Thursday, March 23, 2017

Pickled Mussels with Radishes, Toasted Coriander Seed, and Fennel

What meaning comes to mind first when you hear the word gather? I thought of bringing people together, gathering a group around a table. The other way to think about gathering is in the act of obtaining ingredients for a meal. You go out to gather what you will prepare, and that might be from a garden, a farm, a forest, the ocean, or the grocery store. The new book Gather: Everyday Seasonal Food from a Year in Our Landscapes by Gill Meller is really about both uses of the word but he focuses on what’s available for gathering from the landscape at different times of year. For him, it’s not the source of the ingredients that’s as important as the experience of the time and place for the flavors they offer. He encourages taking a moment to enjoy the first taste of a dish that’s particular to a season. Of course though, he also points out that considering the journey made by the ingredients before arriving on the plate makes cooking and eating more rewarding. The recipes here aren’t complex, but there are some new and different combinations of flavors. The chapters are organized by places where the food might be found like Farm, Seashore, Garden, Orchard, Field, Woodland, Moor, and Harbor. There are simple compositions like Goat Cheese with Rhubarb and Lovage served on toasted bread, Spring Cabbage Salad with Honey and Sprouted Lentils, and Barbecued Little Gems with Cucumber White Beans and Tahini. There are salads, main courses, and sweets sprinkled throughout each chapter. There are tomato and zucchini dishes in the Garden chapter that I’ll be turning to as soon as those star ingredients appear this year, and the Harbor chapter had me marking almost every page. The dish I had to try first was something new for me: Pickled Mussels. The cooked mussels are quickly pickled in apple cider vinegar with coriander seeds, and they’re served with crisp radish slices. In the book, apple slices are included but I opted for fennel instead since it’s in season here. 

Like all the recipes in this book, this one is about subtle flavors that add just the right note to a dish. Apple cider vinegar was very specifically chosen as was coriander seed. In the spirit of gathering what is available at this time of the year, I brought home locally-grown purple daikon and watermelon radishes for their pretty colors and peppery flavors. The thinly sliced fennel added sweet, fresh, anise to the mix. To prepare the mussels, I always soak them first in water with a little flour to purge them and pull off any remaining beards or debris. After being drained and rinsed, the mussels went into a large pot with a half-cup of boiling water to which a couple of bay leaves and some thyme sprigs had been added. I was delighted to gather those herbs from my own yard. The pan was covered, and the mussels opened after a couple of minutes of cooking. They were removed from the pan, and the cooking liquid was strained into a bowl. When cool, the mussels were removed from their shells. Cider vinegar, coriander seeds, some of the cooking liquid, and salt and pepper were combined and poured over the mussels. This was left to sit while the other ingredients were prepped. The vegetables were all thinly sliced with a mandoline and scattered over plates. The mussels and dressing were added to each, and I placed a few frissee leaves among the arrangement. 

In a short amount of time, the mussels take on nice pickle-y flavor from the apple cider vinegar. And, the crunchy, fresh vegetables make great partners for it. This was surprisingly good for such a simple mix of things. I’ll be thinking back to this book as I gather what’s freshest and best in the coming weeks and truly enjoying the flavors.  

Pickled mussels with radishes, toasted coriander seed, and apples 
Recipe excerpted with permission from Gather: Everyday Seasonal Food from a Year in Our Landscapes by Gill Meller, published by Quadrille March 2017, RRP $35.00 hardcover. 

There is something of Normandy in this fresh salad: a bicycle ride down the Route du Cidre; a peppery-pink radish with delightfully fresh, cold butter; a bowl of plump, yellow wild mussels, cooked in cream on some beach off Gouville-sur-Mer. It’s almost like you taste it in French. This dish is about perfectly cooked mussels, sweet, crunchy apple, and the acidity of good cider vinegar—and how they all play out when they get together. I love the orangey air that toasted coriander seed brings to the delicate pickle—it’s well worth a try. You can prepare the mussels the day before, but I like them best once they have cooled and before they see the fridge. 

serves 2 

2 bay leaves 
2 thyme sprigs 
18oz [500g] mussels, cleaned 
1 Tbsp good-quality cider vinegar 
1/2 tsp golden superfine sugar 
2 tsp small coriander seeds, toasted 
1 dessert apple 
4 to 6 firm radishes, with tops, if available 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Place a large pan over high heat. Add a scant 1/2 cup [100ml] water, the bay leaves, and thyme sprigs. When the water is boiling hard, add the mussels, and place a close-fitting lid on the pan. Cook, shaking the pan once or twice, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the mussel shells are all just open. Turn off the heat, then drain the mussels into a colander set over a bowl to catch the cooking liquor. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened up. 

When the mussels are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the shells, and place it in a bowl, reserving the drained cooking liquor. Add the cider vinegar, sugar, coriander seeds, and 2 Tbsp of the cooking liquor to the mussel meat, stir through, then season with a little salt and pepper. 

To serve, quarter and core the apple and then cut each quarter into 2 or 3 wedges. Divide the apple pieces roughly between two plates. Slice the radish into 1/16 to 1/8 in [2 to 3mm] rounds, and scatter them over the apple, along with any radish top leaves, if available. Finally, spoon over the mussels along with plenty of their coriander-spiked dressing, and serve immediately.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Thai-Style Shrimp Balls with Napa Cabbage

You know what you think when someone walks into a gigantic closet filled with various types of clothing and proclaims: “I have nothing to wear?” I suspect people could think the same of me when I stand in front of shelves of cookbooks and say “I can’t think of anything new to make for dinner.” That problem may be solved once and for all with the latest book from Melissa Clark, Dinner: Changing the Game. First, it’s full of great-looking recipes, but each of those comes with options for tailoring it to suite your taste or what ingredients you may have on hand. And, there are suggestions for what to serve with the main dishes to help you make a complete dinner plan. It starts with a whole chapter just for chicken; then there’s one for other meats, a ground meat chapter, fish and seafood, eggs, pasta, tofu, beans, grains, pizzas, soups, salads, and dips and side dishes. I always mark interesting pages with sticky flags as I read a new cookbook, but this time, it got out of hand with the number of flags attached to pages. I cooked from the book for three days in a row, and I have another page marked for dinner tonight. I started a weekend with the shrimp balls shown here for Friday night dinner. Then, I made the Sticky Tamarind Chicken with Crisp Lettuce for a Saturday night meal, and the options for that include using bone-in, skinless chicken thighs or boneless thighs or breasts or wings depending on your preference. The flavorful, marinated, roasted chicken was served over a fresh lettuce salad with sliced jalapeno and cilantro leaves. The next morning, I made the Chilaquiles with Tomatillo Salsa and Baked Eggs for brunch. The layered corn tortillas with spicy green salsa and lots of melted cheese was a delicious base for the eggs that baked on top. I added some chopped greens between the tortilla layers just to include more vegetable goodness in the mix. Tonight, I’m going to make the Warm White Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto and Preserved Lemon. And, all those other marked pages? There are too many to mention, but a few include Cumin-Chicken Meatballs with Green Ghile Sauce, a savory Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby pancake, Pasta Carbonara Torte with Tomatoes and Sage, Chile and Ginger-Fried Tofu Salad with Kale, and Leek Tomato and Farro Soup. None of the recipes are over-complicated or too time-consuming, and you’ll see the time required listed next to the number of servings. 

I was actually surprised at how quickly the Thai-Style Shrimp Balls came together. The dipping sauce was a quick mix of soy sauce, rice vinegar, minced fresh ginger, lime juice, sesame oil, and sliced green onions (I tend to skip the sugar in sauces like this because I prefer the tartness). Shelled and cleaned shrimp were chopped into small chunks, and there’s no need to worry too much about how small the chunks are. The shrimp does not need to be minced, just quickly chopped into little pieces. The chopped shrimp was combined with more minced ginger, minced garlic, finely chopped chives, an egg white, lime zest, and some salt. The mixture was formed into little one-inch balls. They’re not as firm as meatballs, but they hold together fine. Just line up the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. To steam, I used a bamboo steamer with its own top in a large skillet, but any type of steamer will work fine. Napa cabbage leaves were used to line the bottom of the steamer, and I was lucky to get the last of Boggy Creek Farm’s Napa cabbage for the season. The leaves I was using were small enough that I could arrange them with two shrimp balls on each. Once the steamer was placed over simmering water, it only took a few minutes to cook the shrimp balls. I removed each cabbage leaf with the shrimp balls sitting on it, and served it in the same arrangement. Last, I garnished with more chopped chives and some black sesame seeds. 

As mentioned in the recipe head note, you could serve the shrimp balls with rice noodles or plain rice, but I went for more of a pick it up with some cabbage like a little wrap kind of thing. And, these diminutive balls packed incredible flavor. The ginger, garlic, and lime zest brought a lot of zip. With this new book, I definitely have no excuse for not coming up with something new to make for dinner

Thai-Style Shrimp Balls with Napa Cabbage  
Reprinted from Dinner: Changing the Game. Copyright © 2017 by Melissa Clark. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Eric Wolfinger. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
These juicy, ginger-scented shrimp balls are like the filling inside your favorite shrimp shumai, sans the wrappers. And since you don’t have to enfold each one individually in dumpling dough, they come together really quickly and steam up in minutes. If you don’t have a steamer basket, it’s a good thing to pick up. They are inexpensive, and the collapsible ones don’t take up much space. Or, a decent hack is to crumple up four large foil balls (at least 1½ inches in diameter) and place them in the bottom of a pot with a tight-filling cover, filled with ½ inch of water. Rest a plate on top of the foil balls to keep it above the water, bring the water to a simmer, and put the food directly on the plate to steam. It’s not ideal, but it works in a pinch. Serve these shrimp balls over white rice (page 276) or rice noodles coated with a little sesame oil, which will give you a dumpling-like texture if you eat some shrimp ball and noodles in the same bite. A salad made from pea shoots and drizzled with a little of the dipping sauce, below, would round it out nicely. They also make nice hors d’oeuvres for a dinner party. 

4 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce 
1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar 
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil 
1 1/2 teaspoons light or dark brown sugar 
1 1/2 tablespoons sliced scallions (green parts only) 

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and chopped into small chunks 
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger 
1 garlic clove, grated on a Microplane or minced 
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus more for serving 
1 large egg white 
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime 
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
4 to 6 napa cabbage leaves, for steaming 


1. Make the dipping sauce: In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon ginger, lime juice, sesame oil, and brown sugar, and whisk until the sugar dissolves; then add the scallions. 
2. Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the shrimp with 1 tablespoon of the ginger and the garlic, chives, egg white, lime zest, and salt. Mix well, and form the shrimp mixture into 1-inch balls. Place them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Chill them up to 4 hours if not steaming immediately. 
3. Lay one or two cabbage leaves over the bottom of a steamer basket to just cover the surface. Put the steamer in a pot filled with an inch of water and bring the water to a simmer. Working in batches, place the shrimp balls on the cabbage leaves, cover the pot, and steam for 3 minutes, turning them over halfway through. After each batch, transfer the shrimp balls and the cabbage leaves to a plate. Use fresh cabbage leaves for each batch. 
4. Garnish the shrimp balls and cabbage with chives, and serve with the dipping sauce on the side. You can eat the cabbage or not, as you prefer. 

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Blood Orange, Burrata, and Freekeh Salad

I’ve been known to brag that my compost pile smells like citrus. I do go through quite a lot of citrus fruits in my kitchen, and I’ve never met a type I didn’t like. So, it was no surprise that the new book Citrus: 150 Recipes Celebrating the Sweet and the Sour by Catherine Phipps has a lot of recipes I want to try. And, it’s such a pretty book with a bold, orange-yellow cover and full-page photos of several of the fresh- and zesty-looking dishes. In some cases, the citrus is the main ingredient, in others it’s a necessary flavor component, and the ingredient involved may be the zest, the fruit, or the leaves. I’ll definitely be trying the Barbecued Halloumi in Lemon Leaves as soon as my trees look happy and full of new greenery for the spring. And, the Sprouting Broccoli with Blood Orange Hollandaise is a twist on this sauce that I’ve never thought to try before. The Coconut, Lime, and Lemongrass Chicken Salad with radishes, carrot, and zucchini looks like a winner, and Roast Vegetables with Feta and Orange would be great as a side or a vegetarian main dish. The Desserts chapter has me craving Mandarin Creme Caramel and Blackberry, Orange, and Orange Blossom Clafoutis. There are also recipes for marmalades, jellies, candied zest and peel, and drinks with citrus. Since burrata always stops me in my tracks and since blood orange season is nearing the end, I had try the Blood Orange, Burrata, and Freekeh Salad. 

This salad highlights the blood oranges with pretty slices placed front and center, but there’s also bergamot zest and juice adding flavor to the freekeh. This was my first time using bergamots. They appear late in citrus season, and I feel kind of lucky to have found them the day I was looking. Their fragrance is citrusy-floral and a bit like that of lemon blossoms. If they’re not available, lemon zest and juice is the best substitute. The freekeh was soaked in water, drained, and then cooked with garlic and bergamot zest. Once tender, the bergamot juice was added, and the freekeh was left to stand for a few minutes before being drained. Red onion wedges were sauteed in olive oil, and chard was cooked until just wilted. To serve, the freekeh was spread on a platter, onions and chard were added on top, peeled and sliced blood oranges were added, and pieces of burrata were nestled into place. Last, a drizzle of olive oil went over everything, and I garnished with parsley leaves rather than mint because that’s what I had available in my herb garden. 

Blood oranges with burrata is a wonderful thing, and the chard and nutty freekeh were great with that combination. I quickly fell for the flavor and perfume of bergamots which were a lovely addition to the grain. A lot more citrus pieces will be added to my compost as I cook more from this book, and it’s going to smell amazing. 

Blood Orange, Burrata and Freekeh Salad 
Recipe excerpted with permission from Citrus: 150 Recipes Celebrating the Sweet and the Sour by Catherine Phipps, published by Quadrille April 4, 2017. 

Serves 4 

100g / 2/3 cup freekeh 
600ml / 2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock 
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
1 tsp finely grated bergamot zest (or lemon zest) 
Juice of 1/2 bergamot (or lemon) 
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling 
2 small red onions, sliced vertically into thin wedges 
A large bunch of chard, shredded 50ml / 
3 1/2 tbsp water 
2 large blood or blush oranges, peeled and sliced, any juice squeezed from the peel reserved 
1 large or 2 small burrata 
A handful of mint leaves 
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

This is a very happy confluence of ingredients; smoky nuttiness from the freekeh, earthiness from the chard, a creamy sweetness from the burrata, all pulled together by the fragrant, sweet-sour citrus. The bergamot is purely optional as its flavour is subtle here, but if you can, please do: bergamots are still in season (just) when blood oranges come in, so it should be possible to find them. Use lemon zest instead if not. 

First cook the freekeh. Soak it in plenty of cold water for 5 minutes, then drain and rinse thoroughly. Put in a medium saucepan with the stock, garlic and zest. Season with salt, then bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 15–20 minutes until cooked – it should be plumped up but still with some bite. Add the bergamot juice and leave to stand for a few minutes before straining. 

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion wedges and sauté over a medium heat until starting to turn translucent – you want them softened but not completely collapsed. Add the chard, along with the water, and cook over a gentle heat until the chard has wilted down and the stems are still al dente. Season with salt and pepper. 

Arrange the freekeh over a large platter and top with the onions and chard. Pour over any reserved juice from the blood oranges – there should be a fair bit. Break up the burrata over the salad, then top with the orange slices and mint leaves. Drizzle over a little olive oil. 

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Salted Almond Butter Chocolate Bars

I didn’t get a chance to tell you about these delightful treats when I made them a few months ago, so I’m taking the opportunity now. It’s another recipe I enjoyed from A Modern Way to Cook: 150+ Vegetarian Recipes for Quick, Flavor-Packed Meals by Anna Jones. It’s one of those not-too-decadent sweets that you taste and don’t realize anything is missing until you’re told. There’s no refined sugar in the bars and no flour or grains of any kind, and they can be made vegan. As a bonus, they’re easy to make too. You just have to wait briefly for the bars to chill at a couple of points, and then wait for the chocolate to set after dipping. Then, you’ll have something like a much better version of an Almond Joy made with the ingredients you choose. 

The first step is to grind seven ounces of whole almonds in a food processor until they become almond butter. Next, three tablespoons of honey or agave syrup or maple syrup is added with two tablespoons of melted coconut oil, the seeds from a vanilla pod, and a pinch of salt. The mixture is processed to combine. Five ounces of unsweetened, shredded coconut is added next, and you should pulse a few times to form a dough of sorts. The dough needs to be patted into a parchment-lined eight-inch square pan, and the pan then needs to be placed in the freezer for a few minutes for the dough to set. Meanwhile, seven ounces of dark chocolate should be broken into a heat-proof bowl to use as a double-boiler. Melt the chocolate over a saucepan with simmering water and set aside. The chilled dough is then removed from the pan and cut into whatever shapes you prefer for the bars. After cutting, place them on a baking sheet and chill again before dipping. Once the melted chocolate has cooled slightly and thickened, dip the cut and chilled bars and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet to set. Sprinkle with flaky sea sat after dipping in chocolate. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for the chocolate to set, and then store refrigerated. 

I found the mix of chocolate, coconut, almonds, and a bit of flaky sea salt impossible to resist. And, since they’re the kind of treat you don’t need to feel too guilty about, I predict there will be frequent appearances of them in my kitchen. There’s a similar recipe in the book that I need to try next called Raw Cookie Dough Bars, and that one is made with Brazil nuts pulverized in a food processor. And really, every single page of this book has something I want to try. 

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Glamorgan Sausages

Do you have an opinion of British food? Has your opinion changed in recent years? Lately, British cuisine seems to be surging forward with England, Scotland, and Wales receiving 181 Michelin stars in 2015 and several restaurants and chefs gaining popularity internationally. In Colman Andrews latest book, The British Table: A New Look at the Traditional Cooking of England, Scotland, and Wales of which I received a review copy, he examines the changes in British food and its perception over the centuries. He writes: “The mystery isn’t so much why British food is so good today, but why it ever wasn’t.” The coastline, the soils, the microclimates have always been there for producing great ingredients, and the region was known for superior meals until sometime in the 19th century. Heston Blumenthal is quoted for suggesting that the Victorian “abstemious moral code” had something to do with people turning away from the pleasures of dining well. Later, French cuisine became more fashionable than traditional, British fare. A food revival began in the mid-20th century with influence from immigrants at the same time as a new look at heritage foods was starting. The book covers traditional foods and more current inventions from across Great Britain. It’s an interesting combination of history and current events in the British food scene, and it’s full of beautiful photos by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. Among the lovely soups, there’s Cullen Skink which is a smoked fish soup, and now I need to get my hands on some finnan haddie to make it. In the Fish and Shellfish chapter, Poached Salmon Steaks with Whisky Sauce and Fillet of Cod with Parsley Sauce both caught my eye. There are poultry and meat dishes in addition to wild game and offal. It was interesting to learn that “Game Chips” that are served with Roast Grouse are what the British usually call “crisps,” but regardless of the name, they look delicious. Expected names like Yorkshire Pudding and Cornish Pasties appear in the Savory Pies chapter, but I was surprised to find Vegetarian Haggis among the vegetable dishes. It’s made with lentils and has been served at The Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow since the 1970s. The book also includes snacks, sweet, and a chapter for Whisky, Cider, Beer, and Wine. I wanted to try something vegetarian and was very curious about that version of haggis but decided on Glamorgan Sausages instead. 

Obviously, there is no sausage in vegetarian Glamorgan sausages. The name of these Welsh croquettes came about because of their sausage-like shape and the use of cheese made from the milk of Glamorgan cows. The recipe calls for Caerphilly or another Welsh cheddar, but the best I could do was to find Montgomery Cheddar from Neals Yard Dairy. First, finely chopped leek and scallion were sauteed in butter, and since it is kale season, I had to add some chopped kale. I seem to add it to everything when I can. Next, the cooled leek and scallion mixture was combined with bread crumbs, grated cheese, thyme, parsley, and dry mustard. It was seasoned with salt and pepper, and egg yolks were added and mixed to combine. Rather than chilling the mixture at this point, I shaped the croquettes and chilled them before proceeding with the breading and frying. The mixture was shaped into “sausages” about four inches long. After chilling, each croquette was rolled in flour, dunked in egg whites, and dredged in bread crumbs before being cooked until golden all around. 

These are hearty and savory, little croquettes. I was surprised at how filling they are and decided they are certainly as substantial as regular sausages. The aromatic leek and scallion give them a lot of flavor along with the rich cheese. I realized this was the first time I had cooked anything Welsh, but it definitely won’t be the last.

Glamorgan Sausages 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The British Table: A New Look at the Traditional Cooking of England, Scotland, and Wales


The earliest reference anyone has been able to find to these Welsh vegetable croquettes is apparently a line by the nineteenth-century English author, translator, and traveler George Borrow in his book Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery, vintage 1862. After spending the night at a raucous inn at “Gutter Vawr” (the Welsh mining town formerly called Y Gwter Fawr and since renamed Brynamman), he descends from his room for a morning meal. “The breakfast was delicious,” he reports, “consisting of excellent tea, buttered toast, and Glamorgan sausages, which I really think are not a whit inferior to those of Epping.” Interestingly, he doesn’t mention that they contain no meat (Epping sausages are pork sausages flavored with assorted herbs, often cooked without casings). Glamorgan, in far southern Wales, is one of the thirteen original Welsh counties, and was once a small kingdom of its own. These sausages—which were originally a farm family’s meat substitute—are said to have been named not for the county but for the cheese made from the milk of Glamorgan cattle, an old Welsh breed now almost extinct. 

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick / 55 g) butter 
1 medium leek, white part only, very thoroughly washed and very finely chopped 
1 scallion, trimmed and very finely chopped 
2 cups coarse bread crumbs 
8 ounces (225 g) Caerphilly or Welsh cheddar, grated 
Leaves from 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme 
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley 
1 teaspoon dry mustard 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
2 large eggs, separated 
1 tablespoon whole milk 
1/4 cup (55 g) clarified butter 
1/2 cup (65 g) all-purpose flour 

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat, then add the leek and scallion. Cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are beginning to soften. Let cool to room temperature. 

In a large bowl, combine the leek and scallion mixture, about three-quarters of the bread crumbs, the cheese, the thyme, the parsley, and the mustard. Season generously with salt and pepper, then stir in the egg yolks and the milk and mix the ingredients together thoroughly. 

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 1 hour. 

Shape the mixture into 8 to 12 sausage shapes, about 2 inches (5 cm) thick and 4 inches (10 cm) long. 

Heat the clarified butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Sift the flour onto a plate and spread the remaining bread crumbs out on another plate. Roll each sausage in flour, dip it in the egg whites, then roll it in bread crumbs. 

Fry the sausages for 8 to 10 minutes, turning them occasionally, until they are golden-brown on all sides. The sausages may be served hot or at room temperature. 

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Empire Cookies

Who doesn’t love a celebration? The cookbook I want to tell you about today is focused on pure fun. Butter Celebrates!: Delicious Recipes for Special Occasions by Rosie Daykin, of which I received a review copy, has recipes that are perfect for several major holidays and other reasons to celebrate throughout the year. Butter Baked Goods is the author’s bakery in Vancouver, and it has become an important part of lots of customers’ celebrations. She mentions that it’s very important to her to always remember that their baked goods aren’t just cakes or cookies, they are elements of shared memories of important days. It’s a great reminder that all the moments we choose to celebrate become those things we remember most. And, it’s lovely inspiration to whip up something sweet and delicious for the next occasion that comes along. Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, so I got to work on the heart-shaped, sandwich Empire Cookies as soon as I saw them. The Heart-Shaped Raspberry Pop Tarts were a close contender. For Easter, there are orange-flavored Bunny Buns that are shaped with little ears sticking up on each bun and Coconut Marshmallow Bunnies. I want to bake the Lemony Lemon Loaf for my mom for Mother’s Day, and if no friends’ baby showers pop up on my calendar, I’ll find another reason to make Lamingtons. Of course, there are chapters for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s as well. But, let’s get back to those Valentine’s cookies. 

The dough is like sugar cookie dough and is made with butter, confectioners’ sugar, eggs, vanilla, pastry flour, and salt. I used a mix of whole wheat pastry flour and all-purpose flour. Once mixed, the dough needs to be chilled before being rolled out. After chilling, my dough was a little crumbly and seemed like it might not roll out easily. I remembered a tip from Maida Heatter about kneading cookie dough to be sure it’s well-mixed. A quick turn or two of kneading by hand was all that was necessary, and then the dough rolled out nicely. It needs to be rolled somewhat thin so that the cookies won’t be too thick once sandwiched in the end. Heart shapes were cut, and I cut enough for one baking sheet of mini hearts as well. The cookies were baked and cooled before being frosted and filled. No need for piping bags or fancy techniques here. A simple frosting of confectioners’ sugar, water, and almond extract was spread on the top of half the cookies. Next, jam was spread on the bottoms of the remaining cookies. I used locally-made Confituras Cranberry Cinnamon jam for the filling. The hearts were sandwiched together and ready to be served. 

These cookies are especially festive due to the shape and the red jam filling, and they happen to be irresistible once you taste them. They’re a nice mix of tender and crunchy, and aromatic almond extract makes the frosting delightful. Like the rest of the not-too-fussy-or-complicated recipes in this book, this was a treat to make a special day even more memorable. 

Empire Cookies 
Excerpted from Butter Celebrates!: Delicious Recipes for Special Occasions by Rosie Daykin. Copyright © 2016 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. 

These cookies came about at the bakery after constant daily requests from customers. I am not sure why I resisted for so long given my love for all things raspberry and almond, but when I did eventually answer the cry, I made a lot of people very happy. For Valentine’s Day we cut them into pretty scalloped hearts but you can make them year-round using a simple circular cutter. 

3/4 cup butter, room temperature 
1 cup icing sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla 
2 3/4 cups pastry flour 
1/2 teaspoon salt 

Finishing Touches: 
1 cup icing sugar 
2 tablespoons hot water 
1 teaspoon almond extract 
3/4 cup raspberry jam 

Makes: 1 1/2 dozen (2.5- x 2.75-inch) heart-shaped sandwich cookies 
You will need: heart-shaped or 2.5-inch circular cookie cutter, 2 (11- x 17-inch) rimmed cookie sheets lined with parchment paper 
Storage: These cookies will keep in an airtight container for 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months. 

1. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. 

2. Add the egg and the egg yolk and beat on medium speed until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla. Beat again. 

3. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly add the flour and salt until fully combined. 

4. Shape the dough into a large disk and wrap it in plastic wrap. Allow the dough to chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. 

5. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

6. On a well-floured work surface, roll the dough out with a rolling pin until it is approximately 1⁄8 inch thick. You don’t want the cookies too thick as you will be sandwiching two of them together. Cut shapes with cookie cutters. Very carefully, using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets. 

7. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are a light golden brown around the edges. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool slightly on the trays before trans- ferring them to wire racks to cool completely. 

8. Meanwhile, prepare the icing. In a small bowl, combine the icing sugar, hot water and almond extract. Using a whisk or spoon, stir the icing until it is smooth and glossy. 

9. Using a small teaspoon, place approximately 2 teaspoons of raspberry jam on the bottoms of half the cookies. Using the back of the spoon, gently spread the jam almost to the edges of the cookie. 

10. Use a small offset spatula to top the other half of the cookies with the almond icing. Don’t press too hard when doing this as they are delicate cookies and you don’t want your tops breaking! 

11. Place the iced cookies atop the raspberry-filled bottom and press gently to sandwich them together. 

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Smoked Trout Spread with Homemade Crackers

I couldn’t agree more with the message Maria Rodale puts forth in her new cookbook, Scratch: Home Cooking for Everyone Made Simple, Fun, and Totally Delicious, of which I received a review copy. In the Introduction, she writes “I believe that a home-cooked meal made from scratch – preferably with organic ingredients (and maybe even homegrown) – is one of the greatest pleasures in life.” She goes on with “Cooking from scratch isn’t about impressing friends and neighbors (although you probably will); it’s about nourishing our families and ourselves. And the truth is, when it comes to making delicious and easy food from scratch, it truly is freaking easy!” She happens to be the granddaughter of the founder of the organic movement in the US and grew up on the first official organic farm in the country, but she’s also very open-minded and practical about what will and won’t work for everyone. There’s nothing preachy or judgmental about her advice and suggestions. Her hope is to inspire readers to make the most nourishing food they can with the freshest, healthiest ingredients they can get. The recipes are simple enough for beginner cooks tackle for the first time or for practiced cooks to make part of a routine. There are several salads to choose from, and one that got my attention was the American-style Antipasto Salad with red peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, olives, pickled cauliflower and more. The Noodle Love chapter includes a couple of options for mac-and-cheese along with other sauces for pasta and even instructions for making fresh pasta if you want. Lots of variety is found in the recipes for main dishes. I’m interested in the Red Beans and Rice since this version is a little different than what I’ve seen before. Smoked turkey wings are used to make a broth, and the meat is taken from the bones and added to the beans later, and the rice is cooked with coconut milk. Some other great-looking dishes include Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls, Chicken Cacciatore, and Crispy-skin Salmon with Herb Dressing. There are also side dishes and sweets in the book, but I got side-tracked by the Snack Time chapter. 

I love making homemade crackers and have made a few different types over the years. The promise of this recipe being the quickest and easiest convinced me I had to try it. It is a simple mix of whole wheat pastry flour, water, and olive oil. I found I needed to add some extra flour to get the dough to a consistency for easy rolling. And, in usual fashion, I made the recipe more complicated than it needed to be. In the book, the dough is placed on a baking sheet and simply rolled or pressed out to the corners. Then, the dough is cut into squares or whatever shape, sprinkled with salt or whatever desired toppings and baked. Instead, I rolled the dough on a floured surface, cut even shapes with a fluted pastry cutter, transferred the cut pieces to a baking sheet, and sprinkled with salt, pepper, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds. I actually enjoy pulling out my kitchen ruler and measuring dough to cut it. The purpose of making homemade crackers was to use them as delivery mechanisms for Smoked Trout Spread. Before making this, I was telling a few friends about my cooking plans for the weekend. I’m so glad I mentioned it because my friend told me about Ducktrap River smoked trout from Maine. I wasn’t familiar with it, but it’s sold at our Whole Foods Market, and it’s incredibly delicious. I’ll be thinking of all sorts of ways to use it now. The spread is made with softened cream cheese, lemon juice, minced onion, chopped herbs, and flaked smoked trout and I added some lemon zest as well. I combined everything except the trout and mixed until smooth and then stirred in the flaked trout. 

If you’re looking for snack ideas for a big football game in the near future, may I suggest Smoked Trout Spread with Homemade Crackers? The smoky flavor with the lemon and onion make this a savory delight, and crunchy homemade crackers that you can customize to your liking are perfect with it. And, if you’re in need of some simple recipes to make for your family or friends, this book would be a great place to look. 

Smoked Trout Spread
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Scratch: Home Cooking for Everyone Made Simple, Fun, and Totally Delicious.

I’ve always wanted to make a trout spread and finally came up with this recipe, which is so simple and easy. My youngest sniffed it suspiciously the first time before trying it. After tasting it, she closed her eyes and smiled. “That’s good,” she said. Mission accomplished. 

Serves 4 

8 ounces smoked trout, skin removed 
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature 
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion 
Salt and freshly ground pepper 
Finely chopped chives or parsley, for garnish 
Toasted bread or Homemade Crackers, for serving 

1. Flake or chop the trout into little pieces and place in a bowl. 

2. Add the cream cheese, lemon juice, onion, and salt and pepper to taste and mix until combined. (I find using my hands works best as it helps soften the cheese.) 

3. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with the herbs, and serve with bread or crackers. 

Homemade Crackers 
It started with a picture I saw in the local paper about making crackers from scratch. I saved it, but then never found it again. So I decided to experiment. A quick search online and I was disturbed by the complexity of the recipes I found. I wanted the quickest, easiest, no-fuss option, so I pulled the essence out of the recipes I saw and came up with these simple crackers. My kids now ask for them constantly; a batch never lasts more than 24 hours. 

Serves 6 to 8 

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour 
2/3 cup warm water 
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for the pan 
sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or other toppings

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 17 3 11-inch rimmed baking sheet with oil. 

2. In a bowl, combine the flour, water, oil, and 1 teaspoon salt and stir until combined and a dough forms. Place the dough in the center of the prepared baking sheet and roll out roughly with a rolling pin or use your hands, and press it into the corners. No need to be fussy here, rustic is great! 

3. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut even squares, rectangles, or whatever shape takes your fancy. Sprinkle with salt and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden. Set aside to cool (the crackers will harden as they cool). Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days. 

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