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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Crispy Leeks with Tangy Yogurt Caper Dressing

Of all the things I could have dreamed of making with leeks, never would I have thought to bread and crisp them.
Cooking my way through Plenty is like following the path less traveled on.  It makes so much sense.  Why wouldn't I bread and crisp leeks?  This man is brilliant.
Adapted from p. 42 of Ottolenghi's Plenty 
Serves 4 as a salad topping or appetizer
3-4 leeks, whites, cut into 5 cm parts
3-4 serrano chiles (optional)
150 mL sunflower oil for frying
1 cup panko crumbs
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp chile powder
few cracks black pepper
1/4 tsp fleur de sel
1 egg, beaten
Dressing/Dipping sauce:
juice from 1/2 lime
1 1/2 Tbsp capers
2 small green onions, sliced thinly at an angle
2 - 3 Tbsp yogurt
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
pinch fleur de sel
few cracks black pepper
1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add the leek pieces, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes.  You want the leek pieces to be tender, not mush.. but not hard either.  Drain and pat dry (or let dry).
2.  While the leeks are blanching, prepare the breading stand.  Mix all the breading ingredients except the egg together on a plate.  In a separate bowl, have the beaten egg ready.
When the leeks are dry, dip each piece into the egg, then roll around in the breading.  I added 4 serranos from my garden in this step.
3.  Heat the sunflower oil in a sautée pan on high and fry each breaded leek piece for about 30 seconds on each side.  You may need to do this in batches.  They should be nice and golden.  Do this with your serranos as well.  Set aside onto paper towels.
4.  Make the dressing or dipping sauce.  Stir all the ingredients together.
5.  Serve as finger appetizers or as a salad topping.
I did both.  I couldn't help it.
Once salad, and then the leftovers were finger food appetizers.

The texture is insane.  Crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside, hot vs cold sauce.  The dipping sauce has that tang that pairs perfectly with the crunch.
This will be making an appearance at my next happy hour evening... and I'll make people guess what they are.
Oh and the serrano?  Best decision I've made all week!
This is delicious beyond words.. why didn't I think of this myself?

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Butternut Squash Couscous

When I read reviews about Ottolenghi's recipes, I see many people are put off by the number of ingredients.  I find that funny because most of his recipes are things I can make without going shopping for extras.  A well stocked spice drawer (or spice room) is the key to being spontaneous.  Plus, many things can be exchanged without altering the heart of the recipe.  Don't have parsnips?  Who cares, use a different vegetable or extra carrots.  Don't have dried apricots?  Use dried figs or raisins.
Serves 4-5
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks
8 shallots, peeled but left whole
2 cinnamon sticks
4 star anise
3 bay leaves
4 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp hot paprika
1/4 tsp chile flakes
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into chunks the same size as the carrots
1 zucchini chopped into chunks (original uses parsnips)
1-2 whole serrano chiles
1 handful dried raisins (original uses dried apricots)
200g (7 oz) cooked chickpeas (I cooked mine in the crockpot)
35-40 cL (11-14 floz) chickpea cooking liquid or water
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups dried couscous
large pinch saffron threads
1 1/2 cups boiling vegetable stock
1 Tbsp butter or more olive oil
1-2 preserved lemons, pulp removed and skins finely sliced
harissa and chopped cilantro for garnish
1.  Place the carrots, shallots, serrano peppers, cinnamon, star anis, bay leaves, 4 tbsp oil, few pinches salt, and all the other spices in a large baking dish.  Mix well and bake at 190°C 375°F for 15 minutes.
2.  Add the butternut squash and zucchini to the baking dish, stir well, being careful not to break the pepper, and bake for another 40 minutes.  The vegetables should be slightly tender.
3.  Add the chickpeas with their cooking liquid along with the dried raisins, stir well, and cook for another 20-25 minutes.  It should start to smell amazing.
4.  About 15 minutes before serving, place the couscous in a heat safe bowl that can be covered.  Drizzle a pinch of salt, a bit of olive oil into it and add the saffron threads.  Pour the boiling vegetable stock onto the couscous, then cover and let sit for 10 minutes.  The couscous will drink up the saffron infused water.  Open and add a pad of butter or a more olive oil and fluff with a fork.

Serve the couscous with the baked goodness topped with some preserved lemon slices topped with some harissa hot sauce and chopped cilantro.
That roasted serrano pepper went onto my plate.  It was divine intervention.

This meal was full of pleasant flavor.. the cinnamon and star anise make a nice fragrant broth that infuses the vegetables.  The butternut squash and shallots are nice and sweet, the chickpeas roast a bit while being heated by the fragrant broth.
Partaking in this feast was like breathing in Love..

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Mixed Vegetable Korma

This weekend, I needed a taste of India.
Fresh curry leaves have been located somewhere in Lyon, but I don't know exactly where... all I know is they made their way into my hands.
For as long as I have been cooking Indian food (which means a reasonable number of years) I've been longing for curry leaves.  When I first went to India I tried to source some but I didn't know what to call them in Hindi.  Now I know, it's Kadi Patta.  But over there, they sold me Tej Petta which I later figured out are bay leaves.  I thought all was lost when I finally discovered the Indian supermarket in Lyon where they (sometimes) carry dried curry leaves in little baggies.  After cooking with them for the first time, I became enamored.  They add such a distinct flavor to daals and vegetable stir fries, they're almost like a secret ingredient, unable to be replaced or substituted.  They were my little best kept secret... until I was told that they were seen fresh in town.
Fresh curry leaves?  But they grow only in hot climates and only stay fresh for a few days!  How can this happen in Lyon?  Everyone I know that cooks with fresh curry leaves doesn't buy them.. they grow them.. in India, California, and Malaysia.. never in France.
So when they were gently handed to me as proof that when you really long for something, it becomes reality, I may have concealed my happiness in order not to make a scene in public.
This offering surpasses all others.
This offering is more than just a thing, this is the deepest understanding of my desires.
Thank You.
Inspired by VegRecipesofIndia
Serves 6-7 as a side
Spice paste:
1 inch piece cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 green cardamom
1/2 Tbsp coriander seeds
2-3 dried red chiles, deseeded
1 tsp poppy seeds
6 Tbsp grated coconut
6-8 cashews
1/2 Tbsp chickpea flour
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 inch piece ginger, grated
1/2 cup water for grinding
3 Tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp freshly grated turmeric
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
spice paste
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large tomato, diced
2 large handful fresh green beans (about 1 cup), tailed and cut in half crosswise
1 handful snap peas
1 1/2 cups cauliflower florets
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 cup water
2 Tbsp yogurt (optional)
salt to taste
chopped cilantro for garnish
1.  Make the spice paste.  Dry roast the cinnamon, cloves, fennel, cardamom, coriander seeds, chiles, poppy seeds, and cashews until fragrant, then add the coconut, and chickpea flour and dry roast a few more seconds.  Transfer to a blender with the rest of the spice paste ingredients and grind into a thick paste.  Set aside.
2.  Prepare the Korma.  Heat the oil in a wok or heavy based pan, then add the onions, turmeric, and curry leaves.  Cook until onions are translucent.
3.  Add the spice paste and fry while stirring, making sure it doesn't burn.  
4.  When the oil starts to separate, add the carrots, tomatoes, and 1/4 cup water.  Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.
5.  Add the rest of the vegetables along with a few pinches of salt.  Cook on medium heat, stirring for another 15 minutes.  Add water as needed.
6.  Before serving, stir in 2 Tbsp plain full fat yogurt.  This step is completely optional and only adds decadence to the dish.  It is perfectly delicious without the yogurt.  Heat through, then remove from heat.
Serve hot or warm topped with chopped cilantro.

I served mine in a thali along with some saffron basmati rice, toor daal, rotis, and some whole roasted tandoori chicken.
Now I just need to get the intel on where exactly to find these next time... for everyone has their secrets and this one was not shared with me...

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Caramelized Garlic Tart from Plenty

As I leaf through Ottolenghi's Plenty and marvel at the way his mind works, I stumble upon something that makes me react out loud, the "Funny Onions" chapter.  The more I read the introductions and the compilations of his recipes, the more I realize that this is the real way to compose.  I tend to focus one one ingredient that I want to make shine, and then create the recipe around that one ingredient, with other vegetables used to elevate the importance of the initial ingredient.  So the "Funny Onions" chapter is all about making bulbs sublime.  This speaks to me, for I am a garlic and onion lover.. sometimes I don't know which to choose, so I use both.  I love shallots, and can easily cook them whole and eat them as a side, for they sweeten when cooked.  I love fennel bulbs, raw or roasted, paired with just about anything.  Never in my mind had I ever thought of making a garlic tart.  Onion tart, yes.. onion soup.. yes, but Garlic Tart?  You mean a pie full of garlic?  What a genius idea!
This tart has almost 3 whole heads of garlic in it.. but it is relatively mild, since the garlic is left whole and par-boiled, then caramelized.  The result was mind blowing.  Mild, slightly sweet, and most importantly, making the garlic shine like the star she really is.
Adapted from page 38 of Plenty.
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer
1 rosemary paprika buckwheat shortcrust (original uses an all butter puff pastry)
2 1/2 heads garlic, separated and peeled (original uses 3)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup water
3/4 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme
150g cubed feta (original uses 2 different goat cheeses)
1 handful roasted cubes butternut squash (not in the original recipe..I had leftovers)
1 large handful cherry tomatoes (not in the original)
2 eggs
200mL yogurt (original uses double cream and creme fraiche)
salt and cracked black pepper
1.  Place the shortcrust or puff pastry in a 28cm fluted tart tin over parchment paper, lightly stab it with a fork, and cover the edges with foil.  Pre-bake it for 15 minutes at 180°C 360°F.  In a lower oven rack, place the cherry tomatoes so they can get a head start and lose their water.
2.  Make the caramelized garlic.  Place all the garlic cloves in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a simmer and blanch for 3 minutes.  Drain, but reserve 1 cup of the water.
3.  Dry the garlic and the sauce pan, then heat the olive oil and the whole blanched garlic cloves on high heat.  Fry for around 2 minutes, then deglaze with the balsamic vinegar and garlic water.
4.  Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes.  Add the sugar, rosemary, and thyme along with a pinch of salt.  Leave to simmer until the garlic cloves are coated in a dark syrup (around 10 minutes).  Set aside.
5.  Assemble by placing the feta cubs into the pre-baked crust along with the butternut squash cubes and blistered cherry tomatoes, then add the garlic cloves and their syrup, making sure to spoon it evenly all over the other vegetables and cheese.
6.  In a separate bowl, make the custard by beating the eggs until frothy, and then adding the yogurt and beating well.  Add some salt and pepper to this mixture before pouring it into the crust over the rest, making sure to fill the gaps but can still see some veggies and cheese over the surface.
7.  The recipe says to bake at 160°C 320°F for 45 minutes, but after 1 hour, mine was still not done, so I turned it up to 170°C 350°F for 20 more minutes.  You want the custard to have set and the top to be golden.  By this time the house smells so lovely you just can't handle it anymore.. you just want to dive into the oven and swim through all that magnificent caramelized garlic.
8.  Let cool at least 20 minutes.  You can do it!
I served mine with a crunchy salad of baby romaine, shredded cabbage, chickpeas, lime, cilantro, and olive oil.

So.. how did it taste?  That first bite is transcending.  It's crunchy from the caramelized garlic that crisped in the oven and creamy on the inside.  The sharpness of the feta mixed with the tang of the oven roasted cherry tomatoes dance as if to thank you for having elevated them to this high ranking status.
That tart is honored to be your guest.  This is genius at its best..

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

End of Summer Garden Spaghetti

There's something romantic about picking the vegetables and aromatics from your own garden and eating them the very same day.
The fresh taste of each tomato, eggplant, bell pepper, and chile slice becomes gourmet.. with very little need to adorn.
I used about 5 baby eggplants, quartered them, sautéed them in some olive oil with a sliced up serrano, then added some garlic slivers, a sprig of rosemary, 2 sliced bell peppers, a bowl full of cherry tomatoes, and about a cup of leftover cooked chickpeas. 
In another pot I boiled some spaghetti died with squid ink, reserved about 1/2 cup of the pasta water, drained, then tossed it all with a generous filet of olive oil from Nyons.  I added that pasta water back in to make it saucy.
And all it needed at this point was some black pepper and a sprinkle of pink Himalayan salt, topped with fresh basil.
The only thing NOT from the garden or somewhere sexy was the spaghetti and the chickpeas.
Even the olive oil was special.
I've been making this with different variations of pasta all summer long.
This one was the most beautiful.
Perhaps it is the last until next summer...

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Friday, September 30, 2016

BBQ Butternut Squash

So the last time I fired up my grill, I decided to slice up my butternut, splash it with olive oil, paprika, and fleur de sel, and throw it on the grill.
I wasn't sure what I was thinking, or if it would be worth sacrificing an entire butternut squash, 
but I'm so happy I did.
This was a pleasant surprise.  I grilled it about 20 minutes, moving the slices around regularly, and when they each had some nice char, decided they were done.
Their natural sweetness caramelized right in front of my eyes on the bbq.
Even the picky ones loved it.. it's a win-win situation.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Seppia of my Life

 Words cannot do this justice.
One must experience this to fully understand the meaning of life.
Cuttlefish, Seiche, or Seppia, however you like to name it, is my all-time favorite living being to enjoy grilled on the plancha.  Whenever I can get my hands on some fresh ones or have it at a restaurant, you can bet it's going to be in my belly.
This is the first time I've cooked such a big one.  The plate shows only half of it (because I unfortunately had to share) but it was a beauty.
The preparation is methodic, but each step gets me more excited until the very first bite where all I can feel is total bliss.  This is powerful stuff.  It pushes my serotonin button and makes my eyes roll back.
The best part is I finally picked my first of 3 beef heart tomatoes to join me in my nirvana-state.
They were perfect.  Just lightly seasoned with Himalayan pink salt, some pepper, and garden parsley.
So how do you prepare Cuttlefish?
Well, you can have your fish monger clean it and remove the skin (which is easier).. or, you can do it yourself... just be careful not to poke your knife into one of the eyes or it will squirt everywhere and might disturb the moment.
The important part is to remove the bone (or plume) and eyes, then pull the skin off and you're done.
For the plancha:
If it is a large one like mine, cut the body in half to make 2 steaks, and score each side diagonally with a knife.
Rub some grated garlic, hot pepper flakes, fleur de sel, and black pepper all over it, then drizzle with olive oil and let it marinate until you're ready to grill (while you're preparing the rest of your sides).
Then, when the plancha or griddle pan is hot, cook it while pressing down (because the sides will curl up) for about 2 minutes on each side.  You should see some nice grill marks.
Then remove and squeeze some lime juice on it and it's ready to go.
Mmmm.. look at that beauty.  I spoke to it at the store before, on the ride home, and while I was preparing it.
It sacrificed itself for me, and I am every so grateful for having experienced this moment...

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Fermented Agua de Jamaica

This summer has been all about the fizz.  Anything sparkly, spicy, or fermented has been floating my bubble.
After successfully creating my ginger bug (which is still active and stubborn and just won't go to sleep), I've been regularly making ginger ale along with other fermented sodas.  I only have 3 glass flip top bottles, so it's not a major production, but it's nice since the quantities are 75cL to 1L at a time, there is a constant rotation of things happening in and around my kitchen.
Only once has the test been horribly awful.  Watermelon soda was really bad.  Really really bad.  Maybe I don't put enough sugar in, but it tasted like rotten tomato juice.  
I'm shuddering just thinking about it.
The sugar thing is psychological.  I know it will be eaten by the lactobacillus and won't actually make the drink sugary.. but it's a real struggle to do it.
Lemonade works really well, though.  Lets focus on the delicious.
Agua Fresca de Jamaica also turns out to be fabulous!  I've often thought that refreshing spiced hibiscus iced tea would be excellent as a bubbly drink...and so it was!
yield 75 cL (25 floz)
1/4 cup ginger bug
1/4 cup lime juice
2 Tbsp dried hibiscus flower
1/2 inch piece cinnamon stick
3 - 4 cups water
1/4 cup sugar (or more if you like it sweet)
1.  Place 3 cups of water with the sugar, hibiscus, and cinnamon in a pot.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 2-3 minutes until sugar dissolves.
2.    Let cool to lukewarm.  This is important.  You don't want to kill your ferment.  Then remove the solids (hibiscus and cinnamon)
3.  Using a funnel over your flip top bottle,  pour in the ginger bug and lime juice followed by the steeped jamaica.  Top off with extra water if needed.  Make sure not to overfill.
4.  Do not close the bottle yet.  Cover to make sure nobody falls in.  I used a piece of coffee filter and a rubber band.  Let sit at room temperature for 2 days.
5.  Now you can close the flip top bottle.  Let sit for 1-2 days, but not more than that.  My room temperature is around 25°C 77°F right now.  If it's colder where you are, you may let it sit longer, but at your own risk.
6.  Refrigerate until ready to drink.
As always, open with caution.  Do this outside or as shown in the sink.  That is not my hand, by the way.
Hold the flip top cap down and let the air out slooowwwly to avoid the geyser effect.  This method functions well.

Enjoy very cold while discussing fermentation techniques with people who had no idea this could be done!

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Rainbow Tomato Salad

Let me take a moment to share my love for my fellow gardeners who selflessly offer their bounty to me.
Thank you for these extraordinary tomatoes.
I can never get enough of homegrown tomatoes.
The offering included some pineapple tomatoes (the yellow ones), green zebra tomatoes, beef heart tomatoes, and roma tomatoes.
Not only were they full of flavor, sweet, and juicy, but also a beautiful parade of colors and shapes to feast your eyes on...

So, the purest way to enjoy these juicy colorful jewels from the vine is in a simple salad with some olive oil, a bit of cider vinegar, shallots, parsley, feta, and some black pepper.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Extra Dark Chocolate Brownies

Interestingly enough, I have never in my entire life been a brownie baker.  I've been a brownie eater, but I'd never ventured into that domain before.  Until, that is, brownies were requested from me.
It is hard for me to not fulfill a request related to food.  Especially when that request is for something American, Indian, or Mexican.
So I took on the request.. it really can't be that complicated to make brownies, right?
Well, it depends how you like them.  There are 3 categories of brownie preferences:  cakey, chewy, or fudgy.  The ingredients and cooking times will depend on what you are going for.  My requester obviously had no idea what I was talking about, so I first tried a cakey recipe.  My first try was awful.  I mostly followed the recipe, but I must have overcooked them.  Plus, I realized that my requestor was not a cakey fan.  That one didn't make the cut.
Then I found this one.. a nice fudgy heaven using cacao powder.. meaning REAL chocolate.  The result is absolutely perfect.  I did reduce the sugar a bit because 250g seemed a bit much.  This is one I will be making over and over with different variants (candied ginger instead of chopped chocolate).  It got a thumbs up from every person who tried them.  I never need to search for a brownie recipe again.  This is the ONE.
Borrowed from InspiredTaste.
145g (10 Tbsp) butter
200g (1 cup) sugar
65g (3/4 cup) 100% cacao powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbsp ginger powder
2 large eggs
70g (1/2 cup) flour
75g (2.6oz) chopped dark chocolate (or chocolate chips or nuts)
1.  Place a mixing bowl on top of a pot of simmering water and melt the butter, sugar, and cacao powder while whisking.  This will help it melt gently without burning while nicely infusing the butter with the chocolate.  Set aside to cool.
2.  When cool, stir in the salt, vanilla, and ginger powder and mix well.  I used a wooden spoon.
3.  Drop the eggs in one at a time, beating well each time.  The mixture should go from grainy to glossy, but still nice and thick.  Beat this mixture very very well.
4.  Gently stir in the flour until fully incorporated, then stir in the chopped chocolate or nuts.
5.  Line a baking dish with parchment paper.  Mine was 20 x25 cm (approx 8x10 inch).  The smaller the dish, the taller the brownies. The inverse is also true.  Scrape the batter onto the parchment paper and level it out as much as possible.
6.  Bake at 165°C 325°F for 20-30 minutes.  Mine took exactly 25 minutes.  This may depend on the size of the dish.  Check it after 20 minutes.  A toothpick in the middle should come out almost clean.  The top should be crinkly.  That's good stuff.
7.  Let cool all the way before slicing.
I sliced too soon, but that's ok.
The sugar can probably be reduced to 180g.
The best is to pop in the fridge until cold enough to slice and peel off the parchment paper.. otherwise.. it is a delicious gooey mess and you'll have more on your fingers than in your portions.
This freezes and defrosts very well, too, from what I've heard, but they don't last long enough in this house for me to try that out...

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