Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ispahan cookies

I recently decided to bake cookies as a gift for a friend, and I got this weird idea in my head to make "Ispahan" cookies. The Ispahan is a signature creation of French pastry chef Pierre Hermé. It features a rose petal macaron filled with rose-scented buttercream plus fresh raspberries and lychees. That being said, I'm not much of a baker, and macarons are notoriously difficult to make. Cookies are more my speed, and after taking a look at Martha Stewart's jam sandwich cookies, I was inspired to try and create a cookie with the delicate flavors of the Ispahan pastry.

My basic thinking is that I would make cookies flavored with rose water and fill them with homemade jam. I already had a couple jars of raspberry jam that I had made a little while back. So, I then racked my brain as to how to incorporate the lychees. I couldn't find a recipe for lychee jam anywhere, and with such a watery fruit, I was reticent to improvise. My concern is that the chopped lychees would leech out most of their liquid in the cooking process, resulting in a syrup with a few bits of fruit floating on top. Jelly was also an option, but I couldn't find a recipe and again, the expense was daunting. So, I decided to just forget the lychees for now and instead use some homemade apple jelly that I had on hand. I combined half raspberry jam and half apple jelly for my filling. If you can't do without lychees, I'd just mince some fresh or canned ones and add those to raspberry jam.

Onto the cookies themselves. I wanted thin, crisp, lacy cookies. I took cues from Alton Brown for achieving this and used baking soda in lieu of baking powder, milk in place of one egg, and a high proportion of white sugar to brown sugar. For those interested, I used his recipe for "the thin", but omitted the chocolate chips, replaced the vanilla extract with a tablespoons of rose water, and added a few drops of rose food coloring.

This turned the batter a pretty pink color, but only a slight tint was visible in the finished cookies. If you want more of a pink color, you might substitute butter-flavored shortening for the butter (or extra-virgin coconut oil plus a bit of imitation butter flavoring, or clarified butter). The cookies won't be as crisp, but due to the lack of milk solids they ought to brown less and thus the pink color will be more prominent. By the way, my cookies were baked in half the time suggested by the recipe, so check them often.

Here's the finished product. 1/3 cup of apple jelly + 1/3 cup of raspberry jam should be sufficient for the whole recipe. Just slather a thin layer of of the filling on the bottom side of one cookie, then top with another, bottom side facing the jam. The result is a precious little tea cookie with wonderful flavor. It's no Ispahan, but it's an admirable substitute if you can't get the real thing!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Vegetarian Bibim Naengmyun

I've developed a fascination with Korean food. These days, it's extremely rare for me to be actually taken aback by a combination of flavors. I'm a well-seasoned (pardon the pun) cook and consumer of numerous different cuisines -- French, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Spanish -- you name it, I eat it. But then, I started reading up on Korean food.

It started out innocuously enough, which is to say, I had bulgogi and bibimbap a few times at restaurants -- the gateway drugs of Korean cuisine. I picked up some gochujang and made this stir-fry, plus I tried my hand at bibimbap. With extra kimchee and gochujang in my fridge, I started to look for new things to make.

Browsing Wikipedia's list of Korean dishes, I became strangely mesmerized. There's a certain -- and I mean this in the most politically-correct way possbile -- grossness to Korean food that feels alluring and decadent. It's difficult to articulate, but it feels...uninhibited. Simmered ox leg bone? Pork vertebrae? A thick, spicy stew -- with raw egg yolk on top? How can I not try my hand at this stuff?!?

Rather than jump in head first, I decided to make something with an unusual flavor combination for a Westerner, but lay off the offal and such for now. I settled on naengmyeon. It contains soba noodles with Asian pear, pickled vegetables, a boiled egg, and sometimes a few slices of simmered beef. Mul naengmyeon is a traditional summer dish, served in a bowl of slushy (as in ice chips) beef broth. I haven't yet worked up the courage for cold soups beyond, say, gazpacho, so I decided instead to do bibim naengmyun, where the broth is replaced by a thick gochujang dressing.

I couldn't find a good recipe, so I did some research and ended up putting something together that had all the aspects which appealed to me. I didn't feel like making beef, so instead I simmered handmade tofu in a beefy-tasting broth and sliced it thinly. So here you have it. If you want to use beef, just find a recipe for Korean brisket.

Serves 2

For the noodles:
-4 oz soba (buckwheat) noodles
-3 heaping tablespoons gochujang
-1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
-4 tsp rice vinegar
-4 tsp honey or agave nectar

Boil the soba noodles, then immediately refresh in cold water and chill. Combine the remaining ingredients. You may not use all the dressing on the noodles; just toss until well-coated and serve the rest on the side.

For the pickled vegetables:
-1/2 hothouse cucumber, sliced thin on a bias
-1/4 medium daikon, peeled and sliced thin on a bias
-1 tsp kosher salt, divided into two half teaspoons
-2 tsp rice vinegar, divided
-2 tsp sugar, divided
-1/2 tsp Korean red chili powder (or regular chili powder)
-1/2 tsp dark sesame oil

Keep the vegetables seperate. Toss the cucumber and the daikon each with 1/2 tsp salt, and let stand for five minutes. Rinse and squeeze dry with paper towels. Combine each with 1 tsp vinegar and 1 tsp sugar. Mix all of the chili powder with the daikon and all of the sesame oil with the cucumber. Set aside.

For the tofu:
-1 block firm tofu, preferable handmade, cut into thin pieces about the thickness of a pat of butter
-3 cups vegetarian beef broth, such as Better Than Bouillon vegan no-beef
-1/4 cup doenjang or miso paste
-1 4" piece of dashi kombu (seaweed)
-5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
-2 whole dried red chilis

Bring everything except for the tofu to a boil in a saucepan. Add the tofu, turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for five minutes. I let this chill overnight with a little broth ladled on top. This made more than enough for two people, so just use however much tofu you want and halve the broth recipe if you'd like.

For serving:
-1/2 an Asian pear, quartered, cored, and sliced thin
-2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and halved crosswise
-Any banchan, or side items, that you like. I just picked up a jar of this cabbage kimchee, but you can serve whatever you like. The most disappointing thing about making Korean food at home instead of going to a restaurant is that the table isn't covered with tiny delectable little side items. My favorites are pa kimchi, kongnamul, sigumchi namul, and whatever that sweet julienned daikon is called. But I digress...

Top the soba noodles with cucumber, daikon, pear, tofu, and the halved egg, keeping everything separate. Drizzle with a little extra gochujang and serve!

This is my entry for Presto Pasta Nights.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Soba Noodle Salad with Vegetables and Tofu

There are certain ingredients that will make you love a dish, almost no matter what. Depending on your palette, it might be bacon, truffles, butter, caramelized onions, mangoes, brown gravy, or any number of things. With my husband, it's soba noodles. Every dish I've made with these Japanese buckwheat noodles has been a major home run. I always keep ingredients for zaru soba on hand, as everything except for the scallions is non-perishable so in a pinch, I can always whip them up for lunch, dinner, or a snack. I've made them with sesame paste, in broth with tofu and mushrooms, in place of rice noodles in Vietnamese bun, with vegetables and Korean hot sauce, with tuna ceviche or tuna sashimi, with ground pork, Sichuan peppercorns, and Tianjin preserved vegetable...well, you get the idea. Suffice it to say that I am *always* on the lookout for new soba noodle recipes.

Almost a year ago, I stumbled upon a recipe in Cooking Light for a cool soba noodle salad with veggies and tofu. I bookmarked the recipe and forgot about it for a while, until this week when I came across it while looking for entrees involving tofu on my page. A cold noodle salad with raw veggies and a zesty dressing seemed like just the thing for a hot summer night. It looked simple enough to make, but hardly earth-shattering.

I was NOT expecting this dish to be as scrumptuous as it was. This is some Seriously Good Stuff. The dressing was marvelous, and it certainly doesn't hurt that it only contains two teaspoons of oil. It's soy sauce based with chili-garlic paste, fresh ginger, orange juice, brown sugar (I subbed agave nectar), rice vinegar, garlic, sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds. It is definitely super-versatile; it would be great on a tossed salad, mixed with a bag of broccoli slaw, over massaged kale, or as an interesting dip for crudite. I loved the fact that I didn't have to cook anything, the tofu in particular because it always sticks to the pan unless I use tons of oil. I was fortunate enough to score some handmade tofu from my beloved Asian market. I substituted 1/2 cup daikon for 1/2 cup of the carrots, and I would not do that again because it looked unattractive after absorbing the dressing. I'd also add some julienned cucumber next time. But I'm happy to have yet another soba dish in my repertoire. This would be right at home at a potluck, on a picnic, or as Obligatory Vegetarian Dish at a barbecue whereas I wouldn't bring, say, zaru soba or my soba dan dan mian. Even tofu haters will love this one because of all the yummy dressing it soaks up.

Thanks, Ruth, for giving me the inspiration to dig through my old bookmarks!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lemon-thyme chicken and green beans

You're probably all sick of hearing me sing the praises of my slow cooker. Well, too bad! I'm all kinds of sick, and I wanted to put together a hassle-free one-pot meal. So here ya go! Green beans are one of the only non-starchy vegetables that holds up beautifully with long, slow cooking.

I tossed a pound of fresh green beans with half a can of stewed tomatoes (I used the ones marked "fancy sliced", but you could just buy the whole ones and break them up with you hands), 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. If you can't find smoked paprika, you can use regular paprika or even a little liquid smoke if that's your thing. You could also add some chopped bacon but it's already going to stew in all those chicken juices. Oh, and I added a shallot cut into chunks but I think that frozen pearl onions would work even better. I poured 1/2 cup water over the whole thing.

Next, I combined the zest of one lemon, finely minced, 1/2 tbs fresh chopped thyme, and 2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pushed through a press. I added enough extra-virgin olive oil to hold everything together plus salt and pepper. Loosen the skin on the chicken breast so that you can slip this paste underneath and then rub the rest over the legs and thighs.

After this I coated the chicken in a thick layer of paprika along with more salt and pepper. If you're a freak, truss the chicken, but as you can see I just tie the legs together. Let it cook while you're at work, say 9 hours or so, then broil the chicken on high for two minutes to crisp the skin.

And there you see the finished product: tender, juicy lemon-thyme chicken with buttery green beans on the side. I also added a dollop of Better Than Gravy chicken gravy, the only mix that doesn't taste nasty (chicken is the first ingredient!). Perfection!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Slow-cooker split pea dal

Lately I've felt like I'm in a recipe glut. I have a massive array of cookbooks, an assortment of recipe sites I frequent, and a husband who shrugs his shoulders when I ask if he'd like anything in particular. CSA season is over until November so I can't let the farmer's market be my guide. So, I've gotten in the habit of checking Is My Blog Burning? to see if any food blogging events inspire me. I came across this event, instructing participants to create a healthy dish rich in fiber.

I surfed over to one of my favorite nutrition sites, World's Healthiest Foods, and checked out which foods are good sources of dietary fiber. Split peas? Cauliflower? Dark leafy greens? Reminds me of a dish I made in the slow cooker a few months ago. Even better that it is an Indian-inspired dish, as the event host writes an Indian food blog!

I love doing dal in the slow cooker. I don't worry about overcooking, because it's supposed to turn to mush anyway. Red lentils are the creamiest, chana dal is the most coarse, but yellow split peas are somewhere in the middle. I started out with an array of assertive spices:

Clockwise from top left: 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1 tbs brown mustard seeds, 1 tsp turmeric, 1/8 tsp ground cloves, 1/2 tbs ground coriander, 1 tbs ground cumin, and a bay leaf. If you're lazy, just use 3 tablespoons of good-quality curry powder.

Dump all this in your slow cooker with a 3 1/2 cups water, 1/2 tbs salt, 1 cup yellow split peas, 1 cup of diced onion, 1/2 tbs minced fresh ginger (or a few chunks of it, if you're lazy) , and a small head of cauliflower (organic cauliflower is usually the right size), broken into large florets. Don't be afraid of keeping the cauliflower in big pieces, because it'll break up later, but if you cut it too small it'll turn to mush. Cook on low for 6 hours, then to finish it off, turn the slow cooker to high and dump in a 10 oz bag of spinach. Stir until combined (the stirring with break up the cauliflower) and serve!


Among the farm goodies I received were 1.5 dozen farm fresh eggs. Eggs are just about my favorite thing in a world, and as I didn't want to see them go to waste, I started thinking of dinners I could prepare with them. Of course I made them for breakfast, plus a big batch of curried egg salad, but I wanted something a bit different. So, I decided to make bibimbap, a Korean dish. According to Wikipedia:
Bibimbap is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables), beef, a fried egg, and gochujang (chili pepper paste). The ingredients are stirred together thoroughly just before eating. It can be served either cold or hot.
Sounds good! I started with short-grain brown rice. I've been wanting to try cooking it in the oven for a while now. It worked splendidly, although it wasn't sticky at all. I think it would be better for non-Asian rice dishes. Aside from that, I followed this recipe from Cooking Light. The only change I made is that I sauteed the mushrooms and added some blanched bean sprouts since I had them on hand. I also served it with the traditional gochujang instead of sambal. You could easily make this vegetarian by substituting seitan for the beef. You might even be able to make it vegan if you make vegan tamago instead of using a fried egg.

To serve, I started with a bowl of rice...

By the way, if you DO want to try cooking it in the oven, put a cup of brown rice in a baking dish (I sprayed it with a little olive oil beforehand) and add 1.5 cups BOILING water and 1/2 tsp salt. Bake, tightly covered, at 375 for an hour. Foolproof!

Anyway, then I topped it with my meat and veggies.

That's stir-fried marinated steak, blanched carrots, blanched bean sprouts, this steamed spinach, and sauteed shittake caps.

Finally, the piece de resistance, a fried farm-fresh egg, gochujang (Korean hot sauce), and the marinated cucumber that I, uh, forgot to add before.

Seriously, is there any more drool-worthy sight than a runny egg yolk mingling with hot sauce?? I'm really going to have to hone my food photography skills so that I can do it justice!

Wild boar lasagna

On Saturday, we drove two hours south to visit a couple of friends who live on a farm, and returned with lots of goodies. Among those was a pound of ground wild boar meat. Apparently, some wild boar were terrorizing their property, so they had them trapped and butchered. I decided to make it into bulk sausage by adapting Michael Ruhlman's recipe for spicy Italian sausage from Charcuterie. I tried to make the lasagna as healthy as possible while still keeping it scrumptious. I used low-fat cheeses, whole wheat pasta, egg white, and lots of veggies. Wild boar is comparatively rather lean, but you could substitute ground pork or even ground turkey. Dark meat turkey would probably work best here. I thought that the sausage was too salty, but it was just fine when simmered with tomatoes and veggies. If you plan to eat the sausage on its own, I'd start with half the amount of salt and sugar, brown a bit in a pan, taste, and then decide whether or not to add the rest.

For the sausage:
-1 lb ground wild boar
-2 tsp kosher salt
-1/2 tbs granulated sugar
-1/2 tbs toasted fennel seed
-1 tsp ground coriander
-1 tbs paprika
-1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
-1/2 tbs hot red pepper flakes
-1/2 tbs coarsely ground black pepper
-1 tbs red wine vinegar

Using your hands, thoroughly combine the pork with the spices. Form into patties, stuff into casings, or leave as-is for lasagna.

For the lasagna:
-8 oz whole wheat lasagna noodles (I used Ronzoni Healthy Harvest), cooked until not quite al dente, about 2 minutes less than package directions
-1 lb sausage meat, homemade using above recipe, or spicy Italian sausage removed from casings
-1 lb frozen chopped spinach, defrosted according to directions and liquid thoroughly squeezed out
-16 oz sliced crimini mushrooms
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 small (8oz) can tomato puree
-1 28oz can crushed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen fire roasted crushed tomatoes)
-1 tsp sugar
-1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
-1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano (I felt that this was too strong, you might want to cut this in half unless you love oregano)
-1 lb part skim ricotta cheese
-1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
-2 egg whites, lightly beaten
-Shredded part-skim mozzarella, for topping (really depends on how much you like)
-Salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine the ricotta, parmesan, and egg white in a medium-sized bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside in the refrigerator.

2. In a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, brown the sausage meat over medium-high heat. If it is very lean meat you may need to add a little cooking spray. Drain off excess fat, if necessary. Add garlic, mushrooms, and 1/4 cup water. Cook until mushrooms are browned and liquid has evaporated. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, basil, oregano, and spinach. Simmer until warmed through and set aside to cool.

3. Spray a 13x9 pan with cooking spray. Pour the small can of tomato sauce into the bottom. Top with a layer of noodles, trimming to fit if necessary. Add half the ricotta (your hands are the best tool for this), then half the sauce. Repeat with the remaining noodles, ricotta, and sauce. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with mozzarella, and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the mozzarella is gooey. Let rest for 10 minutes per serving.

I cut this into 15 good sized squares. 1 would cover most people, or 2 if you're really hungry.

Per square: 216 calories, 10 grams fat, 18 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams protein.

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