Friday, December 19, 2014

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

I love happy accidents in the kitchen. The other night, I was testing out apple crisp topping recipes. I was playing around with ratios for the perfect, crumbly, buttery, lovely crisp topping. One batch of topping felt more like cookie-dough than the crumbly mixture I was looking for. I could have tried to salvage the mixture by adding more flour, but instead I thought, "what if I add an egg, some baking soda and some chocolate chips to this... will it make a cookie?"

The answer is a BIG yes. Not only did it make cookies, it made delicious cookies. It made the kind of cookies I'm always going for: crisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.

Usually I make cookies by creaming room temp (or melted) butter and sugar together, then adding dry ingredients to that. What I discovered with these cookies is that you can actually use super cold butter, and make the dough similarly to how you make pie or biscuit dough. No creaming of sugar and butter first. No waiting for butter to come to temp. No stand-mixer. This recipe doesn't make a huge batch of cookies, but because the recipe is so easy, it's the perfect thing to whip up for a small group of friends or family when you're craving cookies and want them fast. Of course, you can also double or triple the recipe.

One note about my brand preferences - I'm a big fan of Ghiradelli's semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips. They're a little larger than most of the mainstream brands of chocolate chips. I think they have deeper chocolate flavor, and a silkier texture. I'm also a fan of Guittard. I always pick up a bag when I see it on sale. Regular semisweet chocolate chips will do just fine. You can also swap dark chocolate for milk or white chocolate chip. I'm not a big fan of white chocolate, but if you are and want to make this recipe festive, you could also add dried cranberries to the mix. You can also add your favorite spices to the batter, or omit entirely.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Makes about 12-14 medium-large cookies

1¼ cup all purpose flour (can substitute with gluten free flour)
½ cup rolled oats
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
good pinch of kosher or flake salt
8 tablespoons (½ a cup or 1 stick) of COLD unsalted butter, cubed small
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup good quality dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, oats, sugars, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Stir until evenly mixed.

Cube the butter into small pieces. Add the cubed butter to the dry ingredients. Using your hands, combine the butter and dry ingredients together until the butter is fully incorporated and the mixture resembles a coarse pea-sized meal.  Don’t worry too much about perfection here… you’re looking to just break apart the butter as you mix-in the dry ingredients. It takes a little elbow grease, but it’s not hard. If you are nervous you can use a pastry cutter or a food processor instead.

Next, add the beaten egg and vanilla extract. Mix until just combined (be careful not to over mix at this point). Fold in the chocolate chips. 

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Scoop out heaping spoonfuls of dough. Flatten slightly so the dough is2-3 inches in diameter (as shown below). Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool on the sheet pan for 2 more minutes, than transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.

If you prefer smaller cookies, you can use heaping teaspoons and bake the cookies for 8 instead of 10 minutes.

The cookies should be crispy on the edge and chewy on the inside. They will look a little undercooked when you first take them out, but don’t worry, they’ll harden and firm up as they cool.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

This gratin is the ultimate way to show those healthy cruciferous brussels sprouts who's boss. Here's the thing, I don't eat heavy cheesy dishes every day, but special occasions can warrant good cheese, heavy cream, and butter. As a special occasion dish this is heaven. The brussels sprouts are roasted before they are assembled into a gratin making them buttery and caramelized, and the mornay sauce (simply a Béchamel sauce with grated cheese added to it) are so happy to be paired with these strong-tasting cabbage-y things.

Gratins are great make-ahead dishes. You can assemble them up to a day in advance and heat them up just prior to serving. They also tend to freeze well.

One note about brussels sprouts: the smaller the better. Sometimes you're limited to whatever the store or farmers' market has to offer. I lucked out and found young, fresh, tiny little brussels sprouts for this dish. I find that the smaller brussels are milder, more tender, and more delicious than the big ones. Certainly, this recipe will work with larger guys, I would just make sure to roast them for longer.

This dish would be great with a bright fresh light salad to balance out the richness of the gratin. It could be paired with your favorite savory entrée. For vegetarians, this side works super well alongside mushroom dishes.

Brussels Sprouts Gratin
Serves 8-10
Adapted from Saveur 

3 lbs. brussels sprouts (about 3 pints), halved
4-6 tablespoons olive oil, or to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup half & half or heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups shredded Gruyere, Emmental, or Swiss
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Start by cleaning the brussels sprouts and removing any browned or tough outer leaves. Halve your brussels sprouts. In a large bowl, toss the brussels sprouts with the olive oil; make sure the sprouts are evenly coated in the oil. Season the sprouts with salt and pepper.

Transfer the seasoned brussels sprouts onto a baking sheet. Be careful not to crowd the sheet pan, you want to the sprouts to lie in a single flat layer so that they can evenly brown. Roast the sprouts until tender and browned, about 15-20 minutes depending on their size (check after 15 minutes and gage how much longer they need; they should be fully cooked).

Next, make the mornay sauce. Start by making a roux. Add 3 tablespoons butter to a medium saucepan (4-6 quart) on medium heat. Once the butter has just melted add the flour. Stir and cook until the mixture is golden brown and smells toasty, about 30-60 seconds. Slowly add the milk and half & half, continuously whisking the mixture as you add the liquid. Bring the liquid to a simmer, continuing to whisk so as to avoid lumps. Let the mixture thicken and simmer, about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from the heat and add the shredded cheese to the sauce. Stir until incorporated an you have a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Transfer the roasted brussels sprouts to an oval gratin dish (about 10-11 inches in length), or you can also use a 9 x 11 baking dish. Pour the mornay sauce over the roasted brussels sprouts. Top with parmesan and a few more gratings of nutmeg, or some additional black pepper.

Loosely cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and let the top of the dish brown, about 5 more minutes. Let the gratin rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Stuffed Pumpkin

This is the ultimate slightly-indulgent, festive, holiday dish. It's hard to go wrong with bread, cheese, garlic and heavy cream. Frankly, you don't need much else to make something delicious (maybe butter). 

To describe this as a "crowd pleaser" puts all understatements to shame. And the recipe is so easy that it almost feels like cheating. Yes, it's delicious (see bread, cheese, and cream), but this is a dish that looks incredible uncooked as well as out of the oven. 

The pumpkin gets soft and delicate. The cheese makes everything good. The garlic and herbs cut through the richness, the cream adds a velvety texture. 

This recipe comes from the queen of all good things, Dorie Greenspan. Every recipe of hers that I've ever tried is both 1) delicious 2) works as written. I'm particularly fond of Around My French Table, but she is very well known for her desserts, and even has a new book on the topic. There's also a great interview with her in the current issue of Lucky Peach.

I only tweaked the recipe slightly. By tweaked, I mean I more or less eye-balled amounts as opposed to filling each pumpkin exactly as directed. Plus, we used smaller pumpkins than the one's Dorie uses. I like these sweet little pumpkins. We served this at Thanksgiving, amongst an abundance of other rich dishes; but if you're using the smaller pumpkins, you could even serve one per person. These were gone in minutes. Zero leftovers. 


Stuffed Pumpkins à la Dorie Greenspan
Slightly adapted from this
Serves 4-6 (The recipe can easily be doubled and tripled; I tripled the recipe)

2 1.5 lb. pumpkins 
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 lb. GOOD quality stale bread, cut into .5-1-inch cubes (crusts can even be left on)
1/4 lb. Grueyére and/or cheddar (I used both!), cut into .5 1-inch cubes (same size as bread)
2-4 garlic cloves, roughly minced
1/4 cup chopped chives
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (removed from stem)
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1/3 cup heavy cream
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 
Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. If you're using a big pumpkin, you'll want a casserole dish or something that will hold the pumpkin in place. These little guys held up perfectly on a baking sheet. 
Using a very sharp large nice, CAREFULLY, cut off the top 1/4 of the pumpkin. You want to cut far enough in that you get to the opening with all its seeds, but not too far as to halve the pumpkin. You're making a lid for the pumpkin like you would for a Halloween Jack-o-Lantern. Scoop out the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside of the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper (this is your chance to season the meat of the pumpkin!).
In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes, cheese cubes, garlic, and herbs together. Season with more pepper. Fill each pumpkin with the bread and cheese mixture. You should have plenty, but you can always make more filling if the pumpkins aren't full. You want them full, but don't force/pack it in... just gently fill each one fully. 
In a liquid measuring cup, combine the heavy cream with freshly ground nutmeg. I love the flavor of nutmeg, but if you don't you can omit it. Pour a little cream into each pumpkin. You just want to moisten the mixture, but you don't want it to be too soupy. 
Put the cap back on top of the pumpkin and bake for 2 hours (checking on it after 90 minutes). For the last 20 minutes of cooking, remove the cap so that the inside can brown a little. You want the pumpkin flesh to be completely tender and for the cheese to be bubbling. 
When the pumpkin is ready, very carefully bring it to the table or transfer it to a platter that you'll bring to the table.
I served these whole, and people scooped out the pumpkin and cheese and bread filling. You can also cut it into big wedges (that will ooze out cheese). This is perfect for a holiday meal, or a cold winter night. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Edith's Chocolate Babka

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I had the great pleasure of learning how to make babka.

At 87, Edith still loves to bake and cook in her kitchen for her children, grandchildren, family and friends. Edith has more spunk than most people have at half her age. Her baking, like many talented cooks, is imprecise and relies on experience and feeling. I was deeply inspired by Edith, her food, and her stories.

That afternoon, Edith taught me her recipes for chocolate babka and walnut cake (both use the same dough) while telling me me stories about her family and her life. At first I was concerned about asking Edith difficult questions about her past. Her daughter, who was with us, assured me that Edith was happy to talk about her experiences. That's one of the many amazing things about this woman - she is incredibly open about her life. She will tell you like it is or like it was, but she does so without anger or hostility. She is aware and grateful for her fortunes even in the context of unfathomable unfairness and inhumanity. I only got to spend one afternoon with her, but it was clear that this is a woman who has an incredible sense of humor, sharpness, wit, and a deep understanding of humanity and the complexities of life. The Shoah foundation recorded Edith's holocaust survival story in full; I'm happy to help you locate it if you want to hear more about her story.

This short synopsis will hardly do justice to her full story, but nonetheless...

Born in 1926, Edith grew up in Lastovce, Czechoslovakia. In 1942, Hitler decreed that all Jewish girls 16 years of age and older had to be reported to the Slovakian government. At that time, 16 year old Edith was sent to live at her aunt's house in Hungary. Many Slovakian Jewish girls fled to Hungary at the time, and the Hungarian police were instructed to hunt them down. Edith hid in the basement of her family's home during that time. After six months, Edith was sent to Budapest; her family felt her chances of survival were better in a big city where she could get lost. Edith worked at an undergarment factory where she somehow managed to get her hands on the birth certificate of a Hungarian non-Jew. She also dyed her hair blonde. One day on a train, Edith was caught by two detectives. Unimaginably, during a time of war and bloodshed, not one but two detectives were on the case of tracking down a single Jewish girl in Budapest. Edith was sent to what was essentially a holding camp. She was there for about 6 months. Whenever the Germans were bombing, all the Jews were sent upstairs to the upper level of the building so that if the building were to be bombed they would perish. After 6 months, Edith was sent to Auschwitz. From Auschwitz, Edith was sent to the Liebau concentration camp. At the camp, there were approximately 200 women and 200 men that were kept separate from each other. The men and women were mostly young, and were forced to do excruciatingly hard labor. When Edith speaks of this, she talks about how impossible it is to explain the pain of hunger, the pain of the particularly horrible lice, among all the other types of pain. Edith managed to survive, and her camp was liberated by the Russians. In fact, Edith was liberated by a Russian Jewish general who made it his mission to protect the girls from being raped by other Russian soldiers (something that was happening), and made sure that they did not eat the food the Germans left behind (which was often poisoned).

After the war, Edith returned to Czechoslovakia. Two of her brothers had also survived the war. Back in Czechoslovakia, Edith was set up on a blind date. Edith and her future husband clicked right away. They were married for 65 years (what's the secret? there's no secret. But don't go to bed angry, don't think relationships are a perfect 50/50 partnership, be willing to ungrudgingly compromise, and it helps if your husband tells you you're beautiful in the middle of an argument). Her husband passed away a few years ago at the age of 90. In 1948, Edith and her husband left Czechoslovakia for Israel where they lived for 10 years before immigrating to the United States to start a new life with their two daughters.

Edith originally got this recipe from a friend of hers. To the delight of her family and friends, Edith has been making this babka for many years. I have never seen babka prepared in a bundt pan, but it's pretty genius (and beautiful). This is a dense, chocolate-y, rich dessert with a lovely dough. If you need an exact recipe, I recommend you google "babka." If you're looking for a recipe with room for error and customization, see below.

I am so grateful to have heard Edith's stories and to have learned this recipe.

(The above recipe is for the dough for both the babka and a walnut cake. The filling is for the walnut cake. Edith has altered this recipe slightly. See below.)

Edith's Chocolate Babka

for the dough-
3.5-4 cups of flour
1 packet yeast (or 1.5 tablespoons)
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/4 cup water
2.5 sticks crisco or margarine, at room temp, cubed
5 egg yolks
1 cup seltzer water (secret ingredient)

for the filling-
finely ground walnuts
unsweetened cocoa powder
vanilla extract
strawberry jam
mini-chocolate chips

for the dough-
Combine the yeast with 1 tablespoon of sugar and a 1/4 cup of warm tap water (no more than 110°F). Let the yeast activate for 10-15 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 3.5 cups of flour (you can add more flour later if the dough feels too wet). To the flour, add the cubed crisco. On level 1 or 2, mix the crisco and flour together until pea sized pieces form and you have a coarse meal.

Add the egg yolks, sugar,  activated yeast, and seltzer water to the mixer.

Mix on low until a dough forms, this will take a few minutes. Scrape down the sides periodically to make sure all of the dry ingredients are incorporated with the wet ingredients. If the dough seems too dry, add more seltzer. If the dough seems too wet, add more flour. You want a sticky silky dough (similar to challah dough in texture).

Add a little oil to a mixing bowl (either olive or vegetable is fine). Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl. Kneed the dough 5 or 6 times in the bowl. Cover the bowl with foil or plastic wrap, place a towel over the bowl. Let the dough rest overnight in the fridge.

 for the babka-
Dust a flat surface with flour, and place the dough on the flat surface. Cut the dough in half, and roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 15 inches long and 1/4-inch thick.

Spread a thin layer of jam onto the dough leaving a 1-inch border around the sides.

GENEROUSLY top the dough with the cocoa and nut mixture. (I do not have amounts for this. Edith combines cocoa powder with sugar, walnuts and vanilla extract. I would blitz all of this in a food processor until it's finally ground. You could do: 1 cup nuts, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1 tsp vanilla - taste and adjust to your liking).

Don't be stingy! Add a handful of chocolate chips on top of the cocoa and nut mixture. Edith prefers mini-chocolate chips, but we had regular-sized that day. Once you've topped the dough, wrap it tightly into a roll.

You're almost there. Place this rolled up dough, into the bottom of a greased Bundt pan in a ring formation. 

Now, repeat that process with the second half of the dough. Once you've made a second roll of chocolate and jam filled goodness, place it on top of the first ring in the Bundt pan. Press the edges together with your fingers. Make sure the dough is sealed.

Now, your  babka is ready to go in the oven. 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for 45 minutes uncovered, and then cover the pan with foil and bake for another 45 minutes.

Let the babka cool on a rack in the Bundt pan for at least 20 minutes. Then, hope and pray that it will easily come out of the pan when you try to pop it out onto a serving plate. It seems to be easier to get the cake out of the pan after it cools for a bit.

Dust the babka with powdered sugar, slice, and serve with a hot cup of coffee or tea!

This babka freezes well. It can be baked, then frozen and reheated when ready to eat. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Savory Granola

My first experience with savory granola was at The Woodsman Tavern in Portland, OR. They used it to top a delicious and unexpected beet and plum salad. 

That dish inspired me when I was thinking about the menu for the recent pop-up restaurant I did. We served this savory granola atop a salad of dark leaf lettuce, dandelion greens, quick-pickled late season peaches, roasted delicata squash, watermelon radish, and aged gouda (pictured above). 

I love crunchy toppings and nuts and seeds on salads, and savory granola easily combines all of those elements. I wouldn't necessarily eat a bowl of the stuff with milk, but if you like plain yogurt, this could be nice topping and a good alternative to something sweet. It would also would go nicely with some ricotta or maybe atop some warm brie. I also like it as a garnish for a roasted squash soup. 

Like all granola, this is super easy to make and is endlessly changeable. You can swap out any of the nuts or seeds for ones that you prefer, and you can add different spices of flavorings depending on your palate. I love the fennel in this recipe, but if you're not into licorice notes, just omit it.

Savory Granola

1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup raw pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon hemp seeds
1 tablespoon flax seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon coriander
pinch of cayenne, or to taste
1 large egg white
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
3-4 dashes Worcestershire sauce

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients in the order listed. 

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking shit. Spread the mixture out evenly.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Stir the granola once after 15 minutes, and stir again after about 20-25 minutes of baking. Bake until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan. The granola will crisp up as it cools.

Store in an airtight container. The granola will last for about 7-10 days. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Roasted Delicata Squash

Squash season is my favorite time of year, and in my book Delicata holds the title for "best squash."

Delicata has such a buttery soft texture when roasted, it is naturally sweet, and the skin is fairly thin and edible. Sometimes it's nice not to have to bother with peeling hard squash. 

The seeds are also edible. In fact, they're delicious. You can cut the squash into rings and leave the seeds in tact. They'll roast along with the squash, and they add a nutty crunchy element to your dish. My dear friend over at The Yellow Bungalow is also a big fan of this type of preparation.

I add rosemary and a splash of balsamic vinegar to the squash, salt and pepper to taste, and pop these guys in the oven. They cook fast. I like them slightly on the darker end of roasted, but feel free to leave them as long as you prefer.

I eat these as a side, on their own, or on top of a salad. 
Delicata is in the top righthand corner of this display

Roasted Rosemary Delicata Squash
Serves 2-4

One medium-sized Delicata squash
Olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves removed from stem
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar (about 1 tablespoon) 

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the squash into rings about 1/4-1/2 an inch thick depending on your preference. The thicker you cut the squash the longer it will take to roast.

Lay the rings out on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet (not 100% necessary, but makes for easier clean-up).

Drizzle the squash with olive oil. Season with rosemary, salt and pepper. Drizzle with balsamic.

Roast in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the squash is browned and cooked through. Halfway through cooking, check the squash and carefully flip each side over so that the squash evenly browns on both sides.

Serve warm or at room temp. Drizzle with more balsamic if you prefer.

Roasted Delicata on top of a Kale, watermelon radish, cucumber salad dressed with a simple dijon and balsamic vinaigrette 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Miso Matzo Ball Soup

Let me start by saying I broke some rules making this dish (and not just the most obvious one). For one, I made a cheater's version of vegetarian dashi. For an authentic dashi recipe you can check out this or this. There are also some instant dashi mixes on the market. You can also find instant miso soup at many stores, and if that's your thing go for it. If you are still up for making miso soup from scratch I found this post helpful.

Aside from the lack of the dashi's authenticity, this soup is also a little disorienting from the matzo ball perspective. I'm highly accustomed to matzo balls floating around in chicken broth (or vegetarian chicken-tasting broth). When I took the first taste of this soup I wondered where all the familiar flavors had gone. 

Then I took a second bite. I quickly forgot about tradition and authenticity. This is the merger of two comfort foods from two different culinary cultures. The sweet umami salty miso broth is happy to host hearty matzo balls (in lieu of soft tofu or shellfish). The scallions add a refreshing bit of green and bite. I think you could even try out a little fresh dill (gasp!) in this soup. 

One note about matzo balls: I'm not a fan of leaden sinkers, but I do like some chew to my matzo balls. You can make your matzo balls however your bubbe made them. If you really don't want to make matzo balls from scratch you can buy matzo ball mixes at the store. 

There's a lot of room for controversy in this recipe. When you're making super traditional dishes everyone has a strong opinion about what is right and wrong. It's a little daring, but I was happy to throw out the rules and combine two things that aren't frequently brought together.

This recipe could happen in moments if you take all the cheats you want... or this recipe could take just a little longer and you could make every element authentically and from scratch. However you choose to make it, this merger is a happy one.

Miso Matzo Ball Soup
Serves 4 
Makes 10-12 matzo balls

for the matzo balls
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil (or schmaltz)
½ cup matzo meal
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon kosher salt
pepper to taste

for the miso soup
1 4-5 inch piece kombu, rinsed (can substitute with an extra sheet of nori)
1 sheet nori
5 cups water
4 tablespoons white miso
2 large scallions, sliced thin

for the matzo balls
In a bowl, beat the eggs and olive oil together. To the egg mixture, add the matzo meal, baking powder, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Mix together until combined. Your mixture should be sticky and wet. Let the matzo ball dough chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before using it.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once the matzo ball dough has chilled and the water is boiling, form the dough into tablespoon-sized balls. Lower the heat to a simmer, and then carefully drop the balls into the simmering water. They will float and begin to expand. 

Place a lid on the pot, and simmer the matzo balls for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes turn off the heat, and serve the matzo balls, or let them cool in the liquid, and store them in the fridge until ready to use. Matzo balls can be made 1-2 days ahead of when you intend to serve them. While the matzo balls are cooking, make the soup.

for the soup
In a medium pot, add the kombu, nori and water. On medium heat, slowly bring the liquid to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes until the seaweed has imparted flavor to the liquid, and the nori is falling apart. Before the water has come up to a simmer, when it is warm and about 100°F, take a few tablespoons of the liquid and combine it in a small bowl with the miso. Stir until smooth and reserve.

After the broth has simmered for 10 minutes, remove the kombu and nori from the pot. The nori may fall apart a little and that's ok; the seaweed sediment adds flavor. On low heat, whisk the reserved miso mixture into the pot. Add the onions to the pot. Simmer the soup for another 2-3 minutes, but be careful not to boil the miso.

to assemble the dish
Ladle the miso soup into bowls. Serve 2-3 matzo balls per bowl. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Port and Wine Braised Short Ribs

The above photo was taken at The Hunting Party, a pop-up restaurant I collaborated on with two chef friends, Deborah and  Kari.

For our main course we did this port and wine braised short rib (with a cauliflower steak drizzled with port sauce as our vegetarian substitution). Braises are great for entertaining because all of the cooking can be done ahead of time (even days ahead), and you just need to reheat and serve the dish the day of the party. In fact, you should consider making the dish the day before you intend to serve it. Braises only taste better the longer they hang out.

This recipe requires a lot of work and time, but the pay-off is big! It's also a pretty forgiving recipe, so don't worry about getting the exact spice and aromatic measurements correct. You can also swap in or out your favorite herbs and spices. This dish would be nice with star anise and cinnamon in lieu of rosemary and thyme.

This dish is rich, decadent, and delicious and perfect for cold autumn and winter nights. The simmered sauce, sweet from the Port and savory from the wine and stock, goes perfectly with the hearty meat. Enjoy!

Port and Wine Braised Short Ribs
Serves (8-10)

5 lbs. short ribs cut into 2-3 inch pieces (about 1/2 lb. to 1/3 lb. per person)
2 tablespoons ground pepper
2 tablespoons coriander
2 tablespoons garlic powder
olive oil
3 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
3 carrots, cut into large chunks
1 large onion, cut into large chunks
3 small shallots, halved
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups port
1 bottle decent red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir are good
2-3 cups beef or chicken stock, homemade if possible
2 bay leaves
3-4 sprigs rosemary
6 sprigs thyme

Start by seasoning your short ribs 6-8 hours before braising, or overnight. Evenly coat the ribs with ground pepper, coriander and garlic powder. You can use any combination of spices you enjoy.

An hour before cooking, take the ribs out of the refrigerator and generously salt them. Let them come up to room temperature.

On high heat, heat a Dutch oven, or heavy bottomed pot until it is very hot. Drizzle a little oil into the pot, and  in small batches sear the short ribs on all sides (really, each and every side). This step is super important for flavor. You will need to do this in batches unless you have the biggest Dutch oven in history and are cooking over a large fire pit. You do not want to crowd the meat, otherwise the meat won't properly sear. It's properly seared when it's brown and crusty and looks almost like it's cooked from the outside, but is definitely rare inside. Flavor comes from brown crusty bits; they're gold. It takes time and can be tedious and makes your house smokey, but it is a critical step in the braising process.

After searing all of the ribs on all sides, set them aside. To the brown bits and drippings in the pot, add the carrots, celery, onion, and shallots. If the pot doesn't have that much oil in it, drizzle a little more olive oil into the pot. Cook the veggie mixture for 6-7 minutes or until they start to soften. Add the chopped garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes, or until the garlic is fragrant. Add the tomato paste to the pot, and stir until the veggies are well-coated in the mixture. Add the flour to the pot, and stir for another minute. Add the port, wine, and stock to the pot in any order. When you first add a little liquid everything will sizzle, scrape the bottom of the pot while things are sizzling - this is called deglazing, and all those flavor-filled stuck brown bits will come up from the bottom and get incorporated into the final sauce. Add the bay, rosemary, and thyme to the liquid. Bring everything up to a simmer, and let the sauce reduce by a third so that it thickens. You still want to have enough sauce so that when you add the meat back to the pot, all of the meat is covered in the liquid (you can add the extra cup of  stock if you need more liquid). Add the meat back to the pot.

At this point, I let the mixture cool. I cover the pot, put it in the fridge, and I let the beef marinate in the sauce overnight (this was a tip that Deborah gave me). This makes the recipe a multi-day process. If you don't have that kind of time, you can skip the step of marinading the dish in your fridge over night. Instead, after putting the beef back in the pot, cover the pot and place the whole thing in a preheated oven.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the pot in the oven and let the short ribs cook for 2 1/2 - 3 hours or until tender. At this point, check out your sauce. If it's thick enough and you don't mind veggies and herbs in the mix, let the meat rest and then serve big spoonfuls of it onto plates alongside mashed potatoes or something yummy.

If your sauce still looks thin once the meat is cooked and tender, carefully remove the ribs from the pot onto a platter, and cover them loosely with foil. If you don't want chunks of veg and herbs in your dish, you can strain the sauce at this point (just use a mesh strainer). If you like veg and herbs and don't care, you can absolutely leave them in the pot. To thicken your sauce (with or without veg) bring the liquid up to a simmer on the stove-top, and let the mixture simmer until the sauce has reduced to your desired consistency.

Before serving, taste the sauce. Season with salt, pepper, or even sugar if necessary or depending on your taste.

Ladle the hot sauce over the rested meat and serve.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Apple Cheddar Biscuits

I've been working on a series that had me (very very happily) traveling to vineyards around the country, and between travel and recipe testing these posts slipped through the cracks. But I've been cooking like crazy for the past few months, and I hope to update the blog with lots of new recipes.

This past weekend, after returning from the last leg of our travels, I embarked on opening my first pop-up restaurant with two other chefs. In planning our autumn-themed dinner we had many conversations about what flavors make us think the change in seasons and dropping temperatures (even in LA, although very slightly). Apple cheddar combos are classic and available year-round, but I always get the hankering to make apple cheddar dishes when apples are fresh and at their best. As in: right now.

This biscuit recipe is solid, and it works without either the apple or cheddar. You can use any kind of apple; I like to bake with something tart and firm. You could also swap apple for pear, or cheddar for another hard cheese. You could add some fresh herbs (thyme) to the batter for another level of flavor.

These biscuits are best served warm with butter and a good jam on the side. Once out of the oven, they go fast!

Apple Cheddar Biscuits
Makes 24 small biscuits, or about 12-14 standard sized biscuits 

1/2 an apple, cubed small
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4  teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons butter, cubed - very cold
1 cup buttermilk (or regular milk if buttermilk is unavailable) - very cold
1 cup freshly shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish
freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Start by cutting your apple into small cubes. Lay the apple cubes out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake the apple for 15 minutes, or until tender and cooked. The idea behind this step is to release some of the moisture so that the apple doesn't make the biscuit too wet, and also so that it gets cooked and is a pleasing texture. You will need about 1/2 a cup of cooked apple cubes for your biscuit mixture. Extra apple can be used as a topping for oatmeal or yogurt.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisking the dry ingredients together will help with the ultimate fluffy texture you want.

Add the cold cubed butter to the flour. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture becomes a coarse meal (no bigger than pea sized pieces). Alternatively, you can use a food processor to cut your butter into the flour. Pulse the flour and butter together until a coarse meal forms.

Make a well in the center of your butter and flour mixture. Add the buttermilk, cheddar, and apples to the dough. Using a spatula, gently combine the dough with the buttermilk. Be careful not to over mix. Once the mixture just starts to hold together, transfer it onto your board. Knead the dough a few times until it fully incorporates. At this point, you can chill it until you're ready to use. You can also use it immediately.

On a lightly dusted surface, either roll or pat down your dough to about 1/2-inch-3/4-inch thick. Using biscuit cutters, cut out your biscuits and place them onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Top each biscuit with a tiny bit of shredded cheese and freshly ground pepper. For a glossier top, you can brush the tops of the biscuits with buttermilk. You can use the scraps of dough to make more biscuits, but their texture won't be quite as good as the one's that are cute from less worked on dough.

Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the biscuits have risen and are a golden brown.

Serve warm.

At the pop-up we brought them out alongside some quince jam, and some homemade pickles.
Photo by Mark Hanauer

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Summer Rolls

At some point in my summer roll making practice, I decided to deviate from tradition. It took awhile, but after years of making them, it dawned on me that summer rolls are a vehicle that can be filled with whatever I want (i.e. rice paper wrappers are to summer rolls what flour tortillas are to burritos). Sometimes I add a protein, sometimes I add classic vermicelli noodles, and sometimes I add whatever ingredients I'm in the mood for that sound like they'd be good wrapped up together.

I made these as an appetizer for a potluck dinner on a recent hot late summer day (or middle summer day, as LA summers last until nearly Thanksgiving). These are basically salad in summer roll form. They should really be called salad rolls. I filled them with big meaty slices of avocado, fresh herbs and other veggies. You can fill these with your favorite vegetables. You could throw in some protein for a more substantial app. You could go out of left field and fill them with smoked salmon cream cheese, capers, and the other fixins' that usually go on a bagel. Have fun with it. You can make these hours before (or even the night before) you intend to serve them, which is an added bonus to the dish. 

I served these with a peanut sauce, but you could even serve this with your favorite salad dressing, or even plain soy sauce.

You get the point, the recipe is versatile.

I love these on summer days, when all you want to do is sit back with something ice-cold, talk to your friends, share something light to eat, and hang out on a porch in the slowly cooling night air. 

Salad Rolls
Serves 6-8

for the rolls-
1/2 a red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 an English cucumber, cut into thin strips
1 Hass avocado, sliced
1/2 a lemon
3 radishes, cut thin 
2-3 cups baby kale/greens (or your favorite lettuce)
fresh mint
fresh cilantro
fresh basil

for the peanut sauce-
1/3 cup creamy natural peanut butter (unsweetened is best, but you can definitely use regular peanut butter, just add less sweetener to the sauce)
2-3 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons light soy sauce (or to taste)
juice of half a lime 
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or to taste, you can sub sugar for maple syrup or omit entirely)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced or grated fine
1 inch ginger root, minced or grated fine
pinch of dried chili flake

for the rolls-
Start by prepping all of your veggie. I make a station for myself on a large cutting board:
I cut the veggies (I used a mandolin for the radish), I squeeze lemon juice over the avocado (to keep it green and for added flavor), I remove the herbs from their stems, and I put everything into their own separate piles.

Next, I heat some water, and get a big 9 x 13 baking dish that I can pour a few inches of water into. You could also use a big bowl.

Then I take the rice paper wrappers (spring roll wrapper rice paper). You can find the wrappers in Asian markets, and they are also often in the Asian section of your grocery store. I have found them at Whole Foods, Gelson's and other big chain markets. You dip the wrapper into the warm water until it just starts to soften (about 10-20 seconds depending on the temp of the water). You don't want the wrapper to get too soft, or it will break apart. You just want it to become pliable. It will continue to absorb the water and soften when you place it on the cutting board.

Place the softened wrapper onto the cutting board, and begin adding your filling to it.
You can layer these however you like. I started with herbs. Next, I added my cut veggies.
Then I added my greens. At this point, you're ready to roll. You can basically wrap these like you would a burrito.

Fold over the sides first. Don't worry about perfection, just worry about making sure everything gets wrapped up tightly and is secure.
Next wrap the bottom part of the wrapper over the vegetables, and make sure the wrapper is tightly securing everything.
Roll the wrapper up tight, and your roll is finished. Don't worry if it doesn't feel like the wrapper is perfectly stuck on, it will get stickier as it sits.

And there you have it. You can now keep making the rolls until you have used up all of the veggies. The amounts given should give you about 8 rolls.
Slice the rolls in half diagonally, and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

for the peanut sauce-
In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter with a little warm water to loosen it. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, and whisk together. Taste and adjust the flavors according to your liking. You can add more water if you like your sauce thinner, or you can add more peanut butter if you like it thicker. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Eggplant and Zucchini Shakshuka

I call any eggs cooked in any kind of red vegetable sauce a Shakshuka. If you want to make a more traditional version, you can try Ottolenghi's recipe (he also has a good one in his Jerusalem cookbook).

Clearly, I love egg dishes. But I especially love egg dishes that can be made for a crowd. Omelets or fried eggs are you usually best in small batches, but when you bake eggs, you can get a whole bunch going at one time... and that means that this type of dish can be served at a brunch, lunch, or even at a dinner party. They're still best served hot and fresh, but the sauce can be made ahead of time, and you could add and cook the eggs at the last minute for your guests.

I served this dish to my family for lunch along with a salad, and good crusty bread. Good crusty bread should probably be listed as an ingredient in this recipe.

This dish is super satisfying, deeply flavorful, and easily adjustable. Add or omit the veggies you like. The key is to have a chunky homemade tomato sauce with lots of veggies that has a kick to it. However you make it, enjoy!

Eggplant and Zucchini Shakshuka
Serves 4

1 small eggplant, cubed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small bell pepper (orange or red), diced
1 small zucchini, cubed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large tomato, diced
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
big pinch crushed red chili flake (or to taste)
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup plain tomato sauce/pureed tomatoes
1 teaspoon honey (or to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
8 eggs (2 per person)
chopped flat leaf parsley, for garnish

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Start by preparing your eggplant. Cut it into small cubes, and sprinkle the cubes evenly with a tablespoon of kosher salt. Let it stand in a colander for 30 minutes. The salt will make the eggplant less bitter, and it will also prevent it from getting to soggy.

While your eggplant sits in salt, prep the rest of your veggies.

On medium high heat, drizzle in a few tablespoons of olive oil into a large cast iron skillet or braiser Dutch oven (if you don't have either, you can use 2 skillets, stainless steel is better than non-stick... but use what you got!). Let the olive oil get hot, and then add the salted and drained eggplant. Cook the eggplant until it starts to brown and soften, and is mostly cooked through.

Next, add the onion, pepper, and zucchini. Cook until all of the veggies soften and start to brown, about 6-8 minutes. Add more oil if the pan looks dry. Add the garlic, and cook until it softens and starts to smell aromatic, about 1-2 minutes. Add the tomato, then add the spices and cook everything for one minute until the veggies are coated in the spice mixture. Add the tomato paste, and coat all of the veggies in it. Finally add the tomato puree. You should have a very chunky sauce. You can add more or less tomato puree depending on your preference. Finally, season the sauce with honey, salt and pepper. The honey balances out the acidity of the tomatoes, and you can use less or more based on your preference.

Allow the sauce to simmer for 3-5 more minutes, until all of the veggies are fully cooked, and the flavors have come together.

Turn the heat off. At this point, you can reserve the sauce and reheat it just before you are about to cook the eggs. If you are using it immediately, make 8 little wells in the pan. Add one cracked egg to each little well. Cover the pan with a lid, and place it in the oven for 6-8 minutes, or until the eggs are still giggly, but the whites have started to turn opaque above the yolks. Garnish with chopped parsley (not shown in photo, but adds a really nice fresh flavor).

Serve immediately with the aforementioned crusty bread, especially if that bread is toasted!