Archive for the ‘Spreads, Dips and Sauces’ Category
Sweet potato fries is a food trend I am wholeheartedly happy about (unlike some other trends…cupcakes and cake pops, I’m looking at you). Because as much as I love regular french fries, I’ll take any excuse to trade them in for anything that has a higher sugar content. If their rising popularity then means that I can make this sugar-addict substitution at almost every restaurant/bar/diner that I go to, well, then all the better.
This trend has circulated through the internet, in the most common form of baked sweet potato fries. Although they never, ever compare to their deep-fried counterparts that I so greedily order every time I see them on a menu, I make them. A lot. In these many trials of baking batches of sweet potato fries, I’ve learned certain ways that I like them, and certain ways that I don’t. This recent post by My New Roots made me reconsider how I made them even more, and has sent me on a renewed frenzy of at-home efforts of baked sweet potato fries. At the end of all this, I figured why not share my newly gained and (obviously) valuable wisdom with you all? So, I present to you, in order of importance:
My Thoughts on Making the Most Ideal Sweet Potato Fries Possible (considering their unfortunate position of not being deep-fried)
1. Space. You can’t just dump a pile of cut sweet potato fries onto a baking sheet and expect them to develop into anything other than soft, steamed piles of mush (this is a situation where I actually do not want mushy vegetables, surprising as that may be). I know it seems like a pain to individually place them onto a baking sheet, and perhaps even having to use two baking sheets in order to leave enough space between each fry, but trust me! It’s worth it, always worth it.
2. Size. This is an obvious one, but the fries should be cut into as close a size as possible. It’s not so much how big or small the fries are, but how big or small they are in relation to one another. Otherwise you’ll end up with pure-crisped-black carbon sticks alongside fat and still raw hunks of sweet potato. This can sometimes be tricky, I mean have you seen sweet potatoes? They are a big misshapen bunch. You just do the best you can, that’s all you can ever do.
3. Soak (& Dry). I got this one from My New Roots’ post, and I think it’s awesome. She recommends that you swish the cut, raw fries in a bowl of water to release some of their starches. This allows them to crisp up better. However, in doing this, it is of the utmost importance that you thoroughly dry the fries, and preferably let them air-dry for at least a good 10 or 15 minutes or so while the oven is heating up. While this is happening, I rinse and dry out the bowl (thoroughly), and use this bowl to swirl the dried fries with the olive oil, salt, and either cornmeal or cornstarch. It makes for a nice little system.
4. Cornmeal or Cornstarch. Ah, the coating. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter what you try to coat the fries with, because they’re never going to taste deep-fried and they’ll never have that crispy-crunchy-bite like they do when deep-fried. This is a sad fact of life, but if you can’t get over it I don’t know why you’re stooping to the level of baking your sweet potato fries in the first place. Anyway, the cornmeal idea came from My New Roots, and it does indeed lend the fries to have a certain crunch to them. I think I prefer the cornstarch though, as it kind of makes the surfaces of the fries puff up and get a little airy. Once again, these coatings only go so far, but they add a certain nice edge that regular, non-coated fries don’t have.
5. Good Dipping Sauce. Sauce makes everything better (especially sub-par things like baked versions of fried things). I’ve been pairing my sweet potato fries with a thick tahini-honey sauce for awhile now, and the combination is seriously awesome. Really, if you haven’t tried dipping your sweet potato fries in tahini, you’re missing out. (If you need convincing of this flavor combination, I’ve got the legitimacy of Ottolenghi on my side.) I’ve posted a really sloppy recipe that I made up below, but it’s the type of thing I go by taste with.
So, that’s about it. I think these little tips actually make for some pretty good baked sweet potato fries, so much so that every time I make them I consume a whole baked sweet potato for myself along with the entire small batch of tahini-honey dipping sauce. Then again, I always eat the entire baked sweet potato whether or not it was done well or not, so perhaps this is saying more about me and my eating habits than it is about the qualities of these fries. But you get it! These taste good.
(Oh, photos! What strange lighting you have! Sigh.)
Some more thoughts on … San Francisco & Santa Barbara: So in approximately 18 hours, more or less, I will be in a car with two of my closest friends headed for that great yet confusing state of California. It’s my last spring break of college, and my friends and I decided that this time would be best spent in the pursuit of a little sunshine and good food. We’ll be in San Francisco for 4 days or so, then down in Santa Barbara (a place you may remember that I go to every so often). I know San Francisco is a food mecca, and I’ve gotten the chance to go to some great places in a brief trip there last summer. But you all (Linda! Em! Etc!) know of probably a lot of great food bites. I’ve got Little Star and Zachary’s Pizza written down. Anything else you want to throw my way? Hopefully I’ll make a little post over next week, but if not, see you in a little bit. x
One Year Ago: Crustless Kale and Quinoa Quiche
Crispy Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Adapted & Inspired from My New Roots
1 medium-sized sweet potato, scrubbed, sliced into equally sized 1/4- to 1/2-inch sticks (no need to peel)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons cornmeal or cornflour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Fill a medium-sized bowl with water. Add the uncooked sweet potato sticks, swish them around for about a minute or so, then remove and thoroughly dry. Allow to air dry for at least 15 minutes or so (while the oven heats up or while you throw together the dipping sauce).
Rinse out and thoroughly dry the same medium-sized bowl you rinsed the sweet potato sticks in. Add the air-dried cut potatoes and the olive oil, and swish them around together with your hand to coat evenly. Add in the cormeal (or cornstrach) and salt, and continue to mix so the potatoes get coated evenly. Place the sticks on a greased or lined baking sheet, spaced evenly apart so they’re not overlapping. If you run out of space, use two baking sheets.
Bake in the preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, until they are golden brown, puffed, and crisp looking. I honestly don’t think it makes too big of a difference to flip them halfway through (especially considering the extra work it requires), but if you’d like, towards the end you can shake the pan gently so that some get turned over. Enjoy while hot!
Tahini-Honey Dipping Sauce
As I said before, these are really rough estimates. I usually just mix together a couple fairly big spoonfuls of tahini, a little spoonful of honey, a good squeeze of lemon, and enough water to get the right consistency. Obviously I can’t just say that though, hence why you see a little recipe below. But adjust to taste.
3 tablespoons tahini paste
1-2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Combine the tahini, 1 tablespoon water, honey, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth, streaming in a little more water as necessary until you have a thick consistency. Adjust for taste and thickness.
I’m guessing you already have your mind made up about liver pate. Maybe you align with every single one of my friends, who upon me forcing them to try a bite, manage only to respond with something like, “Eh, not my thing,” or “I can see how this is ‘good,’ but I just don’t like it,” or even the ever-eloquent “Ewwww!” If you fall somewhere within that range of reactions, not to worry! There is time yet to convert you.
But as much as I want to win over those of you who are still reluctant to eat (and maybe actually enjoy) this, I feel a little guilty doing it. I’m sad to say I am just as “American” as my peers when it comes to being squeamish about eating any sort of protein that’s not a hunk of steak or a chicken nugget. How is it that I need to have a glass of wine and flattery from my friends in order to try out an order of breaded and fried tripe, but I’m okay with eating the occasional fast-food hamburger that’s the product of more appalling processes and chemicals than I can wrap my head around? What can I say, my food tastes are a work in progress.
Fortunately, though liver is something that I would normally do the polite, “no, thank you” to, I have the good grace of a mom who knows better. When she started making this recipe of pate, everyone in my family—even my father with the weird food tastes who previously gawked at the mention of it—was spooning it onto crisped toasts. Granted, I’m not saying that if you make this it will convert even the most stubborn. See paragraph #1 if you need a reminder of how my friends received this.
But the point is, if you’re on the edge of trying this or if you’d like to expand your horizons a little bit outside the usual hot-dog-or-hamburger conception of meat, give this recipe a try. The livers are soaked in milk, which supposedly rounds out any strong flavors—or something like that. After that, the livers are sauteed with a good amount of fat, onions and some aromatics. A good bit of Cognac helps things along, of course. This mixture is then pureed with some cold butter chunks, which along with giving that always-lovely taste, make the pate silky-smooth and buttery (for lack of a better word).
After they set in the fridge, the little tubs of pate are ready to be spread out onto any toasted and crunchy pieces of bread that you have. You could sprinkle some chopped pieces of parsley on top to garnish it, as the original recipe suggested, but to be honest with you, this pate is a measly off-gray color that doesn’t help its reputation very much at all. But oh well, we all can’t be star beauties now, can we? Liver may not be, or even sound, like the prettiest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen. But all I can say is go ahead and give it a try, and even if it doesn’t please you, keep on giving it a try every once in awhile anyway. I’d like to think most of our food tastes are works in progress, to a certain extent.
Chicken Liver Pâte
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
If you want a more classically French pate, substitute the four tablespoons of olive oil that are used in sauteeing the livers for butter.
1 pound fresh chicken livers
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Cognac
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Clean the livers by trimming them of any excess fat and connective tissue. Add them to a medium bowl with the milk and let soak for two hours. Drain well, and lightly pat the chicken livers with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.
In a large saute skillet, melt the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the chicken livers, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the livers are browned on the outside but still slightly pink on the inside, about 5 minutes. Add the Cognac and continue to cook it all together until most of the liquid has evaporated and the livers are cooked through, about another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and discard the bay leaves.
Once the liver mixture has cooled slightly, puree it through a food processor fitted with a steel blade until the mixture is completely homogeneous, about 10 to 15 seconds. Add in the cold chunks of butter and pulse until it is all blended and smooth, about 7 to 8 pulses, or so. Pour the pate into 6 4-ounce individual ramekins or small molds, or divide among larger ramekins, if you’d like. Smooth and even out the tops with a rubber spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 6 hours. Serve with toasted, crusty bread.
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.
After last week’s twenty-first-birthday-meets-exams-and-too-many-papers final days of the semester, I returned to Washington this past weekend to spend my last real summer vacation at home. (By the way, thanks to those of you who gave me nice birthday wishes, they were so kind.) I figure I might as well live off my parents now while I still can before I’m unleashed out into what is commonly referred to as the “real world” a year from now.
And I must admit, I am already happily settling into this summer at home. I’ve been cooking and baking enough to make up for (and then some) my lack of what we’ll call “culinary creativity” during my final few weeks at school, when an omelet filled with random vegetables and cheese made up my dinner just about every other night.
A lot of the things I had written down as things I would like to make this summer are from a Lebanese cookbook I got awhile back. This is, of course, affirming that I am still on that Middle Eastern cuisine kick, or at least a more specified, narrowed version of it. In fact, when I declared confidently this past weekend to my mom and sister that, “guys, Lebanese food is the best cuisine in the WORLD,” my sister didn’t even look back at me while saying, “oh my god that’s the third time I’ve heard that.”
Anyway, at the top of that list of things to make was hummus—but not just any type of hummus. I wanted hummus that was silky smooth, thick, and incredibly creamy. A hummus that wasn’t overpowered by the taste of garlic, but that was subdued and mild, save for a strong, clear presence of tahini.
This is, of course, the description of the hummus I’ve grown to love from a Lebanese-Greek restaurant in my town. I had always enjoyed making (and eating) hummus the way my mom taught me, but after tasting the hummus from that restaurant, hummus of my dreams!, I realized I had to figure out a way to make it at home.
After consulting and following this awesome post from Ruth Reichl, I produced the hummus shown here—yes, the very hummus of my dreams. It was exactly what I wanted, and I’m going to go ahead and say that judging by the way my mom and sister spooned it up on pita and vegetables, it was what they were wanting too even if they didn’t realize it at the time. I think that what makes this hummus special is that 1.) it requires garbanzo beans cooked from scratch. Not only is the flavor better, but the texture of freshly cooked beans is especially tender. Soaking the beans overnight in baking soda before cooking them ensures this tenderness. 2.) The skins from the cooked garbanzo beans are removed. A bit of a time intensive task, but c’mon? Who doesn’t love mindless, relaxing things like tending after a big bowl of garbanzo beans? And finally, 3.) Lots and lots of tahini. And no olive oil, save for the garnish. I thought this sounded a bit weird, but trust me! Watch your food processor whir away (basically) nothing but a pile of garbanzo beans and tahini into a velvety smooth paste. It’s awesome.
I realize that it would be a little unrealistic of me to believe that I am never going to make hummus another way again. After all, on those sunny summer afternoons when I want some homemade hummus to snack on, it would be most definitely impossible to produce overnight-soaked and freshly cooked and chilled beans out of thin air. That being said, I can assure you that given there is enough time in advance, it is this recipe for hummus that I’m going to turn to in the future. I understand also that everyone has their own preferences for hummus—some like it spicy with garlic, or chunky maybe. But if you want the hummus I described above—amazingly smooth, subdued in flavor with tahini taking center-stage—give this recipe a try.
I served mine in a shallow platter in order to get the largest amount of surface area I could for topping the hummus with good olive oil, toasted pine nuts, and sumac. I love eating it with warmed, toasted wedges of pita bread and some sliced vegetables like red bell peppers and carrots, but I have to tell you my absolutely favorite way of eating it is with big piles of tabbouleh on top. The bright, lemony parsley salad with the richly creamy hummus is an incredible combination. Now, tabbouleh, that is a recipe I need to conquer but haven’t yet. Anyone have any great recipe recommendations?
Adapted from Ruth Reichl
Makes about 4 cups
1 3/4 cups dried garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
1 tablespoon baking soda plus ¼ teaspoon baking soda
Scant 1/2 cup tahini paste
1 lemon, juiced, or more to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
pine nuts, toasted (optional)
sumac, paprika, cumin or zahtar (optional)
Rinse the garbanzo beans and discard any small stones or funny looking beans. Put them in a medium-large bowl with enough water to cover the beans by a few inches. Stir in a tablespoon of baking soda and let soak overnight. The baking soda allows for the beans to be extra tender once cooked.
Once soaked, drain and rinse the garbanzo beans and put them in a large pot with enough water to cover the beans by at least two inches. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. (Don’t be tempted to add salt while they cook—this will only cause them to cook unevenly.) Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat to a low, steady simmer and cover. In the beginning of this process, white foam will gather at the surface of the water—this comes from gases being released by the beans while being cooked. Skim off the foam and continue to cook, covered, over low heat until the chickpeas are very soft. This should take about 1 1/2 hours. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
Once slightly cooled, rub the garbanzo beans to remove the skins while rinsing them under cold running water. This is something of a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it. Once the skins have been removed, refrigerate the beans until ready to be made in the hummus. The coolness of the beans will translate into a smoother hummus later on.
Once cooled, Put the garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, minced garlic, salt, and the reserved 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for a good 3 or 4 minutes, until it is smooth and creamy. Reichl compares the texture to that of “just-made frozen custard.” Taste for salt and lemon juice. If the texture is too thick to your liking, add a few tablespoons or so of the reserved cooking liquid.
Top with a few good glugs of good olive oil, toasted pine nuts, or some spices like sumac, paprkia, cumin, or zahtar. Serve with toasted pita bread wedges.
I gave this little to-go container of the hummus to my sister so she could take it back up with her to Seattle. She said she’ll share it with her architecture department friends—apparently they love hummus but didn’t know it could be made from scratch. (What?!)