Thursday, October 31, 2013

Golden Beet Salad with Orange Blossom Vinaigrette (Happy Halloween!)

You want to bring a salad to a potluck...
Make golden beet salad with an orange blossom vinaigrette!

A few weeks ago, my brother got married at the Olympic Sculpture Garden in Seattle.  For the rehearsal dinner, he and my sister-in-law rented out a small restaurant called Belle Clementine.  The meal was memorable both for its company and its food.

Belle Clementine is located in Ballard - a fun, vibrant, and historically Scandinavian-filled part of Seattle. The space itself is beautiful.  The decor is modern, minimalist and warm.  The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and passionate.  For me, the open and homey kitchen is the highlight of the restaurant. It bears no resemblance to the standard stainless steel-heavy and utilitarian kitchens that most restaurants have. Wood is prevalent, cookbooks are displayed, and the lighting is not fluorescent. When you dine in the restaurant you get the impression that you are in someone's home watching your meal be made by friends.

Chef David Sanford and his team executed an incredibly thoughtful and thoroughly delicious meal.
In each course they added subtle homages to our combined family's varied ethnic backgrounds: Russian, Turkish, and Jewish.  You can see for yourself:

BC marinated olives, hard cheese, quince paste aka "membrillo"

Yogurt flatbreads with muhammara (roasted pepper and walnut spread) - taking advantage of last of season peppers, first of season walnuts

Salad of roasted golden beets, ricotta salata, and peppercress - orange blossom vinaigrette

Pan roasted Black Cod 
Alvarez farm chickpeas, garlic, carrot, celeriac and turkish oregano
Italian chard aka "Bietole", with sumac and shoestring leeks

Poached pear, pineau de cherentes, mascarpone, mint

The fish was ethereal, the pears were outstanding, but the golden beet salad really stood out in my mind.  I knew I would want to try to riff on the dish when I got back to L.A.

Then, I was invited to a Halloween potluck party and thought about orange-colored foods.  This salad is good any time of year, but its bright orange color is perfect for a sophisticated and exotic holiday dish.

This is my version of David's salad. Thank you for that incredible meal. If you're in Seattle, I highly recommend you check out his place.

Golden Beet, Watercress, Hazelnut Salad - Orange Blossom Vinaigrette.
Serves 6-8
Makes 1 cup dressing

6-7 medium sized golden beets
1 bunch of watercress (about 5 cups chopped)
2 cups arugula
1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped
1 watermelon radish (optional)

1-2 teaspoons orange blossom water (this is perfumey strong-tasting stuff... you can always add more)
1 teaspoon agave nectar or honey
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg's)
3/4 cup olive oil, or grapeseed oil
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Line a 9x13 baking dish with foil.  Rinse the beets to remove any dirt.  Place the beets (peels on) into the dish.  Cover the dish with foil; this will allow the beets to steam inside the dish.  Roast for one hour or until the beets are fork tender. Once the beets are fully cooked and cooled you can easily remove their peels.

Slice the beets. I like to cut them in half, and then again into thin half-moons.  You can cut them up however you fancy.  Place the sliced beets into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Add all of the salad dressing ingredients into a jar and shake vigorously until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Pour the vinaigrette over the beets until they are just covered with the dressing. You will have extra dressing, which you can reserve and serve on the side.  Place the beets into the fridge and allow them to marinate for at least one hour (you can keep them marinating all day).

While the beets are marinating, toast your hazelnuts. Place the nuts on a small tray and roast them at 325 degrees in a toaster oven for about 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown (you can  toast them in a regular oven, too).  Keep an eye on them as they roast; they can burn easily.  Once the hazelnuts are toasted and cooled you can rub off their skins, which can be bitter if you leave them on. Roughly chop up the hazelnuts.

To assemble the salad, add the watercress and arugula to the bottom of your serving dish.  Cut up a watermelon radish into thin slices and add them to the greens (radish is optional).  Pour the marinated beets and their juices over the greens. Sprinkle the toasted hazelnuts over the top of the salad.

Serve and enjoy!

Oh, and this guy was the real star of the party (he's named Little Dog)... HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Witches' Fingers Almond Cookies

You want to bake something that looks creepy but tastes delicious...
Make cookies that look like fingers and taste like almonds!

Usually, I'm sort of a grinch about Halloween.  Horror movies terrify me, I'm not the greatest at planning costumes, and I don't really care about orange-colored sweets.  This year everything changed. The Halloween spirit took over me. I have parties to go to, a costume all set, candy to hand out to kids, and a planned menu.

A friend asked me to co-host a party with him. He's curating the entertainment: magicians, psychics, storytellers, arial acrobats, and a punk band.  You know, the usual.  He asked if I could be the headliner of the "food" part of the party.  It's a potluck, but we decided I'll make four dishes in large quantities. I knew I wanted to make something Halloween-y that looked kind of gross, but tasted good.

I researched different kinds of Halloween-themed desserts, and decided against making a cake that looked like kitty litter and cat poop. Instead, I found this recipe by Sandra on Allrecipes (or see below).

I followed the recipe mostly as written, and it works quite well.  I didn't use the wax paper to form the fingers.  You don't need it.  You can simply scoop a teaspoon of chilled batter into your hand and mold it into a finger shape.  I used a knife to make the knuckle lines.

Next time, I might add a little more almond extract to the batter.  I also might substitute half the flour with almond flour.  This cookie has a subtle almond taste, but I think it could use a little more almond flavor. My sister in law suggested adding fennel seed, and that might be delicious as well.  This is a simple sugar cookie recipe, and it's easy to add other flavorings or spices to it.

Whatever you do, don't forget to add the red icing.  Once the cookies cool, the almonds pop off. To glue them back into place you use the icing.  Bonus: the icing looks like blood! Ewwww!

All that said, this recipe makes a perfectly gross-looking, lovely tasting, and holiday appropriate cookie. Boo!

Happy Halloween!

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole almonds
1 (.75 ounce) tube red decorating gel
1.Combine the butter, sugar, egg, almond extract, and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Beat together with an electric mixer; gradually add the flour, baking powder, and salt, continually beating; refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes.
2.Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Lightly grease baking sheets.
3.Remove dough from refrigerator in small amounts. Scoop 1 heaping teaspoon at a time onto a piece of waxed paper. Use the waxed paper to roll the dough into a thin finger-shaped cookie. Press one almond into one end of each cookie to give the appearance of a long fingernail. Squeeze cookie near the tip and again near the center of each to give the impression of knuckles. You can also cut into the dough with a sharp knife at the same points to help give a more finger-like appearance. Arrange the shaped cookies on the baking sheets.
4.Bake in the preheated oven until the cookies are slightly golden in color, 20 to 25 minutes.
5.Remove the almond from the end of each cookie; squeeze a small amount of red decorating gel into the cavity; replace t

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Beverly Soon Tofu

You want something incredible that you wouldn't or couldn't make at home...
Get korean soondubu soup!

A friend and I were discussing our love of Korean food. He happens to be Korean, and told me that it was imperative that I try Beverly Soon Tofu in Koreatown.  Located on the lower level of a two-story strip mall on Olympic and Vermont, this place is a gem.  It may be a gem, but it's not hidden.  Jonathan Gold has given it glowing reviews, and Anthony Bourdain and Roy Choi ate there for Bourdain's new CNN show, Parts Unknown (you can watch the clip here).   I generally trust Gold and Bourdain's reviews, but more than that I trust my friends' recommendations.

When you first sit down in the small, cramped, and cozy restaurant you are quickly served chilled barley tea that you drink out of cool metal bowls.  After you order, an array of korean side dishes arrive.  I am a huge fan of kimchi.  I love anything that is pickled or fermented, but kimchi wins by virtue of its spice and depth of flavor.  It's the type of food that makes me feel more alive when I eat it. Without exaggeration, this was the best kimchi that I have ever eaten.  I also thoroughly enjoyed their pickled daikon, cucumber, and delicate seaweed topped tofu rounds.

The restaurant serves many traditional Korean dishes such as bibimbap (it looked amazing) and kalbi, but the place is really famous for their soondubu.  What is soondubu (or sundubu)? I asked the same question.  My dining companion said that it's simply a type of korean tofu soup.

Here's what wikiepedia has to say:
Sundubu jjigae (순두부찌개) is a hot and spicy jjigae (Korean stew) dish made with uncurdled dubu (tofu)seafood (oystersmusselsclams and shrimp are common ingredients), vegetables, mushrooms, onion, scallions, and gochujang or gochu garu (chili powder) in Korean cuisine. The dish is assembled and cooked directly in the serving vessel, which is typically made of thick, robust porcelain, but can also be ground out of solid stone. A raw egg is put in the jjigae just before serving, and the dish is delivered while still bubbling vigorously. This dish is eaten with a bowl of cooked white rice and several banchan (side dishes).[1]
According to Chef Roy Choi (of Kogi Korean BBQ fame), sundubu jjigae was a dish developed by Korean immigrants in Los Angeles.[2]

Disregard your prejudices against the evil white soy product.  The tofu they serve at Beverly Soon Tofu (or Beverly Tofu House) is unlike the typical thick, leaden, brick-like stuff that non-vegetarians often fear.  This tofu is creamy, silken, and luscious.  Bottom line: it's the shit.

It should be noted that the restaurant serves a variety of soondubus, including vegetarian options.

The pot arrives steaming and bubbling.  The sweet waitress offers you a raw egg.  You nod your head. She cracks the egg into the hot black pot of red goodness, and you watch the egg turn from clear to opaque. While you wait for your soup to cool, you continue to snack on all manner of pickled things. Finally, you scoop a spoonful of the bright red soup onto a bed of perfectly steamed white rice.  The broth is complex with a pleasing unctuousness.  The dish is spicy without being aggressively overpowering.  For the first few minutes you eat it is impossible to speak.  The food demands total focus and appreciation.

I can't believe I hadn't been there before.

I plan to go back often.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Roasted Broccoli Rabe

You ate too much pizza the night before...
Make some broccoli!

Last night, my friend E had his annual birthday pizza party, and I ate a slice too many.  I wanted a light lunch today and I remembered that I had some fresh broccoli rabe (or rapini), and some not so fresh cherry tomatoes that needed to be used up.  Older tomatoes are great when they're cooked, and I love the taste of roasted broccoli.  Roasted garlic sounded good, too.  I decided to combine the three things and pop them in oven on high heat.  I ate this side with some quinoa drizzled with tahini sauce; balance was restored.

This could also be good served as a side with a lean protein.  The dish is light and flavorful. The tomatoes fall apart and become almost sauce-like.  The garlic flavor is present, but mellowed by the roasting process. Enjoy!

2 bunches of broccoli rabe, chopped into large chunks (about 4 cups chopped)
1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
3 medium garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

Prep your ingredients: chop up the broccoli rabe into large chunks, cut the tomatoes in half, and then peel and halve the garlic cloves.

Place all of the ingredients on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper (to taste... just remember you can always add more salt after it's cooked).  Toss everything with your hands until the oil evenly coats the ingredients.

Place the baking sheet in the oven.  Let the broccoli rabe cook for 7-10 minutes, or until it slightly browned, a darker shade of green, the tomatoes are softened, and the garlic is golden brown.  I like my veggies al dente, but you can cook it for longer if you like yours soft.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Plum Cake Tatin

Your lady friends are coming over... 

Make a plum cake tatin!

I recently started a cooking club with a group of my close female friends.  I hosted our inaugural meeting, and I knew that I wanted to make some kind of dessert that I had never made before. Earlier that week, I spotted Italian plums at my local market, and I bought a large bag of them.  These plums are typically only available in late September and early fall. They are particularly wonderful in baked goods. They are sweet and tart, and add incredible moisture to the cakes they are cooked in.  

This recipe is from the beloved Ina Garten. I didn't change a thing, but I could see this being delicious with the addition of a little cinnamon. Other stone fruit, or even pears, could  be substituted if you can't find Italian plums.  I intend to make this recipe every year from here on out.  

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the dish
10 to 12 purple “prune” plums, cut in half and pitted
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 9-inch glass pie dish and arrange the plums in the dish, cut side down.

Combine 1 cup of the granulated sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until it turns a warm amber color, about 360 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Swirl the pan but don’t stir. Pour evenly over the plums.

Meanwhile, cream the 6 tablespoons of butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Lower the speed and beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the sour cream, zest, and vanilla and mix until combined. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and, with the mixer on low speed, add it to the butter mixture. Mix only until combined.

Pour the cake batter evenly over the plums and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto a flat plate. If a plum sticks, ease it out and replace it in the design on top of the cake. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioners’ sugar.

Read more at: