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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Easy-to-Make Brussels Sprouts for Thanksgiving or Anytime

Prepping for Thanksgiving reminded me of my mother's kitchen. Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday when my sister and I would join her in the kitchen and friends and family gathered around the table to share a meal.
She grew up in a household with her mom, dad, brother and four step-brothers from her dad's first marriage. Hers was a blended home in New York city with a lot of advantages and many disagreements. I think that's why she enjoyed Thanksgiving in her own home. No sibling rivalries, no mother looking over her shoulder to tell her how to make the turkey.

Brussels sprouts were always on the table for Thanksgiving. She was of the boiling-vegetables-school. She did that with beets, broccoli, carrots and Brussels sprouts. My wife and I are of the roasting-is-better method of cooking vegetables, especially Brussels sprouts.

Shopping for Brussels sprouts this week at the farmers market, I noticed that they were difficult to locate and they were priced at $4.50-5.50 a pound, higher than usual.

If you find small sized ones, they are good to cook whole or cut in half (top to root/bottom). The larger ones are best shredded, cutting from the top to the bottom-stem part so that most of the slices hold their shape.

In either case, the seasoning can be as simple as a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt. As a side note, do not use iodized salt. If you like kosher salt, only use Diamond Crystal brand without additives.

I wish my mom were with us Thursday. I'm certain she would like the roasted sprouts.

Have a great Thanksgiving.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts - Whole

Yield: 4 servings

Time: depending on size 30-45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, stems trimmed of any brown spots

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with a Silpat sheet, parchment paper or aluminum foil.

In a mixing bowl, toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil and seasonings.

Roast in the oven for 30-45 minutes, turning them every 10 minutes for even roasting.

Serve hot.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts - Shredded

Yield: 4 servings

Time: depending on size 30-45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, stems trimmed of any brown spots

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with a Silpat sheet, parchment paper or aluminum foil.
To shred, place a Brussels sprout on the cutting board, stem side down. Slice from top to stem so the slices keep their shape. In effect you have created a cross-section of the vegetable.

In a mixing bowl, toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil and seasonings to coat well.

Spread the shredded sprouts on a lined baking sheet. For crispy edges, avoid layering the sprouts on top of one another.

Roast in the oven for 30-45 minutes, turning them every 10 minutes for even roasting. Because they are cut, there should be browning on the edges. Be careful not to burn them.
Serve hot.

Variations

Before serving, sprinkle with bits of crisp bacon.

Before serving  add 2 tablespoons charred onion slices.

Before serving sprinkle on 2 tablespoons crushed roasted hazelnuts.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Pickles, Pickles, Pickles for Thanksgiving, the Holidays and Anytime



No doubt the people who made the first pickles thought they had made a mistake. Somebody accidentally forgot about some raw vegetables in a pot with an acid and salt. Surprise, surprise. A week later, the vegetables weren’t moldy, no bugs had eaten them and, deliciously, they had a nice crunch and tang. Thus was born, the pickle!
In the 1920s, my great-grandfather made pickles on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Grandmother Caroline used to tell stories about working in their little grocery store as a child. When customers would want pickles, she would hop off the counter and go out front to the pickle barrels and fish out the ones they wanted.
I never knew her parents. I never ate their pickles, but I must have brine in my veins because wherever I travel, I am always on the look out for pickles.

Moroccan pickled veggies

Moroccan pickled vegetables
In Morocco at a cooking class in Marrakech at La Maison Arabe, Amaggie Wafa and Ayada Benijei taught us to make Berber bread, couscous with chicken and vegetables, chicken tagine with preserved lemons and clarified butter, tomato marmalade, eggplant-tomato salad and preserved vegetables.
The cooking class lasted four hours. The time it took to show us how to make preserved or pickled vegetables: five minutes.
To Wafa and Benijei, the process was so easy, there were no pickle recipes. A little of this, a little of that, throw the vegetables into a jar, shake it up, put it in a cupboard and in a week, voila, you have pickles.

Pickle recipes tip from Grandma

From my grandmother I learned that making kosher dill pickles was a little more complicated. In retrospect, I think that’s because pickling cukes are more prone to decay than are the carrots, parsnip, fennel and green beans used in Morocco.
For Thanksgiving I always make kosher dill pickles. This Thanksgiving I’m making both.
Pickles are very personal. What one person loves might be too salty or vinegary to another. It may take you several tries before you settle on the mix of salt, vinegar and spices that suits your palate.

Lower East Side Kosher Dill Pickles

When making kosher dill pickles keep in mind four very important steps:
1. Select pickling cukes, not salad cucumbers, and pick ones without blemishes or soft spots.
2. Taste the brine to confirm you like the balance of salt-to-vinegar. The flavor of the brine will approximate the flavor of the pickles.
3. Once the cukes are in the brine, they must be kept submerged in an open container.
4. When the pickles have achieved the degree of pickling you like, which could take three days to a week, store the pickles in the brine, seal and keep in a refrigerator where they will last for several weeks.
Ingredients
8 cups water
¼ cup kosher salt
1 cup white vinegar or yellow Iranian vinegar (my preference)
4 garlic cloves, skin removed, root end trimmed off, cut into thin strips
5 dried bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
10 whole mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or 1 dried Sichuan pepper, split open
5 sprigs of fresh dill
5 pounds small cucumbers, washed, stems removed, dried
Directions
1. In a non-reactive pot, heat the water and vinegar on a medium flame. When the water gently simmers, add the salt and stir to dissolve. Do not allow the water to boil.
2. Dip your finger in the brine, taste and adjust the flavor with a bit more salt, water or vinegar.
3. Place the garlic and spices in the bottom of a gallon glass or plastic container. Arrange the cucumbers inside.
4. Pour in the hot brine being careful to cover the cucumbers. Reserve 1 cup of brine.
5. To keep the cucumbers submerged in the brine, find a plastic cup that is not as wide as the mouth of the container. Place the reserved cup of brine into the plastic cup and put into the container to press down on the cucumbers.
6. Place the container in a dark, cool corner of the kitchen. Check daily to make sure the cucumbers are submerged. If the brine evaporates, use the reserved brine in the plastic cup, replenishing the liquid in the cup with water to weigh down the cukes.
7. After three days, remove one cucumber and sample. If you like your pickles crisp, that may be enough time. If they aren’t pickled enough for you, let them stay on the counter another few days.
8. When you like how they taste, remove the cup and seal the top. Refrigerate the container.

Moroccan Style Preserved Vegetables

In Morocco, virtually any vegetable can be preserved. In the class, we were shown green beans, fennel, parsnips and carrots. Experiment and see what you like, including asparagus, zucchini, beets, daikon, eggplant, daikon and broccoli.
Whatever you try, prepare the vegetable by washing, peeling and cutting them into thick sticks (carrots, daikon, parsnips, zucchini, eggplant, broccoli), some cut thin (fennel, beets, parsnips) and others left whole but with the ends trimmed (green beans, asparagus).
You may prefer the vegetables cut into rounds rather than sticks. The fun thing about pickling is you can personalize your pickles, making them any way you like.
Ingredients
2 whole carrots, ends trimmed, washed, peeled, cut into pieces 4-5 inches long, ¼-inch thick
1 medium sized fennel bulb, washed, fronds removed, outer leaves and root end trimmed and discarded, cut into thin pieces 3-4 inches long, ⅛-inch thick
12 green beans, washed, ends trimmed, cut into pieces 4-5 inches long
4 parsnips, washed, ends and skins removed, cut into pieces 3-4 inches long, ¼-inch thick
1 medium yellow or red onion, washed, ends removed, thin sliced either into circles or slivers
4 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or 1 dried Sichuan pepper, split open, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 garlic clove, skin removed, root end trimmed off, cut into thin strips
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1½ cups white or yellow Iranian vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Directions
1. Sterilize two quart-sized glass or plastic containers. Carefully place the vegetables vertically in the containers. Divide the garlic, salt and dry spices and pour into the two containers.
2. Combine the water and vinegar. Mix well. Taste. If you find the mixture too acidic, slowly add water until you like the flavor.
3. Pour the water-vinegar mixture into the jars, making sure the liquid covers the vegetables.
4. Seal the jars and shake well to dissolve the salt and mix up the spices.
Refrigerate. Wait one week and taste. Wait longer if they aren’t pickled enough. They will keep in the refrigerator for months.

 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thanksgiving's Best Appetizer: Turkey Liver Pâté

Turkey Pâté Appetizer

Thanksgiving is almost upon us. With the guest list finalized and all your favorite recipes organized, there is only one unanswered question: what to do with the turkey liver?
Even people who love chicken livers view turkey liver as too much of a good thing.
Whoever has the job of prepping the turkey on Thanksgiving Day frequently looks with bewilderment at the large double-lobed liver in the bag tucked ever so neatly inside the turkey.
Following my mother’s lead, my solution is to turn lemons into lemonade or, in this case, turkey liver into pâté.
My mother prepared chopped liver using a shallow wooden bowl and a beat-up, double-handled, single-bladed mezzaluna knife that her mother had given her.
She would cut up and sauté the turkey liver with a chopped up onion. Two eggs would go into boiling water. Once hard-boiled, they would join the sautéed liver and onion in the wooden bowl, which she would hand to me along with the mezzaluna.
While she prepared the turkey, she put me to work.
As a 9-year-old, I would sit on a stool with the wooden bowl on my lap, rocking the mezzaluna back and forth, chopping up the livers and hard-boiled eggs.
Periodically my mother would check on my progress and, when everything was reduced to a fine chop, she would retrieve the bowl, add melted chicken fat and mix everything together.
Just before our guests arrived for Thanksgiving dinner, she transferred the chopped liver to a serving bowl and put it on the dining room table with a plate of saltines and the other appetizers, a platter of black pitted olives, whole radishes and vegetable crudités.

Mushroom and Garlic Turkey Liver Pâté

My mother liked her chopped liver rustic style. It is a matter of taste, but I prefer turkey liver when it is made with a food processor, creating a smooth pâté.
To balance the richness of the liver, the pâté needs sweetness (caramelized onions), saltiness (sea salt), heat (black pepper) and earthiness (hard-boiled egg and mushrooms).
Serves 8
Ingredients
1 turkey liver, approximately ½ cup

2 fresh, large eggs

2 medium yellow onions, ends and peel removed, washed, roughly chopped

2 cups mushrooms, brown, shiitake or portabella, washed, roughly chopped

¼ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, skins removed, washed, finely chopped

2 tablespoons sweet butter

¼ cup olive oil

sea salt and black pepper
Directions
  1. Wash the uncooked liver and pat dry. Using a sharp paring knife, remove and discard all fat and membranes. Cut liver into half-dollar-sized pieces.
  2. Place the eggs into a pot of boiling water. Cook 10 minutes, remove from water, let soak in cold water to cool, remove and discard shells.
  3. In a large sauté pan over a medium flame, melt the butter and lightly brown the onions, mushrooms, parsley and garlic. Add the pieces of turkey liver and sauté until lightly brown, being careful not to overcook the liver, which should be pink inside. Season with sea salt and black pepper.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the sautéed liver and vegetables into a large food processor, add the hard-boiled eggs and pulse. Slowly add olive oil, a little at a time. Use the rubber spatula to push any accumulation off the sides of the mixing bowl.
  5. Continue pulsing and adding small amounts of olive oil until the pate is creamy. Depending on the size of the turkey liver, you might use more or less of the olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.
  6. Use the spatula to transfer the pâté from the food processor to a serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The pâté can be kept in the refrigerator 1-2 days.
  7. Before serving, take the pâté out of the refrigerator, place on the counter out of the sun and allow to come to room temperature. Serve with crackers, toast points, fresh sourdough or French bread.
Variations
  • Instead of Italian parsley, use 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves.
  • For a denser pâté, use 1 hard-boiled egg instead of 2.
  • Add ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder to the sauté for heat.
  • Add 1 slice bacon, finely chopped to the sauté and brown until crisp.
  • Add 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar to the sauté.
  • Sprinkle 2 tablespoons red onion or scallions, finely chopped, over the pâté just before serving.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fast, Easy and Delicious Can't-Resist Salmon for a Meal or an NFL Game Day Snack

Eating healthy makes good sense and doesn't have to take a lot of time. One of my favorite dishes is a dry rub roasted salmon that makes its own glaze.

Roasting a salmon filet is perfect for a family meal, NFL game day or a party entree. For a pot-luck dinner last weekend with friends, I  made roasted salmon and a Little Gem lettuce salad with carrots. Healthy, nutritious and delicious and oh so easy.
To get the salmon from refrigerator-to-table, all I needed to do was season the filet with dry rub and place it in the refrigerator. Overnight the mix of sugar, salt and aromatics drew moisture out of the fish. The dry rub turned into a wet slurry that became the base for a sweet-heat savory glaze. 

The filet takes 30 minutes to cook in the oven. The glaze takes 5 minutes to cook in a saucepan.

Because the salmon is best served at room temperature, the dish can be cooked ahead of time and served when everyone is ready to eat. Which makes it ideal to make ahead when you know you will be busy before the meal.

For brunch, the salmon can be served with toasted bagels and cream cheese and with scrambled eggs. For lunch, dinner or watching a football game, add a green salad and pasta and you have an entire meal.

Dry Rub Salmon with Brown Sugar Mushroom Glaze

Adding tomato sauce to the glaze mellows the flavors. You can use canned tomato sauce but making your own will taste much better. Roasted tomato sauce is so easy to make, I would encourage you to make a lot and freeze the sauce in 6 ounce air-tight containers. That way, when you want to make a pasta sauce you will have roasted tomato sauce in the freezer.



Yield 4-6 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Marinating Time: Overnight

Cooking Time: 50 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour + marinating overnight

Ingredients

2 - 3 pounds fresh, skin-on salmon fillet, preferably wild not farm raised, washed

Dry Rub

2 1/2 - 3 cups brown sugar, depending on the size of the filet

1/3 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

Glaze

1/4 - 1/2 cup dry rub wet slurry from overnight refrigeration

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon raw onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley or kale

2 large shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, pat dried, stem end trimmed, finely chopped

1 large tomato to make 1/4 cup roasted tomato sauce

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 500 F. Remove the stem from the tomato. Place the whole tomato on a Silpat sheet or parchment paper on a baking tray.
Roast 20 minutes. Transfer the tomato and any juices from the baking tray into a food mill or a fine mesh strainer. Press the tomato to collect the juices and pulp. Reserve skin and seeds to make vegetable stock or discard. Set tomato sauce aside or refrigerate in an air-tight container. The sauce can be frozen if made ahead.
Inspect the filet and remove any bones. Trim off small fins if there are any and discard. Pat dry.

In a bowl, mix together the dry rub seasoning.

Measure a piece of plastic wrap that it is longer than the filet by 5" on all sides. Lay the plastic wrap on a flat surface.

Spread half the dry rub on the plastic wrap. Lay the salmon filet on top, skin side down. Spread the remainder of the dry rub on the salmon.

Fold over the ends of the plastic wrap so the salmon and dry mix are pressed against each other.  Put the package into a plastic bag and seal.

Place the plastic bag on a baking sheet in case of leaks. Refrigerate.

The next day, remove the salmon filet. The dry rub will have become a wet slurry.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

To make the glaze, place the bag in a bowl. Remove the salmon from the plastic bag and plastic wrap being careful to capture all the liquid. Use your hand to scrape off any dry rub that clings to the filet or the plastic wrap. Mix together any remaining dry rub and the wet slurry.

Line a baking tray with aluminum foil and place a small wire rack on top of the aluminum foil. Place the salmon filet on the wire rack, skin side down. Place in the oven.

In a small sauce pan, heat olive oil and sauté onion, mushrooms and Italian parsley or kale until lightly browned. Add dry rub slurry and roasted tomato sauce. Mix well. Simmer 5 minutes. Set aside.
After the salmon has been in the oven 20 minutes, remove. Place a generous amount of the glaze on top and return to the oven another 10 minutes. Reserve any extra sauce.
Remove from the oven. When the salmon is cool enough to touch, use a pairing knife to help remove the filet from the wire rack. Keep the skin on the filet.  When transferring the salmon to a decorative plate, be careful not to disturb the toping.

Serve at room temperature with the extra sauce in a small bowl.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Lot of Veggies + A Little Protein Makes For a Massively Delicious Hearty Meal

I love meat. A big steak. Fried chicken. A rack of ribs. But I also love veggies. Carrots. Onions. Cabbage. Mushrooms. English peas. Spinach. Broccoli. Asparagus. When I want to prepare an easy-to-make meal, I turn to vegetables to help me out. Full of flavor, vegetables cook quickly and get a meal on the table without too much effort.

For today I'm going light on the meat and heavy on the vegetables and aromatics. The portion for each person (pictured below) uses only one chicken leg or thigh and one pork sausage. That small amount of animal protein will add a large amount of flavor that will grab on to the vegetable flavors and bundle them into umami deliciousness.
Vegetables You Love and one Chicken Leg (or Thigh) and one Sausage Per Person 

Sautéing the vegetables, chicken and sausage in seasoned olive oil adds flavor by caramelizing the outside. That lovely browning also removes some of the water, concentrating flavors.

The dish cries out for a starch. Since the recipe will create a sauce, serve the ragout with dumplings, steamed rice (brown or white), pasta or large croutons.
Use any vegetables you love. In many dishes, cutting vegetables into a small dice adds to the flavor but that makes the vegetables disappear. To create a hearty dish, cut the veggies into large pieces.

Pork sausage is best because the fats add more flavor than other sausages. For those who want to avoid pork, the sausage is certainly optional.

Skin on the chicken adds flavor.

The dish can be prepared ahead, even the day before and reheated.
Use cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, English peas, spinach, celery, corn kernels, quartered Brussel sprouts, green beans, slow roasted tomatoes finely chopped or any other vegetables you enjoy. The vegetables should have a crisp quality, so avoid over cooking. Leafy vegetables will cook more quickly, so delay adding them until the end or, if reheating, add those just before serving.

Only use green cabbage. Red cabbage will discolor the broth. Savoy cabbage has more delicate leaves and more flavor than does green cabbage.

Time to prepare: 20 minutes

Time to cook: 40 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

4 large chicken legs or thighs, skin on, washed, pat dried

4 Italian pork sausages, washed, pat dried, cut into 1" rounds

1 large yellow onion, root and stem ends, outer two layers removed, washed, pat dried

4 large carrots, washed, root and stem ends, outer skin removed

2 cups green cabbage, preferably Savoy

3 cups mushrooms, preferably Shiitake, cleaned, pat dried, end of stems and dirt removed, thinly sliced

1 bunch spinach, washed to remove grit, drained, stems removed from leaves and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, washed, skin removed, finely minced (optional)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pinch cayenne (optional)

Directions

If using large cabbage leaves, separate the delicate part of the leaves from the thick rib. Finely chop the rib into small bits. The delicate leaves and the finely chopped ribs will be cooked at different times.
Heat olive oil in large pot. Season with a dusting of sea salt, black pepper and cayenne (optional). Add chicken legs or thighs. Remove when lightly browned on both sides.

Add sausage rounds. Brown as with the chicken and remove.

Sauté onions, finely chopped spinach stems, finely chopped cabbage ribs and mushrooms until softened. Add browned chicken parts. Cover with water. Cover pot and simmer 30 minutes or until chicken is tender. Check every ten minutes and add water if needed to keep covered.

Add browned sausage rounds,  spinach leaves, cabbage leaves, carrot rounds, garlic (optional) and any other similar vegetables, like Italian parsley, broccoli or celery. Add water to cover if needed. Cover pot and simmer 10 minutes.

Add English peas if using in the last 2 minutes.

Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. If broth needs more concentrating, return the pot to high heat and reduce liquid until flavorful.

Serve hot with dumplings, steamed rice (brown or white), pasta or large croutons.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Perfect Soup - Healthy, Delicious Creamy Kabocha Squash Soup

I love soup. A cold soup in summer and a hot soup in winter are wonderful comfort foods. The best soups for me are ones that not only nourish but delight with layered flavors.  In summer a light and spicy watermelon-gazpacho takes the edge off soggy, sultry days. In cool weather, a satisfying soup of roasted squash is filling and refreshing.
With cooler weather approaching, a great many varieties of squash will be available in farmers markets. My favorite is the Japanese squash kabocha. A squat round squash with a flecked dark green outer skin, the flesh can be bright yellow or pumpkin orange. Similar to butternut squash, kabocha is sweeter and cooks more quickly.
I first enjoyed kabocha as light and crispy tempura at Yabu, a sushi bar in West Los Angeles. Included in an order was a sheet of seaweed, shrimp, shiso pepper, shiitake mushroom and kabocha. With only one slice of each to an order, my wife and I divided up the sampling but we always shared the sweet flavored kabocha.

Over the years, I tried preparing kabocha using different techniques. Boiling, steaming, roasting and deep frying. Boiled, the flesh absorbs too much water and becomes soggy. Deep frying is specific to tempura. Steaming softens the flesh. Roasting puts a crust on the outside.

I discovered that combining steaming and roasting created full-of-flavor, firm fleshed pieces. We serve steamed & roasted kabocha as a side dish to accompany grilled fish, chicken and meat. Cut into bite sized pieces, the kabocha is delicious added to soups, stews and braises. Pureed, kabocha creates a deliciously sweet and creamy soup.
For a pot-luck brunch at a friend's beach house, I decided to make kabocha soup. Still out of season locally, kabocha can usually be found in Asian, Latin and Persian markets.

To make a vegetarian/vegan soup, I used homemade vegetable stock. Homemade chicken stock can also be used because of its light flavor but I wouldn't use beef or seafood stock because they are too strong.

Homemade stock is much preferable to store bought because the flavors will be cleaner and the salt content will be much lower. We always have a good supply of homemade stocks in the freezer so I can make soup at a moment's notice.

Making vegetable stock is easy, with a little planning and one important kitchen tool: a food mill. Vegetable stock can be made with a variety of your favorite vegetables. Dice and simmer carrots, celery, onions and mushrooms for an hour with water until soft. Run the liquid and softened vegetables through a food mill to create a delicious stock with pulp, ideal for making soups and sauces.

An alternative method is the one I prefer. During the week I collect vegetable trimmings as I prepare salads and stir fries. I place them into a sealed bag in the freezer. When we have corn on the cob, we put the cobs in the freezer as well. Once there is a large amount collected, all the trimmings and cobs go into a large stock pot. I add enough water to cover and simmer uncovered for an hour or more until the stock has flavor. Then the trimmings, except the corn cobs, go into the food mill as described above. I freeze stock in 16 and 8 ounce sealed containers for times when I want to make a soup or a braise.

Richly Flavored Kabocha Squash Soup

If kabocha is not available, butternut and acorn squash are good substitutes. But they are not as sweet.

If shiitake mushrooms are not available, brown and portabella mushrooms are good substitutes.

The slow roasted tomatoes are easy to make. While you sleep or read or work around the house, the tomatoes cook in the 225 F oven. Slow roasting removes the tomato's water, concentrating the flavors, bringing out sweetness. After the tomatoes are removed from the oven and cooled, they can be refrigerated or frozen in an air tight container. Remove the paper thin skins before using.  The skins aren't edible but they add a wonderful flavor to vegetable stock.

To puree the soup and create a creamy texture, use an immersion blender or a blender. I like the immersion blender because of the easy clean up. When blending, no need to remove all small vegetable bits. A bit of texture is good.
As a topping, homemade croutons or charred greens (escarole, spinach or kale) and onions are good.

Serves 4 (entree) or 8 (starter)

Time to prep: 30 minutes

Time to cook: 60 minutes plus 6 hours to make slow roasted Roma tomatoes

Total time: 90 minutes plus 6 hours to make slow roasted Roma tomatoes

Ingredients

2 large Roma tomatoes, washed, stem removed, cut in half from stem to tip

1 1/2 pound kabocha squash, washed, skin on, quartered from top to bottom, seeds and pulp removed and discarded

1 cup sliced mushrooms, preferably shiitake, washed, pat dried

1 medium and 1 small yellow onion, washed, root and stem removed, skin removed and discarded

2 cups kale leaves, washed, stems removed, finely cut

6 cups homemade stock, vegetable for vegan and vegetarian soup or chicken stock

1 cup escarole, spinach or kale, washed, finely shredded

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch cayenne (optional)

Directions

Before you go to bed or while you are working around the house, preheat the oven to 225 F. Place the halved Roma tomatoes on a Silpat or parchment sheet on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven 5-6 hours. Remove when the tomatoes are still plump and they have reduced their size by half.
Remove tomatoes and allow to cool. If using immediately, remove the skins and discard or use to make vegetable stock. Finely chop the roasted flesh and reserve.

Place 2" water and kosher salt into the bottom of a large pot. Place a steamer basket into the pot with the quartered kabocha on top. Cover. Bring water to boil. Cook 10 minutes or until a pairing knife can be easily inserted into the flesh. Remove and cool.
Using a pairing knife, remove the kabocha skins and discard. Place the steamed kabocha on the Silpat or parchment sheet covered baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Place into preheated 350 F oven. Cook 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.
Heat a tablespoon olive oil in a large pot. Sauté but not do not brown mushrooms, medium onion slices and kale. Cut roasted kabocha into quarter sized pieces and place into the pot. Add stock. Stir and simmer 30 minutes.

Heat a teaspoon olive oil in a small frying pan. Saute the sliced small onion and chopped escarole, spinach or kale until charred. Remove and reserve.

Taste soup. Adjust seasoning with sea salt and/or black pepper. Taste and add cayenne (optional).

Using an immersion blender or blender, puree soup until smooth allowing for some vegetable bits.

Serve hot with the charred escarole and onions sprinkled on top.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

To Eat Well and Eat Healthy, California's Bay Area Chef's Use Flake Salt on Summer's Best Produce

Recently I was invited to take a culinary tour of the San Francisco Bay Area. That meant exploring Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose eating, drinking and meeting chefs. The restaurants were as varied as they could have been. They served pizza, steak, soul food, Mexican dishes, sushi, Portuguese and Vietnamese cuisine.
Two were Michelin starred, San Francisco's Omakase and San Jose's Adega Restaurant.  All were well-known local favorites. I loved each and every one of them.

Looking over my notes and photographs getting ready to write about the trip, I noticed something interesting. In four of the restaurants, chefs had taken special notice of the flavor enhancing qualities of specialty salts.

For years I have been using sea salt and additive-free Diamond Crystal kosher salt when I cook. On this trip I was impressed with the ways in which chefs used flake salts to finish their dishes.

Two chefs curated high quality flake salt

In Oakland at A16 Rockridge, as the pizzas I had ordered were baking in the wood fired oven, Isaiah Martinez, Executive Sous Chef, served me a plate of roasted calamari with deep fried Corona beans and paper thin slices of lemon. I took at bite. Delicious.

Before I could take another bite, Martinez sprinkled flake sea salt on the dish. I tried another bite. The flavors were brighter and cleaner.  At A16 Rockridge, Jacobsen's Sea salt is not used during cooking but as a finishing salt, sprinkled on at the last minute to protect its delightful crunch.
At chef Marc Zimmerman's extraordinary Alexander's Steakhouse in San Francisco, premium steaks are accompanied with a tray of a dozen+ salts. With my steak from Hokkaido, Japan's northern most island where the weather is cold and the cattle retain their fat to keep warm, I dutifully tasted each salt. Preferring some over others. The clear favorite for me was Murray River Flake Salt from Australia. The pink salt had a clean taste, just like Jacobsen's, but with an added minerality that worked well with the rich flavors of the beef.


Two chefs transformed flake salt by adding flavor

At Craftsman and Wolves, an upscale artisanal bakery and cafe in the evolving Mission District, chef William Werner creates inventive pastries and baked goods. He makes brownies flavored with Marcona almonds and salted caramel. His morning buns are beautiful works of art and inventively flavored with wild bariani honey, vanilla and Meyer lemon.
One of the bakery's most popular items is called The Rebel Within. Secreted inside the breakfast muffin is a whole soft boiled egg. Served with the muffin is a tabasco flavored flake salt. The crunchy, spicy salt works perfectly with the custardy egg and delicately flavored muffin.
Chef Gustavo Romero Veytia created a seasoned salt because he hates waste. At Calavera Mexican Kitchen & Agave Bar in Oakland's Uptown, Veytia uses a lot of roasted tomatoes to make salsas and sauces. He found himself throwing away mounds of tomato skins that were still full of flavor.

His solution was to roast the skins until they were parchment-paper-crisp before crumbling them together with Maldon flake salt. The result was a tomato salt that he sprinkles on special dishes like his Ensalada de Tomate. He dresses a richly flavored sampling of local summer-ripe tomatoes with a light cheese and crumbled chorizo dressing. Scattered along the sides of the plate are tomato flakes. A few of those sprinkled on a tomato and a superior dish becomes an extraordinary dish.

At home

So I could try Jacobsen's and Murray River flake salts in my own kitchen, I ordered them online as soon as I returned home.
At our Sunday Pacific Palisades farmers market, I picked up all I needed to create an easy-to-make feast. I could have used the outdoor grill but I am so in love with my de Buyer carbon steel pan, I cooked the salmon and veggies in the kitchen where I could more easily control the amount of char.

Even if you do not yet have these wonderful flake salts, you can have fantastic results using sea salt at the end to finish the seasoning.

Charred Vegetables and Salmon Filets With Flake Salts

If you have a quality flake salt like Maldon, Jacobsen's or Murray River, all the better, but definitely sprinkle on sea salt just before serving so the salt retains its crunchy freshness.
Murray River flake salt has a delicate minerality which is why it works so well with the steaks at Alexander's.  Made with water harvested from Netarts Bay off the Oregon Coast, Jacobsen's has a lighter, more delicate flavor and a bit more crunch than Maldon's. 

Murray River does not sell its products directly online except in Australia. Jacobsen's is available directly from the company. Both are available online from multiple sources. Maldon Salt is widely available in kitchen supply stores, upscale markets and online.

These salts cost quite a bit more than supermarket sea salt, but you only need a little to add a lot of flavor.
All of these companies sell flavored versions of their salts. I am certain they are lovely, but for this dish, use naturally flavored flake salt.

Serve with a tossed green salad, steamed rice or pasta.

Serves 4

Time to prepare: 15 minutes

Time to cook: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound fresh salmon filets, skin on, bones removed, washed, pat dried

1 large yellow onion or 5 shallots, washed, peeled, stems and ends removed

4 ears of corn, husks and silks removed, washed, pat dried, cut into 3" sections

4 medium sized carrots, washed, ends removed, peeled, cut into slabs 2" long, 1/2" thick

6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, ends trimmed, cut into thick slices (optional)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon flake salt, Maldon, Jacobsen's or Murray River to taste

Directions

Mix together the two oils and set aside.

Carefully check the salmon filets for bones. Remove any that might have been missed before. Using a sharp knife, create pieces 3" long and 1" wide. That size piece is easy to handle.

Prepare all the vegetables before beginning to cook.

Put the cast iron or carbon steel pan on a high flame with the overhead exhaust fan on. Do not add oil until the pan is hot.

When the pan smokes, drizzle on a tablespoon of the mixed olive oils. Season with a dusting of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Using long tongs, sauté the vegetables separately since they cook at different speeds. Start with the carrots. When they are charred on both sides but not burnt, remove and set aside.

Do the same with the onions and mushrooms (optional).

Add more of the mixed oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.

Put the cut pieces of corn on the cob into the pan.

Turn the cobs in the hot pan until most of the kernels are charred. Work in batches if necessary.

When all the vegetables are cooked and reserved and the rice, salad or pasta has been prepared, add a bit more mixed oil to the pan.
Place the salmon pieces in the hot oil. Work in batches if necessary. Turn each piece so it browns on all sides.

Place the vegetables on a plate. Add the salmon. Just before serving, top with flake salt. Serve immediately.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Watermelon Ice Cubes Make A Cool Summer Cocktail


Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
You love summer but not when it is uncomfortably hot. For relief, you could jump into the pool. Or, you could cut a thick slice of watermelon and let the sweet juices cool you down. Even better, you could fill a tall glass with a watermelon cocktail made with watermelon ice cubes and straight-from-the-freezer vodka and settle into the chaise lounge. You stir the ice cubes. Bits of watermelon juice break free. The crystal clear vodka turns pink. You sip, stir and eat a watermelon ice cube and suddenly you are not overheated any longer.  Now, you are cool and happy.

The non-alcoholic version is as delicious. Fill a tall glass with watermelon ice cubes and pour in freshly made lemonade. Stir and enjoy.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

Summer is good for watermelon. They grow quickly in the heat of the sun, producing fat, heavy fruit loaded with sweetness.
At the farmers market I was always told to use a hand to thump on the melon. When the sound was deep and resonant, the melon was ripe, ready to eat. If there is a farmer you frequent at your neighborhood market, ask for advice about a good melon that’s ready to eat.
Prices for watermelon vary greatly. At Asian and Latin markets, watermelon can sell for as little as 10 cents a pound. At upscale supermarkets and farmers markets, the prices can be significantly higher.
A melon is delicious at room temperature or ice cold. I like to chill the melon overnight in the refrigerator. Of course, the easiest way to eat watermelon is to use a sharp knife to cut out a thick slice.
But when I was in Zurich recently I met Olivier Rais, a talented chef who runs the bistro Rive Gauche in the iconic hotel Baur au Lac across the street from Lake Geneva. He had just returned from working with Tal Ronnen, the celebrated chef who created Crossroads Kitchen, an upscale Los Angeles restaurant devoted to vegan cuisine.
Rais made several vegan dishes for me to taste, one of which was a watermelon-gazpacho served in a glass.
I love watermelon but had never thought of extracting the juice. When I replicated his gazpacho at home, I had watermelon juice left over. Deciding to experiment, I reduced the juice in a sauce pan over a low flame. Once the juice cooled, I poured it into a mini-ice cube tray.
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
That night I added the ice cubes to vodka that we keep in the freezer. I dropped in an espresso spoon, settled into a chair and stirred my drink. After a few sips, I realized that I had stumbled onto an easy-to-make, deliciously refreshing cocktail. Summer’s perfect drink.
Serve the cocktail with an espresso or small spoon. One of the pleasures of the drink is stirring the ice cubes. As the ice cubes melt, the watermelon juice infuses the vodka. The mellow sweetness takes the edge off the vodka.
As you stir, the ice cubes crater and reduce by half. Use the spoon to scoop up the icy bits. In an effervescent moment, the softened ice cubes dissolve like pop rocks in your mouth.

Watermelon Surprise

Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Use any size plastic ice cube tray. The mini-trays that make 1” square ice cubes work well because the ice cubes melt easily. Use only unflavored premium vodka, and for non-alcoholic drinks, add the ice cubes to glasses of carbonated water or lemonade.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Freezer time: 1 hour or overnight depending on the temperature of the freezer
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes or overnight and 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 (3-pound) watermelon, washed
8 ounces unflavored premium vodka
Directions
1. Place the vodka bottle in the freezer the night before serving.
2. Using a sharp knife, remove the rind from the watermelon. Discard.
3. Cut the melon into chunks, removing any seeds.
4. Place a food mill or a fine mesh strainer over a non-reactive bowl.
5. Press the watermelon chunks through the food mill or strainer, capturing all the juice in the bowl. Discard any pulp and seeds.
6. Pour the juice into a sauce pan over low heat. Reduce volume by 30%. Remove from stove. Allow to cool.
7. Pour the reduced juice into the ice cube tray.
8. Place into freezer.
9. Just before serving, pour 1½ ounces ice cold vodka into each glass. Place 5 to 6 ice cubes into each glass.
10. Serve with an espresso or small spoon.
Main photo: Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt