Archive for August 2012
It’s back to the routine of school around here. I think this has been equated to what my fellow peers as “the end of summer,” but I sure wouldn’t like to think of it that way. The sun is still shining, I’m still wearing slippery lace tanks and shorts, and I’m still eating salted tomatoes with olive oil and crusty bread for dinner. Sounds like summer, don’t you think? I’m one of those people that tend to like classes and readings and writing essays (in general), so I don’t think I’ve ever thought summer dies when the school year ushers in, anyway.
Some things have changed, though. Like the food I’m eating—out go the luxuries of having access to my parent’s pantry and kitchen, and in come the mainly vegetarian, mainly cheap meals. In the case of this meal, I made it before I left for college when I still had the chance to use my parent’s coal grill in the backyard. My motivation for this meal was plain and simple: I watched an episode of Tyler’s Ultimate on the Food Network. Yes, I know how we, as a part of the food-blog community, mainly feel about the food network, and I’ve talked about it before on here. But I have always, and probably will always, admire and love watching Tyler Florence cook. I think you can tell the quality of some recipes and instructions by the way someone cooks (or even talks about food and cooking). Or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself.
Either way, when I saw Tyler Florence shallow pan-frying tender plantain-filled biscuits while seemingly throwing ingredient upon random ingredient into the food processor to make a jerk marinade, I immediately decided I had to make the meal. And when the pantry is well-stocked enough where almost every ingredient is already on hand, make it I did.
The whole meal turned out great, minus a couple errors of execution on my part. The marinade, as expected, was easy to put together: throw long list of ingredients into food processor, blend, pour onto chicken. In terms of cooking it, I think Waylon and I had a too-hot grill, which when combined with a sugar-filled marinade, resulted in some pretty heavy-duty charring on the chicken. Nonetheless, the chicken was delicious, charred bits and all. The flavor is hard to describe, if you’ve never had it before. But some key notes that seemed to shine through were a sweet-tangy-spicy combination due to the allspice, ginger, garlic, scotch bonnet peppers, and brown sugar. When I eat it, I like to imagine that these flavors from Jamaica, as the intersecting point between the spice trades a few centuries earlier, is the result of hundreds of years of voyages, wars, and discoveries. All to come together on my plate in the end! Who would have thought.
The dumplings were, to be short, awesome. Now those might actually be something I’ll be making again around here, even without the luxuries of my parent’s kitchen. You make a biscuit-like dough by cutting butter into flour, and then adding milk a little bit at a time. After sectioning them out into 12 pieces, a little slice of plantain gets stuffed in the middle of each one. When these fry in a shallow layer of oil, the dough puffs out a bit, the bottom and top get golden and crispy, and the whole thing ends up being one big, salted and moist biscuit, with the slightly sweet and creamy bit of plantain in the middle. Once again, this one’s a little hard to imagine, too. Then again, I’m certainly no Tyler Florence in terms of being able to talk about food in such a way that convinces you, makes you, commit to making it. But even if my descriptions or photos didn’t do this meal justice, go out on a limb here and try to imagine a smoky, spicy, sweet chicken paired with a flaky-creamy pan-fried dumpling. It’s hard to beat, especially when it’s still summer.
If scotch bonnets aren’t available, habanero chiles can be substituted. As always, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling the chiles. Especially before touching your eyes! Yikes!
1 4-pound chicken, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 a medium onion, roughly chopped
8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
5 scallions (white and green parts only), sliced
2 limes, juiced
1-2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
2 scotch bonnet pepper, halved
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
Pierce the chicken pieces all over with the tip of a small knife. Transfer chicken to a large bowl. To make the jerk marinade, process the rest of the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Pour the marinade over the chicken, and “massage” into the chicken to ensure all pieces are covered with the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 2 days.
Let chicken sit at room temperature for 1 hour before cooking. Build a medium-low fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to medium. Place the chicken pieces on the grill, skin side up. Cook covered, turning often–the sugars in the marinade cause the chicken skin to caramelize and burn faster than normal. Grill until skin is crisp and lightly charred and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest parts of chicken registers 160 degrees F for the breasts, or 165 degrees F for the thighs, 25-35 minutes. Transfer to a platter and tent loosely with foil, and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Adapted from Tyler Florence
Makes 12 large dumplings
The trick with these is getting the middle of the dumpling to lose most of its doughiness while keeping the top and bottom golden brown. Keep the heat lower (but still high enough so that the dough fries in the oil, instead of soaking it up), and make sure to keep a steady layer of oil in the bottom of the pan between batches.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
3/4 cup (preferably whole) milk
1 ripe plantain, peeled and cut into 12 coins
vegetable oil, for frying
Pulse the flour, salt and baking powder in a food processor to combine. Toss in the cold butter pieces and continue to pulse until only pea-sized pieces of the butter remain, and the mixture resembles coarse sand.
Add milk, a little bit at a time, just until it is completely worked into the dough. If the dough still looks a little dry, add additional tablespoons of milk, one at a time, until the dough forms together and starts to pull away from the sides. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and gently press the dough together to make a cohesive ball. Divide the dough into 12 evenly-sized pieces, and gently roll each piece into even balls. Push a slice of plantain into the middle of each ball and pinch the dough around the plantain so it is completely covered by the dough. Gently press each ball flat into a little cake, cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Set a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. There should be at least a good 1/4 inch of oil in the pan. While the oil is heating up, prick the dumplings all over with a fork. Working in batches, pan-fry the dumplings for about 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until the dumplings are golden and slightly puffy. Replenish the oil as needed between batches to make sure there is a good layer before each frying.
(Also, be careful–it’s an important balance between having a heat that will fry the dumplings, but that won’t burn the sides before the middles have lost their doughiness and have cooked all the way through. It might be helpful to have a tester dumpling.) Once cooked and golden, remove from heat and sprinkle with salt. Serve warm.
Hello, everyone. I just returned from a trip to California. I spent a few days visiting my twin sister, Lindsey, in Berkeley and San Francisco, while also getting to spend a nice weekend with some family in Santa Barbara. (You may remember that I take some version of this trip just about every year.) A part of me wishes I would have been the type of blogger that would have updated you with a post mid-trip; but, lo and behold, a greater, more lazy and more wise part of me steers me away from the internet and those nasty little things called computers whenever I’m travelling. So I apologize for the silence around here (sort of, not really).
Anyway, that little trip may have been one of the most memorable vacations of my life so far, but I think I’ll keep most of the personal, cheesy memories and revelations for myself. I do think it’s appropriate if I share some food-related observation though, don’t you? So, I present to you Amy’s Selective and Superficial Notes on Anything Food (and then some) in the Bay Area (along with some photos, most of which have graciously come from Lindsey’s camera):
1. Tartine Bakery. I know this place is celebrated to no end in the food-blog world, but for some reason, I didn’t think it was that memorable. Lindsey and I stumbled across it while exploring (and loving! devouring!) the Mission district of San Francisco. We picked up a lemon cream tart and a pain au chocolate, and both were alright. I swear the key lime pie Lindsey had waiting for me at her house in Berkeley (this recipe!) was better than that lemon tart. Maybe it’s just a personal preference thing, though.
2. This place, also in the Mission district, had some of the best pizza I’ve ever had outside Naples. (Jeez I sound like a spoiled brat on here, don’t I?)
3. I didn’t see any “gluten-free” this, or “dairy-free” that anywhere. I love that. This is an area that seems to be a bit unconcerned with food trends, and they make things the way they like. Which, in case you didn’t know, is unarguably good.
4. Chez Panisse. Good, good food. I do think I over-hyped it though, in my head. After all, even Alice Waters can’t make food non-food. I think that’s her whole point anyway though. Oh well. Moving on.
5. I learned a new word: bourgy (pronounced boo-gshee). As in, bourgeois. As in, “that whole downtown Palo Alto area is so bourgy.” (True story.)
6. Oh yeah, and how do people not get the fear that they might die while on the BART, sailing under the Bay, in the case of an earthquake? Freaky.
7. As good as food is in San Francisco and Berkeley, nothing can beat your grandparent’s house where they never fail to continually replenish the same cookies in the cookie jar (pecan sandie’s and oatmeal cranberry cookies), and they still have the same box of granola in the pantry that you bought them over a year ago. Food tastes better when it’s around people you love. Maybe that’s what I forgot when I entered Chez Panisse with the expectations that I did.
Anyway, I guess this as good a time as ever to move on to tell you about the recipe I wanted to share with you today. I made this just before I left on my trip, when I wanted to end one particularly hot day with some sort of fresh fruit dessert. This one comes from Alice Medrich, and she calls it the “new” strawberries and cream. She infuses cream with mint, and then melts in some white chocolate. This mixture chills, until you’re ready to whip it up into a whipped cream consistency and then spoon dollops of it over the freshest fruit you can get your hands on. What you end up with is a fluffy cream with the sweetness and body of white chocolate, but with the freshness of mint to cut through any heaviness. It’s a perfect summer dessert, hands down. (By the way, this is coming from someone who, at best, doesn’t really like white chocolate, and at worst, is anti-white chocolate. And still, my verdict: perfect.)
If that’s still a little too much effort for you, you can simply chill the mixture, and then spoon it as is, liquidy consistency and all, over the fresh fruit. This is the way Waylon and I enjoyed it this waythe first time I had it. I not only thought there were definite charms in its ease, but that it was just as pleasent (if not a little less aesthetically pleasing).
It is important to note, though, that this dessert is only as good as the berries you’re using are, so make sure you spend the extra money to pick up some good ones when making this. What you’ll end up with fresh fruit who’s flavor and ripeness isn’t bombarded or covered up, but complimented. Really—I’m not just saying that to justify some sort of “bourgy” summer dessert. It’s definitely good. But most of all, don’t forget to share it with people you love on this last stretch of summer nights.
The New Strawberries and Cream
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s A Year in Chocolate
Serves 6 to 8
One bunch fresh mint
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
1 quart ripe strawberries
To make the mint cream, rinse the mint and blot dry with paper towels. Set aside a few mint leaves for garnish, if you’d like. Chop of the remaining leaves to make roughly 1/4 cup, lightly packed. Combine the chopped mint and cream in a small saucepan and bring to a good simmer. Remove from heat. Cover pot and let the mint steep in the hot cream for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the chocolate in a medium, heat-proof bowl and set a strainer across it. Pour the still-very-warm cream through the strainer, pressing the mint to extract the cream. Discard the mint. Stir the chocolate-cream mixture until all the chocolate has melted and it is completely smooth. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.
To serve, rinse the strawberries and pat them dry. Hull and cut the berries into halves or quarters, depending on what you like. Divide among the dessert dishes. Beat the chilled white chocolate-cream mixture with an electric mixture until the cream stiffens and holds it shape, like thick whipped cream. This should happen pretty quickly, after only a few minutes. Top each dish of berries with a dollop of the whipped chocolate-cream, and garnish with a sprig of mint, if you’d like.
Tired of my fascination with Lebanese cuisine yet? No? Oh good! Because I would hate for you to get bored, especially right now. Pictured above (and below) is fattoush, a classic lebanese salad that has the flavors of sumac—an awesome fruity-lemony spice that’s derived from some sort of fruit off of some sort of shrub—parsley, mint, scallions, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, and toasted pita bread. And in case you haven’t realized it yet, that combination of ingredients also happens to make for a salad that is my favorite yet in texture. Crunchy, juicy, crispy, toasty. All good things.
I ate this with Waylon alongside some grilled ribeye over last weekend. Waylon says it’s one of his favorite things I’ve ever made (!), and I have to say, it was pretty, pretty good. Our judgment was probably influence though, just a little bit, by eating outside on the deck, with the view of the water, on a beautiful warm night. I’m sure you know how those things go—I think I’m especially susceptible to my surrounding environment when I have meals.
But what also made this especially good was how it seemed to fit so well with that night. This salad, with the small yet delicious exception of toasted pita pieces, is literally a bunch of chopped vegetables and herbs thrown together with a simple vinaigrette. Which yes, sounds like almost every other salad in the world. But somehow this one really feels different. (And this is coming from someone who eats salads as a meal at least a few times a week. Not that you’d be able to tell from the content of this blog.) Maybe it has something to do with the vibrancy of the herbs, or the contrast of the fresh lettuces and vegetables. All I know is I’ve never tasted anything that tasted so fresh. Bon Appetit featured it as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Food World,” and calls it the “original chopped salad.” It’s the original, and I’m pretty sure nothing has ever come along that can parallel it.
One Year Ago: Rosemary Focaccia
I understand that there is a lot of flexibility in terms of what composes this salad. But, in my opinion, you cannot substitute or go without the sumac, pita bread, parsley, and mint. You can find sumac in spice stores and middle eastern markets. Also, like most salads, this one should be served immediately to prevent any wilting of the herbs and lettuce and to preserve the texture of the pita.
4 teaspoons ground sumac, soaked in 4 teaspoons warm water for 15 minutes
juice of one lemon, at least three tablespoons
2 small garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 8-inch-diameter pita breads, toasted until golden brown
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
6 scallions (green parts only), thinly sliced
1 small head romaine lettuce, trimmed, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch strips
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems removed
1 cup fresh mint, stems removed
ground sumac, for garnish
First, prepare the dressing. Combine the sumac in the water it soaked in, lemon juice, minced garlic, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Gradually add the oil in a small stream, whisking constantly, until it’s all blended and emulsified. Season with few good pinches of salt, and taste for salt, lemon, and vinegar.
Using your hands, roughly break up the toasted pita bread to be in bite-sized pieces. Place the pieces in a medium bowl and drizzle the 1/4 cup of olive oil over and toss to coat. Season the pita well with a good pinch or two of kosher salt. In a separate large bowl (largest one you can get your hands on), mix
Place pita pieces in a medium bowl; pour oil over and toss to coat. Season pita to taste with salt.
Mix tomatoes and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add 3/4 of dressing; toss to coat, adding more dressing by tablespoonfuls as needed. Season with salt. Add pita; toss once. Sprinkle sumac over, if desired.
Well, I’m pleased to say that summer has finally hit Washington. By summer, I mean when you go to sleep without any sheets or blankets on, and when you wake up with the sun hitting you through the windows. When you have to spend the middle of the day in a swimsuit on the beach, and when turning on the oven is absolutely not an option (you’d be surprised how warm and inviting baking usually sounds most usual overcast and chilly Northwest summer mornings).
There’s a funny little thing about people in the Northwest with weather. They like to complain most of the year when it’s gloomy, overcast, and drizzly, yet when the sun finally shines and the heat is packed on, they complain it’s too hot. I guess they’re a hard crowd to please. I must have not been destined to be a Northwesterner (is that a word?), because I quite know what I like when it comes to the weather, and the sun is most definitely involved. I love walking outdoors and feeling the heat as if it were pounding on your bare arms, and wearing a swimsuit about 80% of the day. I’ll even take the whole no-oven thing. Besides, a lot of food is fine just as it is this time of year—not much messing around involved.
This dish here does require a little bit of work, as in you have to turn on the burner, and broiler. Also, the resulting dish, delicious though it is, does happen to be warm. Something to keep in mind if the weather is so hot that it’s more of a grilled-meat-and-fresh-salad kinda night. (Speaking of which, I have an awesome salad to share with you soon. Yes, be excited.)
Anyway, this dish is relaxed and a little bit lazy—just like how the days have been dripping by here lately. The original recipe requires soffritto, a flavor base built from simmering aromatics in lots of good olive oil for almost half an hour, which Bon Appetit tells me would form a foundation of flavor for whatever sauces or soups I would add it in. To me it just sounds a bit like homemade bouillon, but who am I to know? Reader, please enlighten me if you know more about this than I do. But, I made the soffritto anyway, set aside 1/2 cup for the bean ragout, and set the rest to freezer in ice-cube sized portions to be used to flavor some other things in the future. I must admit it was quite the scene to watch it bubble away in a pool of olive oil until it practically melted into a deep, darkened caramelized mush.
After making the initial batch of soffritto, the rest of this dish came together easy, easy, easy. It’s basically the cheap-classic-simple dish of beans and toast, adjusted for the summer with the addition of some ripe cherry tomatoes. Don’t be deceived by its simplicity though: when you’re mopping up the sauce with the crusty, olive-oil drizzled bread, while getting as many plump beans and juicy tomatoes as can fit in one bite, the concepts of ease, or time, have no place. It’s just good. For how easy (especially if you’ve got that soffritto already stored away) and cheap it was, and considering how very, very good it ended up tasting, I’ll be making this throughout the year, with or without the tomatoes, and with or without the sun.
Summer White Bean Ragout with Toasts
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2012
Serves 4 to 6
Some quick things to note. The soffritto isn’t mandatory, but it does add a great depth of flavor. If you don’t want to go through the trouble (slight though it is) of making it, I’d saute some onions and garlic first before adding the beans. Or add some flavor from something like Better than Bouillon’s vegetable flavor base.
1 garlic, halved
4-6 1-inch thick slices ciabatta or good bread (preferably pre-grilled)
about 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup sofrito (see recipe below)
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
few tablespoons parsley, chopped, for garnish
Set the oven on its broiler setting, or, like me, set the broiler setting on a toaster oven. Rub bread slices with the cut sides of the garlic. Place bread on a baking sheet and cover with roughly a good tablespoon of the grated parmesan over each slice. Toast in the oven until the cheese browns a little, about a couple minutes.
Heat the sofrito and beans in a skillet (preferably the same one you cooked the sofrito in), over medium-high heat until heated through, about 1 minute. Stir in the vegetable broth; bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to bring the mixture to a simmer. Continue to simmer, scraping up the the browned bits from the bottom of the pan every once in awhile, until liquid has thickened a bit, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and let simmer in the mixture for about 3 or 4 minutes more, or to your liking. Stir in a couple tablespoons of parmesan, and season well with salt and pepper.
To serve, place a piece of bread in a shallow bowl, or a plate with a little depth to it. Top with a good few spoonfuls of the bean-tomato mixture with its juices and broth. Garnish with a good drizzle of olive oil, some shavings of parmesan, and a sprinkle of parsley.
Onion, Bell Pepper, Tomato and Garlic Soffritto
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 garlic cloves, finely grated
2 teaspoons tomato paste
Pulse onions in a food processor until finely chopped but not pureed. It should total about 2 cups. Transfer to a medium bowl. Next, pulse the bell pepper in the food processor until finely chopped, but not puree. This amount should total about 1 cup. Add to the bowl and mix well.
Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Carefully add the onion-bell pepper mixture (it may splatter a bit), and season liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Simmer, stirring often, until vegetables are completely softened and caramelized looking, about a full 25 to 30 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring often, for about 3 more minutes until the mixture turns a deep, dark red-brown. Remove from heat. Measure 1/2 cup soffritto and set aside for the bean ragout. Transfer remaining soffritto to a container an let cool completely, uncovered. Cover and store in the fridge for up to 4 days or freeze for up to a few months.