar may say, summer is still kind of in effect. And, in the midst of hot, sunny days, a bowl full of my usual dill-and-garlic, parsnip-filled standard just seemed a bit too much. So when sickbed duty called, I gave matzoh ball soup a summer update. And it turns out to be delicious.

I threw my frozen bag of vegetable trimmings in the stockpot, with a few additions and subtractions to create a sunny broth heavy on the carrots, garlic and parsley. Then I shaved the kernels off a few ears of corn, and threw the cobs in to simmer as well. I used my standard matzoh ball recipe (also grandparental in origin), but gave it a similar summer update with a mix of chopped fresh parsley, dill and basil. I kept the simmered carrots for a bit of depth, but rounded the soup out with those oh-so-summer corn kernels, and a few halved sungold tomatoes, both floated in the soup right before serving. And then topped the whole summery mess with another dose of those fresh herbs.

The resulting hybrid is clearly matzoh ball soup, full of all that healing goodness. But it's lighter and brighter, perfect for a warm sickbed evening. My grandmother would be proud.

And speaking of trying to be half the people our grandparents were, I recently produced a radio story about learning to be a man in prison (and beyond). You can take a listen over at NPR.

Late Summer Matzoh Ball Soup

yields 1 generous sickbed delivery, plus a few bowls for yourself

Matzoh Balls:
5 eggs
1/2 cup neutral oil, like canola
~3/4-1+ cups matzoh meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
~2 teaspoons salt
a handful each chopped fresh parsley, dill, and basil

To Finish:
~2 quarts broth (homemade is nice, but if you've got a premade broth you can simmer it with the peelings from your carrots, a few garlic cloves, and the corncobs)
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
corn shaved off of 2 ears
~12 sungold tomatoes, halved
a handful each chopped fresh parsley, dill and basil, mixed together

To make the matzoh balls: Whisk together the eggs and oil. Add as much matzoh meal as needed to make a texture somewhat like thick mud — you want it to have some body, but not thick enough to even mound on a spoon (the mixture will firm up upon standing). Stir in the baking powder, salt, pepper, and chopped herbs. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed (it should be fairly salty). Chill for at least 10-15 minutes.

While the matzoh ball mixture is chilling, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Check the chilled mixture — if it's not firm enough to just scoop after resting, add more matzoh meal, and let rest a bit longer. Shape matzoh balls of your desired size with a small ice-cream scoop, two oiled spoons, or oiled hands, and plop them directly in the simmering water. Turn the heat down just enough to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally to rotate, for at least 30 minutes. They're done when you can cut them open to reveal a ball that's fully cooked through. When done, turn off the pot, and let them cool in the water.

While the balls are resting/cooking, pot the carrot coins in a small pot, and add water to cover by a few inches. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until fully tender, ~20 minutes. Let cool.

To serve, add the carrots (and their delicious cooking liquid!) to the broth. Remove the matzah balls with a slotted spoon, and add to the broth. Heat everything up, and add the corn and tomatoes (just a small bit for each person) for the final minute or so, until just heated through. Ladle into bowls, and top each serving with a smattering of fresh herbs. If you're bringing this as a sickbed delivery, it's best to package the tomatoes and corn together, and the fresh herbs in a separate parcel as well, so that they each can be added later to preserve their fresh taste.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Green Rice Salad with Nectarines and Corn

This salad. Oh, this salad. It's substantial, light, and totally summer. It's the salad that was demolished — but demolished — at a recent party, causing a friend to declare that I had "won the potluck."  It's the salad you should make right now.

This comes from the cookbook Vibrant Food, and it more than lives up to the title. Cooked rice (brown basmati in this case, so it's even all fiber-ful and healthy) is tossed with a spicy-tangy puree of cilantro, parsley, fresh green chile and lime (juice and zest, for even more zip). Then topped with fresh corn — the recipe called for grilled, which would go with the salsa verde flavors, but I can't resist the juicy pop of just shaving the stuff right from the cob. Also, I am lazy. Then add some sliced sweet nectarines, and crumble of creamy-salty cheese.

I have seen this on several blogs recently, and each time the picture looks just as delicious as in the cookbook. Even my lousy cellphone pic of a half-eaten platter still looks tasty. And it tastes even better than it looks. It's easily doubled for potlucks, and makes an amazing packed lunch. And yes, I know the food of every season has its charms. But this salad, all zippy and tangy and sweet and juicy? It's a taste of summer that will be a bit hard to leave behind.

Green Rice Salad with Nectarines and Corn

adapted from Vibrant Food: Celebrating the Ingredients, Recipes and Colors of Each Season, by Kimberley Hasselbrink
serves 4-6 (double for a potluck)

1 cup brown basmati rice
1 2/3 cups salted water
heaping 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional leaves for garnishing
heaping 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus additional leaves for garnishing
1 small jalapeƱo or serrano pepper, seeded and chopped
zest and juice of 1 good-sized lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ears fresh corn, shaved from the cob
2 medium-ripe nectarines, pitted and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

In a small pot, combine the rice and water, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Simmer, covered, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Let the rice stand for a few minutes, then fluff. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

When the rice has cooled, transfer it to large bowl. In a blender, combine the cilantro, parsley, hot pepper, lime zest and juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Blitz, scraping down as needed, until it makes a smooth mixture (if you can't get things to liquify, add a spoonful of water as needed to get things to catch). Plop this salsa over the rice, scraping out every last delicious bit, and mix to coat evenly. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed (the feta will add some salt, but you want it to be flavorful). If you're making the dish in advance, refrigerate the rice at this point, and then let it come to room temperature before serving.

To finish, transfer the rice to a serving dish. Top with the corn, then the nectarines and feta, and garnish with the additional parsley and cilantro leaves if desired. Serve.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pistachio Piecrust Pinwheels

These cookies started out as one of those delicious little accidents. I was slated to get together with a new friend, and both of us, short on weekday inspiration, listed off some of our neighborhood go-tos. Pleasant walks and dinners and parks, to be sure, but a bit of the usual rut. And then, in a last-minute burst of inspiration, we decided to drive out for a sunset picnic in the Columbia River Gorge.

Portland proper has many undeniable charms and green spaces. But the gorge, cutting between Oregon and Washington, is just ridiculously breathtaking. And I easily forget that in just a half hour or so, you can be taking in a scene so dramatically, panoramically staggering it makes your heart explode a little bit.

The Vista House is a little turban of a building on a summit of the gorge, intended by its builders to be “an observatory from which the view both up and down the Columbia could be viewed in silent communion with the infinite.” Sounds about right. But with the destination set, and just a few workday hours remaining before we set out, I needed to figure out what to bring.

My friend Adrian did the heavy lifting, promising some leftover pizza, smoked salmon, and a bottle of wine that we ended up bashing the cork into due to our failure to remember a bottle opener (leaving us with some fibrous bits and an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment). I didn't have enough time to hit the store, so I shopped in my kitchen. I grabbed a couple of carrots, a bag of cherries, a jar of pickles fermented by a friend, and a few squares of chocolate. But it didn't seem like I was quite pulling my weight. And then I remembered the small lump of pastry dough, left over from my recent spate of tart-making.

So I rolled out the dough, and sprinkled it with a generous sanding of coarse sugar, and some roughly-bashed cardamom seeds and finely-chopped pistachios. Because I only had a small lump of dough, I ended up with delicate little cookies, just an inch-plus in diameter. But they're actually kind of fun that way. Just teensy little spirals, a lovely match for a saucer of tea.

Or, in this case, a picnic. These perfect little rounds capped off a perfect little evening, full of open-hearted talks and breathtaking beauty and a reminder of how open the world can be. The unexpectedness of these cookies — and of the shape of the evening itself — made everything all the sweeter. 

Pistachio Piecrust Pinwheels

As you can see, this is more of a template than a recipe (as seems to be a trend lately), easily adapted to whatever amount of pastry you have on hand.

leftover pie/tart dough (I used the cookie-like pate brisee, but standard piecrust will make for a nicely flaky variation)
coarse sugar
cardamom seeds, pounded to not-too-big bits in a mortar and pestle
pistachios, finely chopped
egg, beaten with a pinch of salt and splash of water/milk (optional)

On a lightly floured countertop, roll out your leftover dough to a rectangle that is about 5 inches high, and 1/4-inch thick (the length needed to achieve these dimensions will vary based upon how much dough you've got). Sprinkle the dough with a generous sanding of sugar, then the cardamom seeds and pistachios to your taste (the cardamom seeds are fairly strong, so don't go too nuts with those). Then roll up the dough like a jelly roll, tightly, making sure the end seals. Wrap the dough tightly in waxed paper or plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about half an hour.

When the dough is almost finished chilling, preheat your oven to 400° degrees Fahrenheit. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or just grease it, and set aside.

Take your chilled log of dough, and place it on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, slice the dough into 1/4-inch pinwheels. Transfer to your prepared cookie sheet, and repeat with remaining dough. If desired, brush with the egg wash, and sprinkle with additional sugar. Bake until lightly golden, ~10-12 minutes. Let cool, then pack for your picnic.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Fresh Fruit Tart

There's nothing like making a recipe over and over (and over and over) until you get it down. Grandmothers who bake biscuits every Sunday or challah every Friday don't have to think about recipes — they have the technique in their fingers. They sprinkle in extra flour if it's damp, or less if the eggs were large, knowing without even thinking how things should feel. I once read a story about culinary school in a sweet little now-defunct food zine, where the author mentioned her terror at the beginning of egg-poaching day. "I don't really know how to do that well," she admitted. "Just think," her instructor enthused, rolling out a rack with dozens upon dozens upon dozens of eggs, "after today, you're never going to be able to say that again."

This mastery can sometimes be out of reach, for those of us who didn't go to culinary school, or are enthusiastic generalists rather than single-minded specialists. But, if I do say so myself, after a rather deep-diving month, I must say that I feel I know the fresh fruit tart backwards and forwards.

The inspiration for this obsession was a friends' wedding. The couple asked if I'd be willing to make up six fruit tarts, to round out a dessert table that ended up including 3 delicious half-sheet cakes, and a small vegan and gluten-free layer cake (adorably iced with the words "vegan and gluten-free"). These are good people, with an appreciation for good food (and good stories — the bride and I co-produced this piece last year), and a love that deserves a beautiful fruit tart. Or six of them. But in order to make desserts worthy of the occasion, I needed to call in some advice.

My friend Olga coached me through my initially slumping crusts, and Adrian provided additional advice (and even offered to let me break into her home while she was on vacation to borrow some tart pans). The former pastry chef who teaches my Women on Weights class fielded far, far too many questions in the 60-second bursts allotted each station, and shared a pastry cream recipe using some whole eggs (meaning I was only left with two- rather than three-dozen leftover yolks at the end). Multiple friends (bride included) loaned tart pans, and tasted versions along the way. And then, the night before, when I realized holycrap I've been focusing on recipes and don't even know how these things should look, Leela and Rebecca graciously responded to my last-minute freak-out ("Abundance is key to a beautiful tart. Some pics to describe my philosophy are attached. Almost no pattern is needed, just go MORE xoxo"). Mastering the fruit tart clearly takes a village.

With this mountain of input, and tart after tart, I just got good at things. These were lessons that came from other people's hard work and wisdom, a few failures, and, more than anything else, a mountain of butter and milk and eggs that let me just go at it until it was in my bones. And, while it's still tart season, I wanted to share some of the overall delicious lessons I've learned:

  • Freeze your rolled-out tart dough. I used to make tarts in a ceramic pan, which works well enough (especially for tarts that are filled prior to baking). But if you want wedding-worthy perfection, you need a metal pan that you can freeze. Not refrigerate. Not freeze "until firm." Freeze for an hour, at least.
  • Weigh down your tart dough. Yes, some of the magic recipes don't need to be baked with pie weights. But again, we're going for wedding perfection, sans slumping. Butter up some foil, line the dough (pushing down into the edges), and weigh it down. And use pennies! They're heavy, and they conduct (thanks, Olga!).
  • Do not use a nonstick pan. Aside from the perflourinated chemicals that just might kill you, these also shrink/slump much, much more than your standard metal pan.
  • Keep your dough from getting soggy. This takes two forms: don't actually assemble the tarts that far in advance, and brush the crust with some sort of barrier — you can use white chocolate (props to Gillian for that professional trick), or an egg wash brushed on the last few minutes of baking.
  • Fully cook your pastry cream. In the fear of curdling (which, if you're careful in integrating your ingredients, shouldn't be a problem), many bakers snatch their pastry cream off the stove before it's fully cooked through. You need things to bubble (while furiously whisking) for a good solid minute or two, allowing the cream to thicken and the starch to cook off any remaining raw taste.
  • Abundance! Leela is so right on this one. Summer (and weddings) are about love and bounty bursting forth, and you want your tarts to show the same. You really can't go too far. Fan out cut fruit to show its beauty, but this isn't the time for perfect spirals. You should have fans of fruit bumping up  against each other, going beautifully in multiple directions, covered over or propped up by other fruits, because the days are not full enough and the nights are not full enough and we are gathering the rosebuds while we may and all that. I took the Tartine trick of glazing the cut fruit (in this case, an assortment of peaches, nectarines and plums), but then tumbling the berries just as they are, which gave a nice mix of messy and polished.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat. These tips, a distillation of all the good advice I received, will put you in a fine starting place. But there really is no substitute for getting it down, and the sixth tart will undoubtedly be a different animal than the first. The wedding definitely gave me a crash course, and I'm happy that I could add some additional sweetness to a truly beautiful night. But I'm going to keep at it. This may be some lifelong learning here. Which is fine with me.

Fresh Fruit Tart

crust adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours, pastry cream from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook (I ended up using a different one for the tarts, which used weights, which was better for my mass quantities and irregularly-sized farmer's market eggs, but this one is also delicious and great for the single tart), and a hundred other assists from the lovely folks listed above.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg yolk (since my eggs were on the smaller side, I used 1 yolk and 1 full egg per double batch, which worked well)
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt and splash of milk/water, for glazing

To make the crust: Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients, and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in (you want pieces between the size of oatmeal and peas). Add the yolk, and pulse in long pulses until it forms clumps and curds (just before this happens, the sound of the machine will change — head's up!).

When the dough clumps, turn it out onto a clean work surface or bowl, and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing. Wrap the dough ball in plastic or parchment, and refrigerate for about two hours (and up to two days).

When the dough is chilled, butter a 9-inch tart metal tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out the dough to about an inch larger than your pan — it's easiest to do this between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment, peeling them back frequently so they don't get rolled into the dough. Press the rolled-out dough into your pan, folding over the sides to a double thickness and making sure everything is smooth and even. Freeze the crust for at least an hour.

When the crust is frozen, preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil, and place it, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Fill it with pie weights (pennies!). Place on a baking sheet (because the butter, it will drip out a bit), and bake for ~20-25 minutes, until lightly golden. Carefully remove the foil and weights. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon (or prick it with the tip of a small knife — not all the tines of a fork, or you may end up with a bigger hole). Bake the crust for another 5 minutes, then brush with an egg wash. Bake another few minutes, until firm and golden brown (color = flavor). Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature. If making a day in advance, wrap the crust in plastic wrap or slip into a bag once fully (and I mean fully) cool.

Pastry Cream:
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar, divided in half
pinch salt
1/2 vanilla bean (if you prefer, you can use 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract instead, stirred in with the butter, or a combination of the two)
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Split the vanilla bean in half, scrape out the seeds, and place both the bean and seeds in the saucepan. Cook over a medium heat, until the mixture just begins to steam.

While the milk is heating, in a large bowl whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cornstarch, then the yolks, mixing until smooth.

When the milk mixture is steaming, take about 1/2 cup of it, and, whisking constantly, slowly pour it into the egg yolk mixture, whisk-whisk-whisking until incorporated. Tempering! Repeat with remaining milk mixture, then transfer everything back into the saucepan. Raise the heat to medium-high, and, whisking constantly (notice a theme?), bring it just to a simmer. The mixture will thicken, but continue to cook 1-2 minutes when it's at the bubbling point. Remove from heat, stir in the butter, and fish out the vanilla bean. Transfer immediately to a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap or parchment, pressed directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days.

To Finish:
lots and lots of fruit!
a relatively neutral jam or jelly (I used quince)
a few sprigs of mint or other fresh herbs

To finish the tart, take your chilled pastry cream, and whisk it until it becomes smooth again. Spread it evenly in your prepared tart shell. If you're using fruit that you're going to slice (stone fruits, pomes, supremed citrus segments, etc.), heat up 1/4 cup jam or jelly in a saucepan over a low heat, until it gets runny. Jam needs to be strained, but jelly is fine as it is.

Slice any fruits you're going to slice, and fan them on top of the tart in any patterns to your liking. Dip a pastry brush in the heated jelly/jam, and gently brush the cut fruit to keep it beautiful. Take any remaining fruit that doesn't need glazing (berries, cherries, currants, pomegranate arils, etc.), and scatter them generously in overflowing clusters. Tuck a few fresh herb sprigs here and there, and return everything to the refrigerator for an hour or so to set. Serve.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Chilled Cantaloupe Soup with Poached Shrimp

The heat continues! Temperate Portland has been in the 90s for weeks. Weeks! Yes, there are hotter places in the world. But for us, this is far from our usual no-need-for-air-conditioning state of affairs. I realize that even a functional planet has cycles and oscillations and all that, but it's hard not to feel like we're on a march toward some sweaty inevitable crash course with the sun. Or perhaps I'm being dramatic? I can't tell. It's hard to think straight, what with all this heat.

So yes, the world does seem to be on a path that ends in fire. But, on the bright side, I've rediscovered cold soups.

Now this may seem a strange combination. But it's not too far from gazpacho, a similarly sweet-savory blend of cooling summer produce. Also, it's dead simple, one of those dishes whose flavor and wow factor far exceeds the effort involved. Basically it looks like this: cantaloupe, cucumber, and a touch of onion get tossed in the blender, seasoned and smoothed with olive oil and vinegar. Then poached shrimp are tossed on top, and the whole thing is finished with a sprinkling of olive oil and chives. What more do you need? And, more importantly, on these tropical days, what more do you have the energy for?

Chilled Cantaloupe Soup with Poached Shrimp

adapted from A Day That is Dessert (thanks!)
yields ~4 cups, as small appetizer-y servings

1 small cantaloupe melon (or one large one, with about 1/3 reserved for snacking), ripe and fragrant
1 small cucumber or 1/2 large cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
1-2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
salt and white pepper
~12 small or medium-sized shrimp (either standard or salad shrimp will work — I used a small bag of frozen spot prawns)
a small handful of chives, minced

To make the soup: Place the melon, cucumber, the smaller amount of onion, olive oil, and vinegar in a blender, along with a splash of water. Process until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, and adjust seasonings as needed, adding remaining onion if desired. Process again to blend, and add additional water if needed to create a smooth soup. Set aside in the refrigerator to chill while you prepare the shrimp.

To poach the shrimp: Bring a small pot of heavily salted water to a boil (I also like to throw in a pinch of sugar as well). When it's boiling, add the shrimp, then turn off the heat and cover the pot. Let sit until the shrimp turn opaque and pink, ~5 minutes (it will be more or less depending upon the size). While they're sitting, prepare a bowl of ice water, and when they're ready, drain the shrimp, and slip them in the ice water to stop the cooking. Peel the shrimp from their shells. If the shrimp are large, you can chop them, but if they're smaller you can leave them whole.

To serve, pour out a small cup of soup, and top with a portion of shrimp. Scatter on a drizzle of olive oil and some chives, and serve.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Belarussian Bruschetta

I once read a line in a story about a sink that was filled with "summer dishes" — the detritus of 90+ degree days that is free of pots and pans and spatulas. Instead, it's the clink of water glass and iced tea glass, the puddle of melted ice cubes, and the drippy-sticky knives and boards and bowls left over from preparing fruit and salad.

That's pretty much what my sink looks like in these spate of summer days. And I have no regrets. It's been cold yogurt and jam for breakfast, and "meal" means salads full of butter lettuces and basil leaves and raw corn and peaches picked from over the office door. Sometimes there's a handful of chips of spoonful of ice cream, but that's pretty much it. Oh, and these Belarussian bruschetta.

I know, Russian food isn't most people's idea of summer dining. But, as I've argued before, it really should be. Yes, Russia is cold. But it also has hot, sticky summers. And people know how to make the best of them, with summer cabins and juicy-sour pickles and fresh sour cream. This tartine is my homage to that, an iteration of an open-faced sandwich that may never have been eaten in the motherland, but captures some of the best of its spirit.

My Brooklyn-Belarussian grandfather relished summertime meals, usually involving the tomatoes grown in his backyard buckets (after he ate the last one of the season, he would proclaim that he would not touch another tomato until the next harvest, which was a rather radical seasonal-dining manifesto in the 1980s). And on the hottest days, he would chop up a smattering of fresh herbs, mix them in with cottage cheese, and spread the mixture on some dark rye or pumpernickel bread. What more do you need?

As a good granddaughter, I've followed his example. I grabbed some farmer cheese instead of cottage cheese, though either would do fine. Instead of mixing everything together, I just lay a swipe of the cold cheese on toasted bread, then top with a few tomatoes, and sprinkle on the chopped herbs right before enjoying. The end result is a perfect Ruskie tartine, all sour bread and punchy herbs and mild cheese, tasting fresh and summery, but refreshing as a juicy dill pickle. It doesn't dirty much more than your cutting board, and it's just about perfect for a hot summer night.

Belarussian Bruschetta

makes as many as you'd like

sliced bread, preferably a nice dense rye or brown bread
farmer cheese
fresh tomatoes (halved, quartered or sliced, depending upon the size)
fresh scallions, thinly sliced
fresh dill, finely chopped
coarse salt and black pepper

Toast or (even better) grill your bread (if grilling, you can brush first with oil or melted butter). Spread with a generous swipe of farmer cheese, then pave with fresh tomatoes. Sprinkle on a generous dusting of fresh herbs, then season with salt and pepper. Enjoy.