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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Savory Croissant Bread Pudding: So much better than it looks.


Bread pudding is something of an inside joke between Annie and I.

Not that there's anything inherently funny about the dish (not ha-ha funny, anyway–certainly turning stale bread into desert is a mite odd, although considering the Russians make a drink out of it, we could be doing a lot worse.)

No, it's that Annie has a problem. A couch problem. Specifically, she often can't so much as come into contact with a couch (ours or anyone else's) without falling sound asleep. (In fact, she's done it again as I'm writing this.) I have embarrassing photos that I'm really tempted to post, but for now I'll refrain.

Anyway, not long after returning from a trip to Malawi in April 2014, Annie and I were sitting on the couch late one evening (this is when I was still living with Ken), I turned to say something to her, and realized she was out cold. Ordinarily I'd just wake her up and we'd haul ourselves off to bed, but I was still finishing my antimalarials and had to wait two more hours before I could take the next dose. With her asleep, I wandered into the kitchen, saw the loaf of stale bread on the countertop, and decided that the best way to kill time was to make bread pudding at 11:30 at night. Since, as I think I've discussed in these parts before, I don't have much of a sweet tooth, I went with a savory approach--sautéed leeks, which I happened to have on hand, white cheddar, and a spiced custard spiked with Worcestershire sauce. I poured everything into a baking dish, covered it with foil, stuck it in the fridge, got Annie semi-awake long enough to drag her upstairs, and we swiftly fell asleep. She was quite perplexed to discover the next morning, while no apparent time had passed for her the night before, I'd made brunch that was now going into the oven. And once I'd gotten the idea into my head, I did this again some evening while she was dozing, and she began to joke that she could make bread pudding appear by sleeping. On both instances I took pictures, intending to post the recipe here, but as with a great many recipes, I didn't get around to it.

My pudding productivity has dropped off since then, but it's a lovely trick to pull out every once in a while, especially since really good bread always goes stale in about five minutes. Savory bread pudding in particular is something I'm shocked isn't more common--while the sweet kind can get a bit one note and cloying in anything but a small portion, and doesn't seem to have that wide a scope of variation, savory bread puddings are a blank canvas. I've put every allium from shallots to scallions to caramelized onions into them, roasted tomatoes and green chiles, and flavored my custards with a wide variety of spices and sauces, and it always comes out terrifically. So, here's my latest variation, done this past Sunday, done after I was in a cafe the preceding evening and kindly given the two croissants in the case that would otherwise have gone to waste. The results were complex, hearty, decadent, and absurdly satisfying. Enjoy–and then try out a variation of your own.

Savory Croissant Bread Pudding
(Serves four normal people or two very hungry ones)
Two large plain butter croissants
Two leeks, split, washed, and finely sliced
Two segments preserved lemon, finely chopped (optional but highly recommended)
Two breakfast sausage patties, fully cooked and chopped (I used morningstar farms vegetarian, but real pork sausage would be even better)
3/4 cup grated white cheddar (Cabot works very well)
1 tsp oregano
Dash hot sauce (Cholula is my personal favorite)
Pinch cumin
Salt
Pepper

One cup milk
Two whole eggs
One tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
Generous splash Worcestershire sauce
1-2 tsp sherry (opt)
Large dash of smoked paprika
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch cayenne
Salt
Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 250. Tear croissants into small irregular chunks and toast on a sheet pan or baking dish until dry and crispy (~15 minutes)
2. Sauté leeks and preserved lemon with oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, and hot sauce until leeks are browned, somewhat sweet and slightly charred. Reserve and set aside.
3. In a small mixing bowl, add two eggs and mustard to milk and whisk until smooth. Add Worcestershire sauce, sherry, and spices, adjusting to taste.
4. In a large mixing bowl, combine croissant pieces, leek mixture, cheese, and sausage. Pour over ~1/3 of the custard mix and fold with a spatula until absorbed. Repeat with the next 1/3 of the custard mix, and then add remaining custard only as necessary to ensure mixture is fully moistened.
5. Transfer bread pudding mixture into a buttered baking dish, and let stand at least 15 minutes and up to overnight
6. When ready, preheat oven to 350 and insert baking dish uncovered. Bake for 25-35 minutes, until croissant pieces are firm and golden brown.
7. If desired, crisp the top under the broiler for 1-2 minutes until fully browned and crisp
8. Serve immediately.

Ok, this photo really doesn't do it justice--this was just what was left after we devoured the rest of it, but here goes. I promise you, this tasted pretty terrific.







Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sneaky (and tasty) No-Mayo Tuna Salad

They say necessity is the mother of invention–but if so, boredom and procrastination are at least its stepparents.

Tuna salad is one of the things I whip up most often, and am most proud of my renditions of. It and scrambled eggs may be the two greatest "what you make of them" dishes ever; while essentially zero effort will produce bland but more-or-less edible versions, a touch of technique and creativity (plus a well-stocked pantry) can turn them into something delicious and expressive with barely any work, and let you feel like you've actually cooked something that still gets to your mouth within 15 minutes.

The "what you make of it" factor also applies to how healthy the sandwich is. Plain tuna mixed with a big glop of mayo and neon-green sweet pickle relish on white sandwich bread certainly won't do you any favors (and that's before you add the American Cheese and fry the thing in butter). On the other hand, mix in some chopped bell pepper and artichoke hearts, add some cucumber and tomato slices and good fresh salad greens, and you could at least do a lot worse.

Still, there's one big issue healthfulness-wise that there seems to be just no getting around: mayonnaise.  The relative merits of the gloopy white stuff are one of Annie's and my few culinary disagreements. She's quite fond of it, whereas while I don't hate it–it's a useful means to an end where a creamy sauce is called for–I find it adds fat without any flavor, or at least any pleasant one. I don't use it as a condiment, and I prefer my potato salads and coleslaws done with vinegar instead. In tuna salad though, it seems usually necessary to get the texture right. I've tried to fight it; I've made tuna salads based on everything from tahini to pesto to greek yogurt, and some have worked out pretty well, but the texture is never quite right, and the flavors either limit you to specific applications or simply overpower everything else. Time and again, I've gone back to the mayo, and found myself dumping large quantities of every other flavorant I have on hand into my tuna just to overcome mayo's power to dull the things it's included in.

Today, though, a happy accident revealed an alternative. Annie had cooked up some red lentils for her dinner the night before (I was in Worcester for a poetry show), and I was going to have them for lunch today. We also had some very nice wheat bread from NE's best bakery chain When Pigs Fly on hand though, and I wanted something that would go with that, so on a whim (and to get away briefly from working at home) I tossed the leftover lentils into the food processor along with some Dijon mustard, garlic powder, balsamic vinegar, and a splash of fish sauce and pureed them into a spread. I put a bit on some slices of bread with some arugula, stuck the rest in a tupperware and into the fridge, and thought no more about it until tonight, when I decided tuna salad was in order, and saw the container as I was searching for things to flavor it with. What had been a thin sauce straight out of the food processor had thickened nicely, and to my pleasant surprise, stirring it into the tuna made it unctuous and creamy just like mayonnaise--but with a pleasantly nutty flavor and subtle bite that contributed without overpowering. A few other supporting condiments, some chopped olive and bell pepper, sliced cucumber, and a light slathering of the English standby Branston Pickle brought everything together into a top-notch sandwich--no mayo required.

Obviously, I'm not suggesting you boil a pot of lentils every time you want a tuna sandwich; certainly  don't have that kind of patience. Maybe, though, this will induce you to make some extra next time–or, indeed, to try experimenting with other legumes that might do the same job. I can confidently say this, at least: even if I weren't trying to improve my diet, if I had this puree on hand, I'd never reach for the mayo when making tuna salad again.

Lentil Puree Tuna Salad
Serves 2 generously

Puree:
1 cup cooked lentils. Do them how you like--Annie tossed hers with olive oil, cumin, hot sauce, and a splash of white vermouth, then boiled them as normal. You want these relatively soft and a little on the wet side.
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard.
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (adjust to taste)
Generous sprinkling of fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce (unless lentils are hot already)
1 large pinch garlic powder (or 1 clove very finely minced garlic)
Generous sprinkling of cumin
Salt and pepper

Add all ingredients to food processor and run at full speed ~30 seconds, until mixture is completely smooth. Move to sealed container and refrigerate for at least one hour, up to overnight.


Tuna Salad (here especially, feel free to adjust the seasonings to what you already have):
1 can tuna (I like Tonino, and happened to have the oil packed, but water packed should work)
Lentil puree
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup green olives (I like Castelvetranos for this), minced
1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce (opt)
Large pinch smoked paprika
Dash cumin
Dash ras-el-hanout
Sriracha to taste
Salt and pepper.

Combine tuna, olives, and bell pepper in medium mixing bowl. Add the puree, a tablespoon or two at a time, stirring after each, until you reach your desired consistency. Add the vinegar, Worcestershire, and seasonings, and add more puree if necessary to re-adjust consistency. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready.

Sandwich (and this is just one possible version, of course):
1 small cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
Country-style wheat bread, sliced medium-thick
2 teaspoons Branston Pickle Relish (1 for each sandwich)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (1/2 for each sandwich)
1/2 cup baby arugula (1/4 for each sandwich
Tuna salad

Spread one side of the sandwich with Branston Pickle and the other side with mustard. Lay out cucumber slices on one side, top with tuna, then arugula (crunch it in your hand to make it stay on the sandwich more readily), then the other slice of bread.

The mysterious puree. 


The finished sandwich. My lack of photography skill is evident, but it tasted terrific.


e-mail us: you can send your comments, recipes, or a personal message to  Colin at: everything-tasty@annedesigns.com

Thursday, June 4, 2015

When Feeling Fried: Cod Tacos and Mexican Sandwiches




Frying is a funny thing. On the one hand, we trust every fast food emporium, greasy spoon, and college cafeteria to do it decently well-and usually we're more or less right. On the other hand, even as we boldly braise, fold, and roast in our own kitchens, we tend to be scared of attempting it ourselves. Big bubbling pots of oil are intimidating things after all, and the process is both rapid and mysterious--something wholly inedible looking gets dropped into a pot, bubbles furiously as things splatter in all directions, and then is fished out, delicious and ready to satisfy your late-night pub grub cravings. My mother reacted in horror when Annie and I proposed making Chiles Rellenos last year, sure we'd burn the house down (we did not).

This week though, I found myself in possession of cod and corn tortillas, and had just made my standard fish tacos that use baked/oven poached fish a few weeks ago (but that's another post) and decided to try something different--namely, beer battering. Since I have no sense of proportion, there was enough for a second dinner, and so some Mexican-accented fish sandwiches happened as well. Try either, try both-- the batter is light and flavorful, the cod comes out flaky, and I promise, only the fish will wind up fried and crunchy.

Freshly fried fish.

The Fish
Serves 4 for 1 meal or 2 for 2

1 pound cod
Salt
pepper
vegetable oil for frying

Batter (adapted from All Recipes "Beer Batter Fish Made Great"):

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for adjustments
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon cumin (fresh ground if possible)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle beer

Cut fish into pieces no more than three inches long and 1.5 inches wide. Pat dry. Season the fish with salt and pepper to taste. Spread out on a plate or piece of parchment paper.

Combine dry ingredients for batter. Stir in beaten egg. Slowly stir in beer. Let sit up to several hours; if you are pressed for time, it can be used immediately.

Half-fill a sturdy Dutch oven with neutral oil and turn on high heat. To test for optimal frying temperature, place the handle of a wooden spoon into the hot oil. When bubbles form around the spoon, the oil is hot enough for frying. Prepare a draining rack for the fish: Cover a plate or pan with paper towels, and place a wire or metal rack (the kind that comes with a toaster oven is fine) above it.

Using sturdy metal or wooden tongs, dip one piece of fish into the beer batter. Shake gently to remove excess batter, but make sure not to shake off too much. Drop into the oil and have a slotted spoon ready to remove as much loose batter as possible from the oil. When the test piece is brown, remove it from the oil. The piece should be uniformly coated in a thin yet crisp batter. If bits of fish are uncovered or the batter looks too thin, stir in more flour. If the batter is thick or soggy, add more beer or seltzer water. If using fresh oil, the first few pieces may be pale in color - this is normal.

Working a few pieces at a time, dip the fish into the batter, gently drop it in the oil, and monitor it until it is brown and ready to be removed.  (This process is easier with two people: one person dipping the fish and placing it into the oil, and one person scooping the batter bits and removing the fish when it is ready.) Removing the batter pieces buys you more time; eventually, burned bits in the oil will start to smoke or give the fish a burned flavor, so work quickly. When all the pieces are fried, let stand until cooled down enough to eat and thoroughly drained of oil.

A note for those hoping to get two dinners out of this recipe: Resist the urge to fry all the fish at once. It will be fine this way, but the second night, you'll lose the freshly fried crispness. Instead, save the leftover batter in the fridge. It may separate, but whisk it back together and try the test piece technique as above. The oil can be saved as well; let it cool and filter it through a fine strainer to remove as much debris as possible.

Now, on to the recipes.

Fried Cod Tacos
1/2 recipe Beer-Battered Fish, above
12 corn tortillas (6 if you want single-ply tacos, but don't say we didn't warn you)
1 red bell pepper
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
1 recipe Guacamole (see below)

Toppings:
Sour cream
Limes
Salsa of your choice (we like salsa verde)
Cilantro

Split the red pepper down the middle and remove seeds and ribs. Brush lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast under the broiler in an oven or toaster oven until the pepper is soft and its skin is thoroughly blackened. Place in a zip-top bag for 10 minutes. Peel off the skin (which will come off easily) and slice into strips.  To warm tortillas, place on a pan in a 300-degree oven or toaster oven for 5 minutes, covered with a damp paper towel.

To serve: Stack two tortillas, top with guacamole, and place fish on top. Add pepper strips, and toppings of your choice. Besides the ones we used, you could also add some mild cheese like cotija or queso fresco, or a quick-pickled vegetable like cabbage or red onions, or hot sauce... go wild, but make sure all the individual flavors have the chance to shine. Serve with cold beer.

A delicious taco with all the fixings.



Guacamole:
2 avocados
Juice of 1 lime
1 heaping tablespoon cumin (fresh ground if possible)
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
Small handful cilantro, chopped
1 small tomato, cored and chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mash with a potato masher or other heavy implement. Taste and adjust seasonings. Chill in fridge for as long as possible before serving. Leave in avocado pit and cover with plastic wrap to prevent browning.


Mexican-Style Fish Sandwiches

1/2 recipe Beer-Battered Fish
2 torta rolls or 4 slices sturdy bread
1 cup arugula
Sprinkling of romano or parmesan
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
Salt, pepper, sugar to taste
1 recipe Black Bean Spread (see below)
1 recipe Adobo Aioli (see below)

First, dress the arugula. Combine lime juice, olive oil, garlic powder, and mustard powder. Adjust salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Toss the arugula and romano in the dressing.

*horn noise* A-ruuuu-gula! A-ruuuu-gula!


Lightly toast the bread. Spread a layer of black bean spread on each side. Place half the dressed arugula on each sandwich. Just before eating, add the fish and drizzle with aioli. Top with other slice of bread and serve immediately, with cold beer.


Black Bean Spread
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 avocado
2 cloves garlic
1 chipotle in adobo, diced
Handful of cilantro, washed and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon cumin (freshly ground if possible)
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar, worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in food processor. With motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until a smooth paste is formed. Adjust seasonings to your liking.

Adobo Aioli
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons adobo sauce (reserved from can of chipotles in adobo)
Zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients until a thin, creamy texture develops. Chill until sandwiches are ready to serve.

Sandwich assembly.


If you've read down this far, another super-secret hint: In case you haven't figured this out by now, you could easily swap the toppings for the tacos and sandwiches. Have fun, and happy frying.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Happy Quarter-Century, Colin! A Birthday Feast.

Editors note: In a change of pace (as if anything associated with this blog had "pace"), this post is by Annie, for reasons that will shortly become clear.

In the nearly three years we've been dating, Colin and I have cooked together a lot. We've tried out new recipes, modified existing ones, and cobbled together new ones from scratch. I've served as Colin's sous chef plenty of times, and once or twice he's been mine. And of course, he's cooked some of his favorite dishes for me. But I realized not long ago that there was a glaring omission from the list of culinary adventures we've had together: I had never cooked a whole meal, start to finish, for Colin.

(All right, that isn't strictly true. One time we had planned to make a squash tagine, but Colin was running late and I ended up making the whole thing, with a bit of prep help from Ken, before he got home. But that time, he helped pick out the recipe and get the ingredients. For the sake of drama and narrative, consider this the first meal I've ever cooked for Colin.)

Naturally, with Colin's twenty-fifth birthday coming up, I saw my perfect opportunity to cook Colin an unforgettable birthday dinner. But what do you make for a guy who could go on Chopped, find a cardboard box in the ingredient basket, dip it in savory egg batter, and still make it to the next round? I put a lot of thought into this. Pad Thai? No, we've made it a few times before. Eggplant Parmesan? While my Italian relatives would certainly be proud, I decided I wanted to serve him something truly unique - something with a variety of influences tied together with an improvisational spirit, just like Colin's usual mode of cooking. Anything that needed to be served hot was right out, since I knew I was going to work a late shift and I wanted to have everything prepared in advance. Eventually, I came up with a menu of cold dishes united by a couple of common elements, which I could easily make the day before (which, fortunately, was my day off) and bring over for final preparation on the big night.

The Salad Course
The idea of this salad began with the candied walnuts. I reasoned that I could prepare them in advance and assemble the salad on the spot. The flavor profile was inspired by a similar idea I've seen Colin apply to brussels sprouts and preserved lemons: hot red pepper and fish sauce, plus enough sugar to get a bit of caramelization on the outside. I glanced at this basic candied walnut recipe- which essentially just outlines the principle of how to candy walnuts- and used it as the base for my improvisation. Feel free to mess with the spices - but do try this particular combination. If you want it to be vegetarian, swap the fish sauce for soy sauce. If you like, you could use Worcestershire instead to give it a different spin, flavor-wise. All the amounts here are pretty approximate.

Green salad with Spiced Candied Walnuts.


Spiced Candied Walnuts
2 Tbsp butter
2 cups walnuts
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground red (hot) pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1 Tbsp fish sauce

Heat the butter in a nonstick pan of sufficient size to hold all the walnuts. Add the hot pepper and turmeric, and cook for 1 minute or so. Add the walnuts and sugar and stir until the walnuts are coated in a thick caramel. Watch carefully to prevent browning. Once the caramel has formed, spread the walnuts onto waxed paper. Be sure to distribute them evenly over the paper if you want individual walnut pieces; if you want walnut brittle, spread them in a thick layer. Serve over salad or for snacking.

I have been making variations on fruity salad dressings since I was a kid. I distinctly remember my mother having a Pampered Chef cookbook that used apricot jam in just such a dressing, although I don't remember if that version included mustard as well. Tonight, I ad-libbed this dressing and served it on a store-bought spring greens mix, topped with Spiced Candied Walnuts and some crumbled Danish Blue cheese which I had on hand because of its role in the main course (described below).

Mustard Dressing
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp raspberry jam (or other jam of your choosing)
1 Tbsp stone ground mustard
1 Tbsp prepared dijon mustard
Black pepper to taste
 
Combine all ingredients, whisking to blend. Serve over green salad. I don't really eat meat, but I think this would go just fine with a meat dish as well.
Salad, dressing, extra walnuts, and a white wine I brought to go with it.
 

The Main Course
Some time ago, I mentioned to Colin that my family enjoys making a recipe called Scottish Oat Bites: a savory, oaty cracker made with a crumbly, veined cheese of the chef's choosing. Ever since I mentioned this, Colin has reminded me from time to time that I ought to make them so he can experience the cheesy goodness for himself. But, no matter how much I might have wished it as a kid, cheesy crackers aren't really a dinner food on their own. To turn them into - well, if not a main course exactly, then at least a suitably tapas-esque item, I had to get creative with the toppings. Colin got me hooked on smoked salmon only recently, and it definitely shines when served on a warm bagel slathered with cream cheese. So I decided to move the fish-bread-dairy combo from the breakfast table to the dinner table.

The serving setup for the crostini.


Smoked Salmon Crostini with Dill-Sumac Creme Fraiche
1 recipe Scottish Oat Bites (see below)
8 oz sliced smoked salmon
8 oz creme fraiche
2 sprigs fresh dill, chopped fine
1 Tbsp sumac
Black pepper to taste

Combine creme fraiche, dill, sumac and pepper. Chill the sauce until crostini are ready to serve. Cut the salmon into approximately two-inch squares. If oat bites have been made in advance, warm them in the oven for 4-5 minutes. Serve warm oat bites alongside platter of salmon and bowl of sauce. Alternatively, you could prepare the individual crostini in advance by topping each cracker with the cream and a slice of salmon before serving, but a) if left out for a while, the crackers might lose some of their crisp, and b) it's fun to help yourself from the serving platters. Serves 3-6, depending on how hungry you are.
Assembling the crostini.


When I texted my mother to inquire as to the origins of Scottish Oat Bites, she replied, "I can't remember." I think I first encountered them when my aunt made them for Christmas, but I'll need to do some more sleuthing. In any case, this was the first time I ever made a batch entirely on my own, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy they were to make. I ended up having to make do with a vinegar bottle in lieu of a rolling pin, and a chopper like this instead of a pastry blender, and they still came out just fine.

Scottish Oat Bites
1 cup oats (quick or regular; just don't use flavored oatmeal and you'll be fine)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp toasted wheat germ or wheat bran
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup cold butter, cut up
3/4 cup crumbled stilton or other blue veined cheese (about 3 oz.)
1/3 cup milk
1 Tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease baking sheets; set aside.
1. Place oats in blender, food processor, or spice grinder and grind to a mealy texture.
2. In a large bowl, combine ground oats and all dry ingredients (both flours, wheat germ or bran, salt, and baking powder).
3. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter and cheese until pieces are pea sized. In a small bowl, combine milk and honey. Stir until honey is dissolved.
4. Drizzle honey mixture over flour mixture. Toss together with a fork. Gently work mixture with fingers until dough clings together. If dough is too dry, add milk. If too wet, add flour. Turn dough out onto waxed paper or lightly floured surface. Knead for 2-3 turns or until dough is smooth. Divide dough in half.
5. Roll one dough half into about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out shapes or squares. Arrange dough pieces on prepared baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough, rerolling as needed. (If your work space is limited, roll 1/4 of the dough at a time instead.)
6. Bake 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Transfer to plate or wire rack to cool. Makes 48 crackers.
 
Scottish Oat Bites!

The Dessert Course
I had initially considered making a birthday cake of some sort, but ultimately decided I didn't want to pair two vaguely bready dishes together. I also wanted to avoid buying too many ingredients - particularly things I wasn't likely to use up. And of course, I needed something that could be prepared in advance. Thank goodness I live in the 21st century- I googled something like "desserts to make in advance" and was rewarded with this deceptively simple, delightfully tasty one-pot recipe. The only modification I made was to add a cup of coffee at the stage when milk is being whisked into the caramel; I think I also reduced the amount of milk, but as the liquid gets cooked down, I don't think it really mattered much. The coffee flavor was very mild. If you want anything more than just a little hint of coffee, use espresso or stir in some instant coffee.

Colin preparing to make a wish on his birthday pudding.
All told, I think it was quite the success. I'll definitely be making the pudding again the next time I need an easy and impressive dessert. And the salad and crostini are going on my list of meal combinations. Colin certainly enjoyed it. I guess I'll have to start planning recipes now for the next milestone birthday. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Stir-Crazy Vegetarian Chili and Sage Biscuits: Return of the Zombie Food Blog

It's freezing cold outside, and spring seems years away, but here's one thing making an early return from the dead: this blog. Hello again everybody!

I won't open this post with promises of regular updates from here on out; I've fallen down that rabbit-hole before, and the truth is that blogging on a schedule is simply not something I am good at. However I have missed Everything Tasty frequently in the last year or so--in fact (with plenty of assistance from Annie) I've even been fairly consistent about documenting and photographing what I cook, in preparation for the day I got round to writing again. It turns out that a great motivation for getting round to things is getting absolutely hammered by snow and being unable to leave the house, and so before tackling the backlog I present to you a thing I actually cooked today: an improvised vegetarian chili that's rich, filling, and full of complex and intense flavors that should satisfy even ardent skeptics of things that grow in the ground--while, depending on your levels of garnish restraint, being fairly healthy


Ingredients:
(which should be taken as suggestions; the whole point of chili is using what you can get your hands on. Also, usual caveats about my imprecise measurements apply)

1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 green bell pepper, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can kidney beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 can diced mild green chiles (opt)
2 canned chipotles, seeded and chopped (this will still be fairly spicy--use 1 for a milder chili)
1 bottle beer--I used a balanced IPA, but feel free to experiment; dark beers will work well.
6 ounces brewed coffee
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (opt)
Liberal shake of Worcester sauce and/or fish sauce (replace with soy sauce for strict vegetarians)
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 cinnamon stick
Salt
Black pepper
Red wine vinegar
Olive oil

Garnishes
1/2 avocado, sliced
2-4 ounces grated white cheddar
Sour cream, to taste
Chopped cilantro, to taste

1. In a large heavy-bottomed pot/dutch oven, sauté onion in olive oil over medium heat. When onion begins to brown, add garlic and bell pepper until softened.

2. Add tomato paste to the pan, increase heat to medium-high, and cook until the paste begins to brown and stick to the pan. When it does, add a generous shake of red wine vinegar and scrape the pan aggressively to deglaze.

3. Add the beans, draining the liquid from the kidney beans first, along with the diced tomatoes and beer. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

4. Add all other ingredients except the garnishes, and cook covered over medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes until flavors are thoroughly combined. Stir occasionally, taking particular care to scrape the bottom and sides.

5. Uncover, increase heat to medium, and cook for a further 15-20 minutes until substantially thickened. When finished, the liquid should cling to a wooden spoon without dripping.

6. Dish into bowls and serve with garnishes.

And there you have it. As to the biscuits, which were great and an excellent companion to the chile, I simply used Sam Sifton's recipe from the New York Times for All-Purpose Biscuits, which you can read here. My sole alterations were to mix two tablespoons or so of chopped fresh sage into the dough after it comes out of the food processor (which itself was merely cribbed from a *different* NY Times biscuit recipe), to brush the biscuits with a tablespoon or so of melted butter, and to sprinkle some Romano cheese on top.  In terms of technique advice which they don't include, the leftover dough scraps can be lightly squeezed and patted into a new rectangle which you should be able to punch another biscuit or two out of. With that I got about seven biscuits out of the recipe, making their estimate of people served a bit generous. It's quite a nice recipe, and the texture comes out a nice balance between cakey and airy. Since these aren't buttermilk biscuits, however, they lack that distinctive tangy flavor that those have; the advantage, however, is that you can make these without needing to have buttermilk on hand.

These biscuits were exciting to make for me, as biscuits are a food I dearly love (and have gone well out of my way to order) but had never actually made for myself before today. This mostly stemmed from a general uneasiness about baking; not because of any of the "men don't bake" nonsense you'll sometimes see from macho chefs on Food Network programming, but rather out of a probably irrational fear that baked goods (especially leavened ones) will somehow go horrifyingly wrong. With most forms of cooking I feel as though I understand the roles that each ingredient is playing and thus how free I can be to improvise and be imprecise with quantities; baking, on the other hand, has always felt like a chemical reaction in need of precise balancing. I'm happy to say that in this case, the experiment was a success.



(Photos by Annie Moriondo)


Friday, February 28, 2014

Pasta with Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Tomatoes

Of all the foods commonly eaten in the U.S., none have a more unjust reputation than the  Brussels  sprout. All across children's media in particular,  Brussels sprouts are lazy shorthand for "gross vegetable," just as the also unfairly maligned anchovy is for "gross fish." In fact, Brussels sprouts are both healthful and seriously delicious, with a deep flavor that's downright rich for a vegetable, and, if properly cooked, an immensely satisfying tender texture. Properly cooked is the rub, though—part of the root of their unfair reputation is that steaming or boiling your sprouts for too long not only makes them mushy, but releases glucosinolate sinigrin, a sulfurous compound that both tastes and smells quite unpleasant. Being more delicate with your steaming will fix that problem, but if you want to bring out the best in the Brussels sprout, the way to go is roasting (high, dry heat denatures the compound altogether, so such problems are entirely avoided.)

This dish was thoroughly an improv dinner for me tonight, but I really like how it turned out, and it has the advantage of being versatile for a wide variety of eaters: leave out the cheese and it's vegan (and will be very nearly as good), take out the hot stuff if you don't go for it, or, if you want to keep away from carbs, leave the pasta out entirely—I think the sprouts and tomatoes alone could serve two quite comfortably and happily, especially if paired with a green salad. Of course, on the other extreme, I'm sure this would go very nicely with some bacon if you felt like throwing caution to the wind. 





Friday, January 17, 2014

Spiced Pork and Caramelized Onion Pie

Despite our common language, linked intellectual and cultural traditions, and crossover hit TV shows, some things really do change when you go from the U.S. to the U.K. Certain words even have different assumed meanings: football, pants, and, most importantly for these purposes, pie.  
While here (with chicken pot pie the only real exception) they're assumed to contain fruit, cream, candied nuts, and other such sweet ingredients, in Britain, pies typically contain steak, mutton, seafood, or, in this case, pork. They also don't necessarily need to be baked in ordinary pie crusts—ones with either shortcrust or puff pastry crusts, baked without a tin are also quite popular. 

This take isn't exactly traditional, although the inclusion of apples and the cherry liqueur both come from different English variants on the traditional pork pie, and the use of spices that here would not be out of place in pumpkin pie likewise call on very old British ground meat recipes. One definitely non-traditional idea is the addition of an avocado garlic purée as a complement—it's strictly optional, but I think you'll find it balances the slightly sweet richness of the pie really well. In any case, it's a not-too-difficult take on a savory pie that makes a nice winter dinner—and until my cousins in Wales help me get the Great Transcontinental Pie Exchange going, the best way to get your hands on a tasty savory pie is to make it yourself. 

Pie:
2/3 pound ground pork (you can cook the whole pound and have extra to put on pasta or sandwiches)
2 large or 4 small yellow onions, medium dice
1 apple, cored and quartered. 
1 package frozen puff pastry
4 anchovy filets
~1/2 cup dark beer
1 oz cherry liqueur e.g. Maraschino (optional) 
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 bay leaf 
Dash of celery seed
Dash of paprika
Dash of mustard powder
Salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
Olive oil

Avocado Garlic Purée:
1 avocado
2-3 oz canned chopped green chiles (opt)
1 tbsp mayonnaise
3 cloves garlic, peeled
Red wine vinegar, to taste
Generous squirt sriracha or other hot sauce. 
1 tbsp Parmesan or feta cheese (opt)

1. Place onions in a dry medium sauté pan and cook covered over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. 
2. Quarter apple and grate with a box grater on the small, flat holed side. 
3. Remove lid from onions, reduce heat to medium low, and add sufficient olive oil to coat. Continue to cook at this temperature, stirring occasionally, until it is time to fill the pies—at least 25 minutes.  
4. Remove puff pastry from freezer and set out to defrost. When it is sufficiently defrosted, unfold it. Preheat oven to 400. 
5. In a saucepan or sautée pan, coat the bottom well with oil and heat over medium—high heat. Add the ground pork, break up well, and cook until browned through.
6. Add beer, bay leaf, grated apple, and anchovy filets. Let liquid begin to simmer and then reduce heat to medium low. Cook for approximately five minutes, then add spices and cherry liqueur. Continue to cook for a few minutes until flavors are blended, the volume of liquid has noticeably fallen, and pork is thoroughly cooked but not dry. 
7. Move pork with slotted spoon to onion pan, stir thoroughly, and turn off heat. Check pastry—if it is becoming sticky, return to freezer for 5 minutes. 
8. Melt 2 tbsp butter in microwave (~20 seconds). Dip a brush in the butter and use it to coat a large baking sheet. 
9. Slightly roll out one sheet of pastry and lay on baking sheet. Spoon filling into center of pastry and spread out, leaving 1 inch margin around edges (if pastry is in four sheets, divide filling in half). Do not overfill- pile of filling should not be more than an inch high. Leftover filling is ok. 
10. Brush margins of first sheet with butter.  Slightly roll out second sheet, and drape on top of first. Crimp edges down with fork and puncture top with fork at least five times. Brush top with butter.
11. If pastry is in four pieces, repeat steps 9 and 10. Place baking sheet into oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, until tops are golden brown. 
12. Place purée ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. Chill.
13. When pies are ready, remove from oven, let stand 5 minutes, and slice. On each plate, spoon a long blob of the purée and place slice on top. If desired, garnish with parsley. Serve with a green salad with a vinaigrette or citrus dressing and white wine. 








Saturday, November 30, 2013

Advancements in Thanksgiving Sandwich Engineering

We had a fantastic Thanksgiving, and a post on that will be forthcoming, but for now I turn my attention to a subject gripping minds across the nation this time of year: the proper engineering of a Thanksgiving  Sandwich. It's an understandable thing to fixate on: our fridges are swollen with stacked containers of leftovers, and this venerable sandwich represents the easiest means of doing someone new with them— and, done correctly, it's undeniably delicious.

How to construct such a sandwich, however, is a matter of some controversy- specifically, a tradeoff between indulgence and structure.  To quote Deadspin's Albert Burneko, one of the Internet's funniest and most irreverent food writers, "There's some disagreement here. Some people like to pile a portion of each of the various delicious Thanksgiving victuals between two pieces of bread, in what invariably turns into a saggy, dissolving, unmanageable wreck, renouncing any rightful claim to the "sandwich" title within moments of its birth. Other folks prefer to stick to the holiday's saner-seeming sandwich fillings like sliced turkey and cranberry relish and salad, think there's something weird and redundant and brazenly gluttonous about putting stuffing (which is essentially pre-chewed bread) between two slices of bread, and are vampires." 

However, I was inclined to wonder whether this dichotomy was surmountable. Can a sandwich be constructed which both meets the indulgent, gluttonous standards of Thanksgiving and holds together as a sandwich, so,etching that you can pick up and eat without it falling apart? Tongue planted firmly in my cheek ( the better to taste the cranberry sauce), I set out to make sandwich history. Below is my formula. 


1. Toast.



If you want to slop soggy, buttery food onto bread and have it hang together, the obvious first step is to reinforce your bread. A nice toasting firms if up and improves its absorption capabilities nicely. Also, using larger slices is better- adding ingredients horizontally instead of vertically gives you a more manageable product. 

2. Foundations. 


A sandwich is more than a pile between bread- it's a formed whole, with everything serving a larger purpose. If you want a Thanksgiving sandwich that holds together, you're going to need something to keep the ingredients in place. Fortunately, the standard thanksgiving menu contains several efficient and delicious adhesives. We were fortunate to have Bernie's delicious puréed parsnips on hand, which worked especially well for this purpose, but creamy mashed potatoes should work well for you- if they're too dry or chunky, add some gravy and mix up with a fork (also, heat them up please.) Spread a layer of moderate thickness along one piece of bread, which will go on the bottom. For your top slice, apply some cooked cranberry sauce, applying pressure with the knife to get any remaining whole berries to pop and stick to the bread. 

3.  Major Fillings


Presuming you have it (and if you don't, what kind of thanksgiving are you playing at?), the next logical ingredient is stuffing: not only is it indisputably the greatest of all thanksgiving foods, but it provides a soft but textured surface to hold the turkey in place. The bird goes on next- find yourself larger prices and arrange for best possible coverage. 

4. Greenery 

So far, we've dwelled exclusively on the rich, indulgent elements of the thanksgiving meal, as is proper for a sandwich like this. However, if you've got a good vegetable dish on hand you'll want it, both to get something in the sandwich that isn't awful for you and to provide welcome contrast in flavor and texture. Here I chose to go with a terrific kale dish with pine nuts and golden raisins that Janie brought. Whatever you choose, arrange it carefully: in moderate quantities, and away from the edges. 

5. Top and Eat


Invert the cranberried slice on top of the sandwich, press down, and consume. You should have a thoroughly pleasant balance of flavors and textures: smooth, rich starch, soft, savory stuffing, tender,meaty turkey, toothsome, deep vegetables, and snappy, chunky cranberry sauce. And all of this with no fork necessary. If you're at all like me, you'll soon be wishing you had more leftovers to use. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Colin Skink (haddock, potato, and cauliflower stew)

At least here in New England, its getting cold out there. The wind is howling, and the heavy coats are being taken down. We've still got a month or two before we can't leave the house, but when you do you return red-faced and shivering. This, then, is the time for hot, hearty food, when things that seem unimaginably rich as even a side dish in summer are precisely what your brain calls out for. This is my contribution- it's rich, but not overpowering (thanks largely to the caulifower) and has a very nuanced flavor for such a carb heavy dish. The final texture should be somewhere between mashed potatoes and a thick stew.

I used this recipe as a starting point, but I've heavily modified it,  to add more flavor and better texture, and because as constituted that one has way too much liquid. The name is a silly nod to Cullen Skink, the Scottish smoked haddock and potato soup. Sadly you can't get smoked haddock in this country, so the smoky flavor instead comes from smoked Gouda. You'll want something green and vibrant to balance it- we had an arugula salad with a lemon vinaigrette (just lemon juice, olive oil, mustard powder, and a little sugar whisked together), which wound up being quite nice. 

Colin Skink
Serves 6

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
Half a head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1.5 pounds haddock filets, skinned and deboned if possible. 
Six cloves garlic, peeled 
1.5 cups milk
2 ounces smoked Gouda cheese, grated 
1/2 ounce  Parmesan, grated
1/2 ounce bleu cheese, grated 
1 cup creme fraiche 
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley and/or chives 
2 bay leaves
Curry powder
Paprika
Thyme
Pepper flakes
Mustard powder
Nutmeg
Cumin
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. In a  bowl, sprinkle cauliflower and 3 of the garlic cloves with olive oil and season well with paprika, curry powder, pepper flakes, thyme, pepper and salt. Transfer to baking sheet and roast in oven 20-25 mins until tender. If they fail to soften enough, you can microwave them for 3 minutes after roasting. Do not turn off the oven when they are done. 
3. Boil potatoes until tender and drain well.
4. Simultaneously, in a large saucepan cover the haddock filets with the milk, and add the green onions, bay leaves, the remaining 3 garlic cloves quartered, and a couple good shakes each of nutmeg, mustard powder, and cumin. Bring to a boil covered over medium heat, then reduce to low and cook until fish flakes easily. 
5. Remove the fish and set aside. Pour the milk through a mesh strainer into a measuring cup. Discard the bay leaves, reserve the garlic and green onions. 
6. In a large bowl or the pot from the potatoes, combine the potatoes, cauliflower/ roasted garlic, creme fraiche, Gouda, bleu cheese, half the Parmesan, the garlic and green onions from the milk, and 1/2 cup of the milk (discard the rest). Mash well, then add the flaked haddock and stir to combine.
7. Transfer the entire mix to a lightly oiled baking vessel (shallower is likely better) and top with the remaining Parmesan. Increase oven heat to 450 and bake for an initial 20 minutes. If mixture is still soupy, cook for another 10. 
8. Turn off oven and let sit in the oven for another 5 minutes. If you're having bread with this, put it in the oven to warm at this point. Remove, top with parsley and/or chives, and serve. 


Spiced Sautéed Carrots

And for now, back to food. 

I'm writing things up in a different order than I actually cooked them, but it's Thanskgiving tomorrow and I figure some of you are either hosting dinners or are headed to other people's, and are trying trying to come up with a vegetable dish that's seasonal but doesn't contain either marshmallows or canned cream of mushroom soup. Here's my contribution: it's easy, it's quick, and it's seasonal and satisfying without being heavy. Don't go out and buy a ton of spices for this: if you've got any selection at all you can probably use what you have- just try to balance the "sweet" spices with savory ones like black pepper and rosemary.

Spiced Sautéed Carrots
Serves 6 as a primary side 

1 pound carrots, cut into coins 
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sherry or brandy
1 teaspoon sugar 
Zest and ~2 tablespoons juice from an orange
Curry powder
Nutmeg
Cumin
Rosemary
Salt 
Pepper

1. Melt butter in a large sautée pan over medium-low heat. 
2. Add carrots, stir well to coat. Let cook 2-3 minutes.
3. Add orange zest and seasonings. Use plenty of pepper, enough curry powder to dust all the carrots, a good dash or two of nutmeg, and a pinch each of the cumin,  rosemary, and salt
4. Cook 2-3 more minutes, then add orange juice and sugar. Continue coking until all liquid is mostly absorbed and carrots are mostly softened, approx. 5 minutes.
5. Add the sherry and stir vigorously. When all the liquid is absorbed, check for tenderness and serve.