Thursday, August 3, 2017

Recipes for Tu B'av - for .alma

My article with recipes for Tu B'av (the Jewish Day of Love) is up on .alma right now!

Below is the dish that I can't stop eating right now. It's more of a recommendation than a recipe - which is my favorite kind of dish to make. And is there anything better than tomatoes in August? They help me get through the dog days of summer here in Los Angeles. You need so little to make them good. And in my humble opinion, beautiful sweet tomatoes, heavily salted, on crisp good bread with excellent butter is incredibly romantic. Enjoy!

Tomato Thyme Toasts
Serves 8-10

Baguette or small loaf of good crusty bread, cut into ¾” slices
2 lbs. of your favorite tomatoes
6-7 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves removed from stem
Butter (splurge on some good stuff)
Maldon salt or kosher salt, to taste
Good extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Slice the tomatoes into rounds, just under ½” thick. Lightly salt the tomato slices. The salt will start to soften the tomatoes and season them all the way through.

Place the bread slices on a baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake the bread for 6-8 minutes, or until just toasted and beginning to brown on the edges. Once the bread is toasted, spread butter onto each piece. This dish is all about layering of fats and salt with the tomatoes.

Top the toasts with the tomato slices. Top the tomato slices with thyme leaves. Drizzle with a little more olive oil (for a little more oomph). Sprinkle Maldon salt over everything – this will add a nice salty crunch.

You can bake the toasts ahead of time and assemble them with tomatoes when you’re ready to serve, the bread doesn’t have to be hot, and the tomatoes will mellow out the bread’s crunch.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Syrniki (Farmers' Cheese Pancakes) with Vanilla Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

As a child, I would often find my mother or my grandmother standing over the stove making a fresh batch of farmer’s cheese. In a large pot, I’d find a wide open half gallon milk carton sitting in simmering water. With a little lemon juice the milk transformed from liquid to solid. Strained of any excess liquid it would be transferred to the fridge, where there seemed to always be a never-ending supply.

That homemade farmer’s cheese (“tvorog”in Russian) ended up in all kinds of things: blintzes, piroshki, and on its own served as a side at breakfast. It also ended up in a pancake form called syrniki (pronounced: syr-nee-kee). Syrniki can be made with farmer’s cheese, cottage cheese, or quark.“Syr” means cheese in both Russian and Ukrainian, and these cheese pancakes are commonly made in those parts of the world; it’s also the part of the world that my family comes from.

I like to think of syrniki as deconstructed blintzes - all the good parts with less work. The outside of the syrniki have a satisfying crispness that differs from grain-based pancakes. The inside stays creamy and fluffy. They are vaguely reminiscent of the best kind of latke. Syrniki are also perfect vehicles for all manner of sweet things, and I love them topped with strawberry rhubarb compote. The sweetness of the strawberry and tanginess of the rhubarb are the perfect compliments to the creaminess of the pancakes.

If you’re not buying into the concept of cheese pancakes, the strawberry rhubarb compote is great all on its own. It also goes beautifully with a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream, or as a topping on oatmeal, scones, yogurt, or your more “traditional” pancake.


Syrniki with Vanilla Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
(Farmer’s cheese pancakes)
Serves 4

For the syrniki-

1 lb. farmer’s cheese, about 2 cups
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Big pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon oil
½ cup all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Butter or oil, as needed

In a bowl, mash the farmer’s cheese until it is well broken up with a fork. Add the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt to the cheese, and combine until mostly smooth.

In a small dish, combine the baking soda and oil. The baking soda may bubble slightly. Add the baking soda mixture and the flour to the cheese mixture and stir until well-combined.

Generously dust your work surface with flour. Place one heaping tablespoonful at a time (about ¼ cup) of the batter onto the floured board. Sprinkle more flour over the top of each small mound of batter.

Form the batter into round pancake shapes, about ¾” thick. You can be really generous with the flour;  it will help the pancakes keep their shape in the pan.

Heat a large pan or a griddle over medium-low heat (I like to use cast-iron). Add a few tablespoons of butter or oil to the pan. Place the pancakes in the pan and cook over medium-low until golden brown on each side, about 3-4 minutes per side. Two important notes: do not crowd the pan as the pancakes expand and puff up as they cook, and do not rush the cooking process. Cook the pancakes in batches, adding more butter/oil as needed. Keep the heat pretty low, and allow the pancake to really cook on one side before flipping. Once it is golden brown, it will begin to unstick and will make flipping much easier. If your pancake falls apart a little, have no fear, you can nudge it back into a circular shape with a spatula and continue to cook it.

Serve warm with compote or your favorite pancake toppings.

For the vanilla strawberry rhubarb compote-

1½ lbs (700 grams) strawberries, hulled and quartered (about 4 cups)  
½ lb. (250 grams) rhubarb, chopped into ½” chunks (about 1½ cups)
¾ cup (165 grams) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split (or substitute with 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt

Combine half of the cut strawberries (about 2 cups) with all of the rhubarb and granulated sugar in a pot. Split the vanilla bean, scrape the seeds into the pot and add the pod as well. Add the lemon juice and salt.

Over medium heat, heat the berry mixture and bring it to a boil. You may wonder how the heap of strawberry and rhubarb will become liquid, but in a few moments the juices will be released and no added water will be needed. Once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the rhubarb just starts to break down and is tender, about 5 minutes.

Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the remaining fresh strawberries. Allow the mixture to cool, then transfer to the fridge for at least 1 hour, or overnight. It keeps well in the fridge for a week.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Easy Preserved Meyer Lemons

Citrus season in California always seems never ending to me. In a good way. But there is a season, and that season peaks in winter, and spills into spring. The Meyer lemons are still around, but they're definitely on their way out. Before they go, I like to preserve a few jars.

Preserved lemons are some of the easiest of preserved foods to make. They involve little other than lemons, salt, and sanitized mason jars (just boil the jars totally submerged in water, lids off, for 10-12 minutes). You can flavor them with whatever spices you like - although I'm partial to the combination of black pepper, bay, and cinnamon. A friend gifted me a jar of lemons she preserved with fennel seed and pink pepper corn, which was lovely.

And then what do you do with them?

They're pungent, and borderline astringent. They're salty, acidic, and flavor-packed. A little goes a long way. But that little bitt adds notes of complexity. It makes you go: "what's in this?" It both highlights the essence of a lemon, and takes lemons to another otherworldly flavor.

I like to use them in homemade hummus (a la Joan Nathan's recipe in her new cookbook). They're beautiful in chicken dishes, and in tagine (they are a common North African ingredient). I also like to make a simple dip with thick plain yogurt, chopped fresh mint, and super finely chopped preserved lemon. 

This recipe works for any lemon, but lemons that are thin-skinned, like Meyer's, seem to work best. 

Preserved Lemons
Makes 1 pint jar

5-6 lemons, depending on their size
Kosher salt, as needed
3-4 fresh bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon black or pink peppercorns
Lemon juice, as needed
1 pint mason jar, sterilized

Quarter each lemon by slicing the top down within half an inch of the bottom, leaving them connected. Pack salt into the lemon then press it back into its original shape.

Fill the bottom of the mason jar with a layer of salt. Layer the salted lemons into the bottom of the jar. Top each layer with more salt, and squeeze lemon juice over each layer as well. Top each layer with bay leaf and peppercorn, and stick the cinnamon stick into the jar as you layer. Pack all of the lemons in tight and make sure everything is covered with a layer of salt and lemon juice.

Place the jar on your kitchen counter or in a pantry and shake the jar once a day for 30 days. After 30 days, the lemons are ready for use. Once opened, I prefer to keep my lemons in the fridge. They’ll keep for up to 1 year.

Before using the lemons, rinse each piece as needed to remove the excess salt.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Blood Orange, Ricotta, Almond Cake (Gluten Free)

I first spotted this lovely cake on Liz Prueitt's Instagram. She wrote out the recipe in the photo's description; the recipe is adapted from The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook. I meant to try the cake soon after I saw the photo, and then blood orange season came and went, and time does what it does.

I stumbled on some particularly good blood oranges this week, and the weather suddenly became sunny and warm. I've been watching the Great British Baking Show and have been itching to bake something; the stars aligned. I researched a few cake recipes before I remembered Prueitt's. A short search revealed that the recipe had been written up on the always wonderful SmittenKitchen (thank you).

I found a lot of blood orange cakes that involved flour and cornmeal - they all looked a little dense and dry. Unlike most of the others, this one involves no flour and also adds ricotta. I liked that it sounded like a cheesecake, and I always like to have more gluten free recipes in the arsenal (many clients and friends have intolerances). The trickiest part of this cake is folding egg whites into the batter; but that shouldn't deter you from trying - when in doubt, don't overmix.

This cake is glossy and shiny and pretty with the multi-colored stunning blood oranges. The brown sugar that candies the orange takes away any bitterness from the pith, and adds a welcome caramel note to the cake. The cake is cheesecake-like, but not too dense. The cornmeal adds a toothsome note. There's really not much to change in the original recipe, and the only thing I did different than both Liz and SK is that I combined both lemon and orange zest into the better, and lemon and orange juice into the batter.

This cake is one of those cakes that tastes even better than it looks.

Blood Orange, Ricotta, Almond Cake (via Liz Prueitt and SmittenKitchen)

2 blood oranges
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoons water
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz) softened unsalted butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 cup packed finely ground almond flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup whole milk ricotta
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup citrus juice (orange + lemon)
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon table salt
apricot jam (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Grease a 9" cake pan and line it with parchment.

In a bowl combine the brown sugar and water. Add it to the bottom of the cake tin. Thinly slice a blood orange. Line the bottom of the tin with orange slices.

In a bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the yolks one at a time. Mix in the almond flour and cornmeal. Mix in the ricotta. Zest 1 orange and 1 lemon. Juice the citrus until you have a 1/3 cup's worth of juice. Add the zest and juice to the batter, and mix.

Beat the egg whites with salt until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter until just incorporated.

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the center comes out clean when tested with a skewer/toothpick.
Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes (it will start to naturally pull away from the sides), then flip it onto a platter and allow it to fully cool prior to serving.

If you want it extra glossy, heat up some apricot jam and brush it over the cake while it's still warm. 

Keeps well in the fridge (if you have any leftover :)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Beet Cured Gravlax

Making homemade gravlax is easy. It's one of those great recipes that impresses guests, looks beautiful, requires zero cooking, and takes minutes to make. Heads up: while this recipe is easy, you need to prepare it 3 days in advance.

The beets create a lovely deep scarlet color on the top layer of the fish, and they add a very subtle sweet, earthy, flavor. 

Like any simple dish, the quality of the ingredients are critical to the success of the recipe. Start with excellent, fresh, wild-caught salmon.

I love to serve this thinly sliced on a platter with fresh veggies. Bagels and cream cheese are always welcome accompaniments for cured fish. Enjoy!

Beet Cured Gravlax

1 3 lb salmon filet
1 lb red beets, peeled and grated, any juice included
1 large bunch dill, roughly chopped
Zest of 1 large orange
Zest of 2 lemons
1 cup tablespoon plus 2 tablespoons kosher salt
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup freshly cracked black pepper

In a food processor or with a box grater, grate the beets. In a bowl, combine the beets with orange and lemon zest, chopped dill, and 2 tablespoons salt.

In a small bowl combine the remaining 1 cup salt, sugar, and pepper.

In a non-metal dish (pyrex or ceramic), place a large piece of plastic wrap on the bottom (big enough to cover the fish). Firmly rub the salt mixture onto both sides of the salmon. Then place the salmon skin side down onto the plastic wrap. Place the beet mixture on top of the salmon. Tightly wrap the salmon in the plastic wrap. Place another pan/dish on top of the salmon and weigh it down with canned goods or weights.

Cure in the fridge for 3 days. After 3 days, scrape off the beet mixture and discard.

Serve thinly sliced. Salmon will keep wrapped tightly in the fridge for up to one week.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Perfect Salmon with Rosemary and Lemon

Whenever I make salmon for a client, I always get asked: "How did you make this?" When I tell them, they are then always surprised by how easy it is.

The most important factor for me is that the salmon has to be high quality - e.g. wild and fresh. Previously frozen and defrosted salmon will not have the same texture as fresh salmon. It will likely turn out dryer. It's hard to make frozen salmon as awesome as fresh salmon. For me, making fish is a treat. Wild fresh fish is more expensive than previously frozen fish, but I treat it as a seasonal special occasion treat.

The second most important factor when cooking salmon is to not assume that one cooking time is going to work each time you make the dish. It may sound annoying, but it really is done when it's done.  Each salmon fillet is of varying thickness and density, and therefor will cook at differing rates. Over time, it gets easier and easier to tell when the fish is done just by looking at it and smelling it... but here's the trick for checking doneness: stick the tip of a knife blade into the thickest part of the fish. Put the blade against your lips, if it's hot/warm, it's cooked through. If the blade is cold it needs more time. This allows you to pierce the fish with minimal destruction, no need to slice it in half and ruin the fillet.

Everything else is incredibly simple. You can add whatever favorite herbs or sauces you like to your salmon using this method.

Roast Salmon with Rosemary and Lemon

Salmon fillet, either whole or cut into individual fillets (I like one's that are 6-8 oz per person)
Lemon, thinly sliced
Sprigs of fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil, to drizzle

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

On a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet, place the salmon skin side down. 

Salt and pepper the fish. Top each fish with thin slices of lemon and sprigs of fresh rosemary (either left whole or chopped fine). Drizzle the top of the fish with olive oil.

Bake for 7 minutes, then turn the pan around (or rotate pans if making salmon on two sheet pans). Depending on the thickness of the salmon, check on its doneness after another 5-6 minutes. Most salmon cooks in about 14-15 minutes. Serve immediately with your favorite sides. Leftover salmon keeps for 2 days in the fridge. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

End of Summer Mocha Raspberry Icebox Cake

Photo by Eric Slatkin
This is the perfect cake for too-hot-to-turn-the-oven-on weather. It's still too-hot-to-turn-the-oven-on weather in LA, and it will likely remain that way for a few months. Fall is creeping up in its own subtle ways (although this is the time of year I get most homesick for the Pacific Northwest). The days are getting shorter, the school bells ring across the street, and the nights are a little cooler. Regardless of the temperature, I love having a dessert recipe that requires zero baking. This is also a great make ahead dessert. You can whip this up the night before you're having people over and it will only taste better the next day. It's the perfect thing if you're having guests coming over to dinner after rushing home from work. Also, it's hard to go wrong with whipped cream, chocolate, and raspberries.

Some notes...
1) If you can't find chocolate wafers you can use any cookie you'd like. Even chocolate chip cookies will work. The thinner the better.
2) If you hate coffee flavor, omit entirely. You could also add more cocoa instead.
3) If you can't find coffee extract, you can omit as well. Add a little more instant espresso and a drop of vanilla extract would be nice

For a video tutorial, you can see this recipe over at Assembly Line.

Raspberry Mocha Icebox Cake

2 cups heavy cream
8 oz mascarpone
¾ cups sugar, divided
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons coffee extract (or substitute with more espresso powder)
3 pints (500 g) fresh raspberries, plus more for garnish
2 packages chocolate wafers (9 oz/225 g per package)
Shaved dark chocolate, for garnish

Using a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer, combine the heavy cream, mascarpone, ½ cup of sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, vanilla extract, and coffee extract together. Whip the mixture until it forms firm peaks.

In a medium bowl, combine the raspberries with the remaining ¼ cup of sugar. Smash the raspberries with the sugar until they are roughly broken up.

To assemble the icebox cake, use a 8-9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a layer of chocolate wafers. Slightly overlap the wafers to form the layer; if there are any gaps you can break up some of the wafers to fill the holes. Top the layer of chocolate wafers with a quarter of the cream mixture. Top the cream mixture with a third of the raspberry mixture. Add a second layer of chocolate wafers, top with another quarter of the cream mixture, and another third of the raspberry mixture. Add a third layer of chocolate wafers, top with another quarter of the cream mixture, and the last third of the raspberry mixture. Add a final fourth layer of chocolate wafers and top with the remaining cream mixture. Smooth the top layer with an offset spatula, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

Prior to serving, run a knife along the edge of the pan and remove the sides. Garnish with dark chocolate shavings and fresh raspberries. Slice and serve.