Archive for June 2012
I haven’t posted something around here in awhile, and I wish I could blame it on being busy. Even though some of my time has been taken up by this little summer job at a small cafe-restaurant in town, the truth of the matter is that I just haven’t felt too much in what we’ll call a “cook-y” mood.
I thought I would come home for the summer and really get into the blog, where I would work up a storm making and photographing things all the time and then posting about them. I have been cooking somewhat, making these soft pretzels with some braised red cabbage, or a big batch of vegetable curry over rice with a mint-cilantro chutney to top it all. But more often than not I haven’t been motivated enough to try anything new and exciting around here, let alone get myself into the kitchen to actually make something (instead of just assembling sandwiches for lunch or eating a salad for dinner, for example).
On top of that, a short little trip through Washington’s Northern Cascades with my mom the past couple of days and a seemingly constant stream of eating out has resulted in a kind of fooded-out feeling. Do you ever get that? The feeling that there is too much food, too much of the time, up to the point where the only thing I’m craving is to actually feel hungry for a meal for once. By the time the sun actually arrives here in the Northwest next week, I’d like to get back to that lovely rhythm of eating food familiar to the summer—light, fresh, that whole deal.
And while I think my interest in cooking and baking new things (and then actually photographing and blogging about them) will come back soon once I settle out of this feeling, I still have no recipe or any real food to share with you today. I did however attempt to take a few pictures on my trip with my mom, and so I think I’ll share those instead. We drove through the Northern Cascades, stayed a night in Sun Mountain near Winthrop, then circled down to spend a second night in Leavenworth, a small tourist-driven town modeled after Germany.
The trip reminded me that although I pretty much despise the weather here (it’s overcast outside right now, with sprinklings of rain and a temperature of about 60 degrees), Washington will always have my heart when it comes to snow-peaked mountains, big and crystal-clear, turquoise lakes that are attached to giant dams, and big hills covered with too many evergreens for the eye to see. It’s a beautiful place.
(The drive through the North Cascades was beautiful. My mom was disappointed that the sky was overcast and rainy so she couldn’t see the sights of the winding mountains clearly. I liked the clouds though; the way they wrap around the mountain peaks and sides looks so mysterious, as if they mountains hold secrets that we can’t reach.)
(Despite the fact that I had never ridden a horse in my life up until the slow hour-long ride at Sun Mountain, I have recently decided that my missed life opportunity is not ballet as I previously thought, but is horseback riding. I’m a little into Native Americans, the Wild West, and the whole idea of having a ranch with horses and chickens and cattle at the moment. Just so you know.)
(Our view from breakfast at Sun Mountain.)
(A cheesy sign in Leavenworth. Fitting for a very cheesy town. You still have to love it, though—it’s just one of those things.)
In my post for Father’s Day last year, I mentioned that my Dad has a specific set of tastes. I’d sum it up as Southern Californian Mexican meets 50′s child nostalgia meets snack-hungry sweet tooth. He loves when I’m around the house because there’s always some sort of treat he can have after dinner, and he asserts that pineapple upside-down cake is an under-rated dessert that is a sad example of lost food trends getting the best of people’s palates. Most food “bores” him, but he’s made a meal out of cereal or cheese and crackers more than anyone I know. Even though he’s not very picky, it’s hard to truly impress him with food.
We don’t really make a big deal out of things like Mother’s or Father’s Day around my house (sorry Mom, Dad), but I liked the excuse this past Sunday to try and cater to my Dad’s tastes for dinner. This year, it meant Mexican food in the form of spicy shredded pork tostadas, a spicy jicama-cabbage slaw on the side, and a white chocolate banana cream pie for dessert.
Sound awesome? It was.
(Well, besides the dessert part. Which is odd, because usually baking as opposed to cooking is the thing I can always rely on—if I’m making something sweet, I usually have faith that it’ll turn out well. But tell that to the pile of cornstarchy-tough-crust-overly-sweet mush of a pie sitting in the fridge uneaten at the moment. It seems like I’m making a pattern of Father’s Day, seeing as last year I served a good dinner with a mushy, falling-apart pineapple upside-down cake. Anyway.)
This tinga doesn’t taste like the regular carnitas you get at the taco truck, but I like that. They’re a little sweet, from the tomato sauce and onions, pretty spicy from the chili in adobo, and completely flavorful, complex, and delicious. And what’s more, they were pretty straightforward and easy to make: you simply boil the chopped and trimmed pork in some water and aromatics until the pieces are tender, saute half of that pork with onions and to get it crispy and browned, and finally combine it all back together with reserved stock and tomato sauce until it bubbles and reduces down.
I served them on 6-inch corn tortillas that I fried in oil to make tostadas out of them, but next time I’d fry up 4-inch tortillas—6-inches left a little too much room for the juicy tinga to fall all over our chins when we were eating it. Better yet, I’d go ahead and recommend buying the tortillas already tostada-fied from the store actually. Or! Do like I did, and serve some of the tinga on soft just-warmed corn tortillas. Which, you know, obviously takes away the whole “tostada” part of this dish, but whatever. Whatever you do, make sure you serve it with some crumbled queso fresco, some cilantro, and a good squeeze of lime. That part is definitely necessary.
Before I send you off with the recipe, I have to comment on the slaw that we ate the tostadas with. To cut to the chase, it’s really, really good. I think I loved it more than anyone else at the table, but maybe that’s also probably because I saw how much oil I used to fry up the tostadas and so I was naturally counter-balancing that with some craving for the tangy, spicy, crunchy and always-healthy cabbage and jicama. The dressing, a spicy-sweet mixture with lots of lime juice and jalapeno, was what probably made the slaw for me—I swear, you could serve that dressing on anything.
Oh, and one last thing about dessert: Though I stand by everything I stated earlier about how that banana cream pie went, my Dad still ate a good serving of it by scooping it out and eating it on graham crackers. Because as he says often when he sees a culinary mishap of mine, “it still has all the right ingredients.” And even though I think that all the “right” ingredients are very capable of producing something very “wrong” indeed, I can’t help but appreciate that my Dad’s uncommon food tastes sometimes cause my family to gather around some really great meals. Whether it’s these tostadas, or a pile of cheese and crackers.
Tostadas de Tinga (Spicy Shredded Pork Tostadas)
Adapted slightly from America’s Test Kitchen Menu Cookbook
Serves 6 to 8
As mentioned above, I wouldn’t feel the slightest bit guilty in buying tostadas already deep-fried from the grocery store. A good brand is Mission, or so I’ve heard.
3 to 4 pounds boneless pork boston butt roast
2 large onions, quartered
4 garlic cloves, smashed
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, diced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chipotle chili in adobo, minced
2 (14.5 ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 bay leaves
4-inch corn tortillas
1 to 2 cups vegetable oil
queso fresco, crumbled
cilantro, roughly chopped
To prepare the shredded pork, pull apart the pork at the seams and trim the pieces of its fat. It may be impossible to get all of the fat trimmed off, but do the best you can; any fat that’s leftover will translate to chewy pockets of greasy fat when it’s all finished. Cut the pork into rough 1-inch pieces, and combine with the quartered onions, smashed garlic, thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 8 to 9 cups of water in a large dutch oven. Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat and skim off any grayish foam that rises to the surface. Once the water is steadily simmering, reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook until the pork is tender and falls apart when pierced with a fork, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.
While the pork is cooking, make the tostadas. In an 8-inch skillet, heat a little more than a cup’s worth of vegetable oil until its hot enough so that a sprinkle of flour sizzles when dropped in. Working with one at a time, fry each tortilla for about 30 seconds, or until its crispy throughout and slightly golden. While the tortilla fries, it helps to hold it submerged under the oil with a metal potato masher. Once each tortilla is done, remove from the oil, place on several layers of paper towels to cool, and sprinkle with salt. The tostadas can be kept at room temperature for up to a day.
Once the pork is completely tender, remove and reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid, then drain the pork and discard the onions, garlic and thyme. Returning the pork to the pot by itself, mash with a potato masher until very roughly shredded. Be sure to not shred it too much—it will continue to break down before being served.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the two tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the diced onions and dried oregano until the onions are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add half of the shredded pork and cook with the softened onions, stirring often, until the pork gets browned and a bit crispy. Stir in the minced garlic and minced chili until it all becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Return the pork mixture back to the dutch oven pot with the other half of the shredded pork. Use some of the reserved 2 cups of pork cooking liquid, about 1/2 cup, to deglaze the browned pork left in the skillet by scraping up any browned parts. Once completely deglazed, add this liquid to the dutch oven with the pork, along with the remaining reserved cooking liquid, tomato sauce, and bay leaves. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook until the mixture is reduced until almost no liquid remains. Discard bay leaves, and season with salt to taste.
To serve, spoon the shredded pork tinga onto the center of each tostada and garnish with queso fresco, cilantro, lime juice, and avocado.
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Menu Cookbook
However you slice, shred and cut the red cabbage, carrots and jicama, just try and keep them within the same size range and small enough so that the pieces can actually fit in your mouth.
1/2 cup lime juice, from about 4 limes
1/4 cup sugar
1 jalapeno chili, stemmed, seeds removed, and minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 head red cabbage (1 pound), core removed and sliced thin
3 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 pound jicama, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 cup minced cilantro
In a small bowl, whisk lime juice, sugar, jalapeno, garlic, cumin and a 1/2 teaspoon salt. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the oil in a small stream.
In a large bowl, combine the shredded and sliced cabbage, carrots, jicama and cilantro. Drizzle the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss it all to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day. Season and taste for salt and pepper before serving.
This post has been a long time in the making. Almost exactly a year ago I arrived home from spending three weeks in Europe with my boyfriend. He had been studying in Switzerland for the year, and we had decided that when the semester finished we would spend one week each in Istanbul, Italy, and Southern France. It was maybe the best three weeks of my life (short as my life is), and although I feel kind of silly for thinking such a brief amount of time could have such an impact, especially when friends of mine study abroad for months at a time, I really do think it changed the way I see a lot of things.
At first, I didn’t know how to feel about my time spent in Istanbul. That part of the trip had been picked out by my boyfriend, who restlessly wanted to see some place outside of the Christian Western European zone. I was desperately trying to stay within that zone on our trip, though, as my experience in foreign travel has been contained largely within the developing world. And even though I was really enjoying Istanbul while I was there, at the time it just seemed to blend together with all of the other busy, large, dirty cities that scatter the world outside the most touristy fully-industrialized nations. (I realize now writing this out that I sound like the most spoiled and self-righteous person around. I really would like to say I’m not, but the best I can do is assure you that I hope I’m not.)
But, of course, I was wrong. It may have been hard to compete with the holy capitol of the world at the time (I was so, so excited to see Italy and France for the first time), but I have found myself nostalgic for Istanbul a lot lately. When I smell hot sun warming up a dirt road, I miss when Waylon and I walked the few miles from the Northern part of Istanbul to its old-town as the sun was setting and the silhouettes of the speckled mosques on the horizon stood out. I miss walking along the coast and grabbing fish sandwiches for lunch and hearing the Islamic prayer calls being played out of speakers all around the city. I miss the colors of the city, the flavors of the Grand Bazaar.
I think most of all I miss the people, who were some of the most generous and friendly I’ve ever met. Like the man who owned a rug and tile shop, who talked to us about Turkish rugs for a couple hours while offering us tea despite the fact that he knew we weren’t about to buy anything. Or the two guys who became our friends and who we talked to around lots of tea and hookah for the second half of our week in Istanbul. They were both from the Kurdish part of Turkey, much farther inland, where they claim fruit, syrups and jams are the best in the world. They told us stories of their childhood there, and about one of their fathers who they claimed that although he was old, “he still has the strength to sleep with two women at the same time.” (!) I hope I get to see them again.
Throughout the entire trip, I kept a food journal where I would write down everything we ate. At the time I just saw it as a silly way to keep track of foods I liked and wanted to make back home. But now, even a year after our short trip, I love looking back and reading parts to remind me of places and people and the feelings I had. As the trip progressed in Italy and France (and the wine became more and more prevalent), my food journal became pretty extravagant as though I had artistic license in describing and romanticizing our food experiences. But while I was in Istanbul, I kept the entries pretty concise. Still, the second day I was there, Tuesday May 17th, I had written down:
“Afterwards cafe Hafiz Mustafa (again), got turkish tea (always), got best baklava ever—pure pistachio, super soaked, creamy-like consistency and taste. Post dinner had fried honey croquette-looking things, free tea + free turkish delights. Sugar!!!”
Friends, as I’m sure you can tell from the quantity of sweets I keep posting on this blog, I have quite the tolerance for sugar. And yet, when I was eating my dessert of syrup-soaked deep-fried pastries along with sweetened turkish tea after having snacked on samples of turkish delight all day… yes, it happened, I was sugared out. But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember all of those Turkish treats now and salivate.
One of my favorite parts of all the pastry shops and cafes was the prevalence of pistachio. It was everywhere and in everything. This was new to me, as pistachio as a flavor in sweets doesn’t seem that common here in the States (am I wrong in thinking this?). But I’m a converted person now: after munching on that pistachio baklava in Istanbul on my second day there, I can’t return to eating run-of-the-mill walnut or mixed nut baklava now. Call me a snob or maybe weirdly-food-obsessed, but I’m afraid that from now on I will only be loyal to pistachio.
I was determined to make baklava, the correct way, when I came back from my trip. (The fact that that feat took a little more than a year to do is neither here nor there.) But as always in this sad life, my baklava would not come out the same. I blame this largely to the fact that that America has not embraced pistachio the way that it should, and the only thing available to me in about 4 different supermarkets nearby were toasted and salted pistachio nuts. I know, I am dumb and should have looked the other way and continued on a search for raw, unsalted nuts. But I was desperate! I figured the toasted part may not mess up my results too much and that I could just not add any salt and hope for the best.
So, what I present to you today is Pistachio Baklava, a True Disappoint and Not Correctly Made (shame on you, Amy). I think the toasted nuts is what truly did me in, as the flavor of this baklava basically ended up tasting like any sort of mixed-nut sort. However, over-cooking it so that it crisped up beyond the creaminess I remember sealed the deal of my disappointment.
I realize that the above description probably will turn any and all of you away from trying this recipe. But, please don’t blame the recipe for my faults. When I get my hands on a bag of unsalted, untoasted pistachio nuts (which may or may not take yet another year to accomplish), I will be using this recipe again.
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 large strips of lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick
12 ounces raw unsalted, untoasted pistachios
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), melted, and cooled slightly
1 pound frozen phyllo, thawed
To prepare the sugar syrup, combine sugar, water, honey, lemon juice and zest, and cinnamon stick in small saucepan and bring to full boil over medium-high heat, making sure the sugar dissolves. Transfer to a small glass bowl and set aside to cool while making the baklava. Once the syrup cools, remove the cinnamon stick and strips of lemon zest. (Note: This can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 4 days.)
Next, to make the nut filling, pulse the pistachios in the food processor until very finely chopped—think the texture of coarse sand. Add the sugar and pinch of salt and toss to combine. Set aside a couple tablespoons of the ground nuts to be used later as a garnish on the finished baklava.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Unwrap and unfold the phyllo dough on a large cutting board. Most phyllo dough will already be in a 13 by 9-inch shape, but if yours comes in one large sheet, cut the phyllo dough so that you have roughly two evenly sized stacks that are 13 by 9-inches. Cover with a damp kitchen towel to prevent drying and cracking. Brush a 13 by 9-inch glass baking pan with some of the melted butter.
For assembly of the layers, it’s important to note here that you should save the best-fitting, most intact sheets for the top and bottom layers of the baklava. Place a sheet of phyllo dough in the bottom of the buttered baking pan, and brush the sheet until completely coated in melted butter. Repeat with 7 more well intact phyllo sheets, brushing each with butter, until you have 8 phyllo sheets stacked on each other.
Evenly distribute about 1 cup of the nuts over the 8 phyllo layers. Cover the nut layer with a phyllo sheet, and dab butter all over it (if you try brushing it on, the phyllo will slip all over the place). Repeat with 5 more phyllo sheets, brushing each with butter, for a total of 6 phyllo sheets on top of the nut layer. Repeat the layering process with another 1 cup of the ground nuts, 6 sheets of phyllo and butter, and the last 1 cup of nuts. Finish off the layering with 8 to 10 sheets of good, intact phyllo dough, brushing each layer with butter except for the final top sheet. Use the palm of your hands to press down on the layers, starting at the center and pressing outwards to remove any air bubbles. Then, drizzle 4 tablespoons of butter over the top layer and brush to cover completely.
Using a good, sharp knife, cut the baklava into diamonds—I found it easiest to make one long cut from one corner of the pan to the other and then making parallel diagonal cuts every couple inches on either side. I then repeated this on the other side of the baklava, to make complete diamonds.
Bake in preheated oven until lightly golden, about 50 minutes to an hour. Once removed from the oven, immediately pour all of the reserved syrup over all of the cuts lines and then over the surface of the baklava. Garnish each piece of baklava with a sprinkling of the reserved ground pistachios. Cool to room temperature, for about 3 hours, then cover with foil and let stand at least 8 hours. Really, please don’t try cheating on this. The baklava gets really, really good after some good rest to soak up all of the syrup. Since honey never goes bad, baklava can be kept wrapped tightly in foil or plastic wrap for a couple weeks.
Right around the New Year I made a flourless chocolate torte. It was a recipe my mom had always turned to whenever she wanted a deep, dark and smooth chocolate torte to entertain with, and as I served it to guests who gave it the best compliments, I understood why.
That being said, at the time I almost didn’t pick that recipe. I knew I wanted to make a classic flourless chocolate torte, but when it came down to actually choosing and committing to a recipe, I was torn between Nordstrom’s “Sinful” Chocolate Torte and Alice Medrich’s Ultimate Flourless Chocolate Torte.
At first it seemed obvious that I’d choose the latter just because, c’mon it’s Alice Medrich and I trust her when she says something is “ultimate.” Not only that, but her recipe had been developed for Cook’s Illustrated and is the version they still feature prominently.
And yet! I chose Nordstrom’s recipe. Mostly because it had the guarantee of being successful since my mom had made it so many times before—something not to be underestimated when you have guests coming over—but also because it seemed more straightforward and less fussy than Medrich’s. In the end it was great, everyone loved it, and I was pleased. But I still had that itch of the unknown, wondering if the other recipe might have been a little more “ultimate.”
An opportunity to set my mind straight arrived almost half a year later (a couple weeks ago), when my older sister asked me to make a birthday treat for a friend who would be staying at our house during her birthday weekend. This time, though, I decided to serve it with this salted butter caramel sauce. Which is awesome, in case you haven’t tried it yet.
Medrich’s version definitely ended up being more fussy; for one, instead of separating the eggs and only beating the whites, the recipe calls for you to beat all 8 eggs until they double in volume. This sounds like it’d be easier, but I just found it took a lot more time and was harder to estimate when the eggs had been beaten enough. Also, it was a whole lot harder folding in wooshy beaten eggs into the batter than it is beaten egg whites. This torte also required a hot water bath, which is no big deal, but what was difficult was taking out the torte at precisely the right time—still undercooked, but not too much. Medrich says the center of the torte should register as 140 degrees with an instant-read thermometer, but I didn’t have one and would have felt a little weird anyway inserting a thermometer into an underbaked torte.
And although the torte did get gushing reviews from the birthday girl and her guests as they ate thin slices of the rich, rich torte with the salted caramel butter sauce or some raspberries, I wasn’t too impressed with it. It was very delicious, really! But it didn’t seem as instantly pleasing as Nordstrom’s version, despite all the extra work. Additionally, I found it hard to slice up and serve—pieces were so moist and sticky so that everything stuck together or broke up in chunks.
So, to sum up all of those mostly unnecessary words, here’s my verdict: If you’re going to try out a classic, flourless chocolate torte that has the taste of deep dark chocolate and a light, smooth texture like when a rich, thick cake meets mousse, try out Nordstrom’s Flourless Chocolate Torte. Pair it with raspberries and a raspberry coulis, or a salted butter caramel sauce like the recipe listed below. Both are easy, and instantly elevate a single slice of chocolate torte into being something special and insanely, wonderfully delicious.
Salted Butter Caramel Sauce
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes something like 1 1/2 cups
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons good salted butter
3/4 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
Melt the sugar over medium-high heat in a saucepan that’s at least 2 or 3-quarts, making sure to whisk constantly. Keep cooking and whisking the sugar until it is completely liquid and turns to a dark amber color, about 5 minutes. Be careful here though—the sauce can go from wonderfully caramel to burnt in a matter of a minute. Remove from heat and stir in the butter. Pour in the heavy cream and whisk until smooth. The mixture will boil and foam pretty vigourously with the addition of the cream, but will tame after a bit.
Serve over a slice of rich chocolate torte, over ice cream, or over whatever your heart desires immediately, or store in a jar in the fridge. Before serving, simply heat up the thickened caramel sauce in the microwave until warmed to the right consistency.