Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Turkey Bolognese

You want to eat a healthy and easy to make version of a classic rich Italian meat sauce...
Make Turkey Bolognese!

Let's be clear: bolognese is traditionally eaten with tagiatelle or in a lasagne alla bolognese.  Bolognese is also traditionally made with beef, or beef and veal, or beef and pork, or some combination of the three.  

I read several dozen bolognese recipes, and here are the dominant ingredients across recipes:
  1. Celery, carrot, and onion finely diced and sweated
  2. Some kind of ground and browned meat
  3. Some kind of tomato element (paste/canned tomatoes)
The second most common set of ingredients appear to be:
  1. Dry Red Wine
  2. Garlic
  3. Milk
  4. Pancetta
When it comes to food, I'm not a stickler about tradition. I care about what tastes good, and I also care about what makes you feel good.  Rich dishes have a time and a place, but on a regular weekday night I don't want to be weighed down by a heavy meal. I tend to eat meat minimally or sometimes not at all; when I do eat meat, I tend to stick to lighter proteins.  

Thus, turkey came to play a role in this classic Italian meat sauce. Instead of tagiatelle, I had whole wheat spaghetti on hand.  I would have preferred to use spaghetti squash in lieu of the noodles, but the store was out.  Regardless, this is a great meat sauce that you could put on almost any starch or vegetable.  Frankly, if you're an obsessive tomato sauce eater like myself, you might just want to eat it straight out of the pot.

One note about this dish, the longer you cook the sauce, the better it will taste. It will taste even better the next day.  I was short on time, but simmering the sauce for a full hour worked well... 2-3 hours total would have been even better.

Turkey Bolognese
Serves 4-6

olive oil
1 large carrot, diced fine
1 large onion, diced fine
3 celery ribs, diced fine
1 large shallot, diced fine
3 cloves of garlic, minced fine
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 lb. ground turkey meat (organic, mix of dark and white)*
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika (optional)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake, plus more to serve alongside the pasta
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, San Marzano*
2 cups low sodium organic chicken broth
1 cup red wine, Bordeaux*
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
Flat leaf italian parsley, roughly chopped
1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti (or any pasta you fancy)

Prep all of your ingredients for the sauce.  Start by finely dicing your carrot, onion and celery.  You can also do this by mincing them in a food processor. Mince your garlic.  Take the leaves off of the stems of thyme.  Open your bottle of wine, the can of crushed tomatoes, and the tomato paste.

Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to a large pot or Dutch oven.  Add your carrot, onion and celery mixture to the pot, and sweat them over medium heat for 10 minutes.  Add the shallot and garlic, and continue to sweat the vegetables for 6-8 minutes longer until they are softened and just beginning to brown.  Transfer the vegetable mixture to a bowl and set aside.

To the same pot, add your ground turkey.  Add a tablespoon of kosher salt to the meat, as well as as 2 teaspoons of freshly ground pepper.  Break the meat apart with a wooden spoon (you don't want big clumps of meat) and cook the ground turkey until it is browned. Add the vegetables back to the pot.  Add the thyme, paprika, chili flakes and bay leaf to the mixture.  Next, add the tomato paste, and thoroughly mix the paste into the mixture so that everything is coated.  Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, and red wine to the pot. Season with a teaspoon of kosher salt (you can add more later).  Bring the mixture up to a simmer.  Partially cover the pot with a lid, and simmer the sauce for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 hours.  Every 20 minutes or so, check to make sure the sauce is gently simmering and stir it.  If the sauce looks dry, add more chicken stock. If you taste the sauce and want more flavor, you can also add a little extra red wine. As the sauce cooks, it will thicken and deepen in flavor.

For a more traditional bolognese (but not kosher), heat up a cup of whole milk in a separate saucepan. Add the warm milk to the sauce for the last 20-30 minutes of the sauces' cooking time. You can also start this dish by browning pancetta in the beginning, taking the browned pancetta out of the pan and reserving it, sweating the vegetables in the oil from the pancetta, and adding the browned pancetta to the sauce when you add the crushed tomatoes and liquids.

After an hour, check your sauce for seasoning.  Add more salt or pepper as needed.  
Your sauce should be thick, meaty, and incredibly yummy.

When your sauce is ready, let it simmer just a little longer while you prepare your pasta.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook your pasta al dente, according to the instructions on the box. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot it was cooked in.

Add big spoonfuls of sauce to the pasta in the pot.  Add enough so that the pasta is generously coated with the bolognese.  Plate your pasta, and garnish with a little extra sauce and some roughly chopped flat leaf parsley.

You will have leftover sauce, which you will be extremely happy about. It will keep in the fridge for a few days.  Alternatively, you can freeze it and use it in future belly-warming meals.

Notes on ingredients:
- You can also sub turkey meat with 6 oz. veal + 6 oz. beef, or all beef, or all chicken, or whatever your heart desires
- The quality of the canned tomatoes you use is wildly important to the outcome of the sauce.  I highly recommend using a San Marzano tomato (comes in different brands). I like Cento
- Make sure your wine is drinkable; it doesn't have to be expensive, but it does have to taste good

Monday, January 27, 2014

Roasted Romanesco with Green Garlic

Romanesco is a uniquely fractal looking vegetable that appears to be a futuristic cross between a broccoli and a cauliflower.  Its taste is similar in flavor and texture to cauliflower, but it comes in a brilliant green hue.

I love all vegetables in a myriad of preparations, but above all else I love my vegetables perfectly and simply roasted with little more than olive oil, salt, and freshly ground pepper. If you are feeling adventurous, you can sprinkle fresh herbs or a ground spice on top of your vegetables.  My favorites are rosemary, Garam Masala, or smoked paprika (separately, not all together).

Roasted vegetables are made even more perfect when the vegetables are exceptional to begin with.
The other day, my friend Liz brought me some wonderful home grown veggies:
Cabbage, Romanesco, Green Garlic

These guys were delicate, small, and gorgeous. I roasted the romanesco with the green garlic, and I saved the cabbage for a potato and leek soup that I made a few days later.

The green garlic was subtle, and satisfyingly caramelized and sweet.  The Romanesco was tender and mild.  This is a great side for any meal, but I ate it drizzled with some lemon tahini sauce as the main part of my lunch that day.

This dish is as simple as can be, but I've added a recipe for you anyway.  This recipe works with almost any type of vegetable you would like to roast.  The key things to do are: use a hot oven, make sure your vegetables are all cut to the same size, evenly coat them with oil, and flip them halfway through the cooking process.  Enjoy!

Roasted Romanesco with Green Garlic

1 head Romanesco (or Cauliflower)
1 small bunch green garlic (or you could try 3 or 4 cloves of whole garlic)
Olive oil
Kosher or flake salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Prepare the Romanesco by cutting it into large florets or into evenly-sized slices.  Keep the pieces of Romanesco the same size so that they all cook in the same amount of time. Roughly chop the green garlic.

Place the garlic and Romanesco on a sheet pan.  Drizzle with olive oil (about 2 tablespoons).  Toss lightly with your hands, make sure each piece is evenly coated in oil.  If the vegetables do not look slightly shiny with oil, add more until they are fully coated. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the veggies.

Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the Romanesco is tender and caramelized on the outside. The cooking time will depend on your oven and the vegetable itself.  After 10 minutes, check the veg, and once it has started to brown on one side, take the pan out of the oven and flip each piece over. Place the sheet pan back in the oven so that the other side gets browned as well. The second side will brown more quickly than the first.

For a boost of flavor, you can squeeze fresh lemon juice over the veg at the last minute. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Chocolate Raspberry Rugelach

You want to impress your friends...
Make chocolate raspberry rugelach!

I know a guy that's a sucker for rugelach.  It's his favorite cookie in the entire world.  His love and delight at the prospect of finding a great rugelach cookie in Los Angeles inspired me to make my own.

After looking through various cookbooks, mostly Jewish in nature, I remembered seeing this recipe in the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman.  If you aren't familiar with Smitten Kitchen, change your culinary life and subscribe to the site. I am constantly humbled by the excellence of Deb's posts, ideas, recipes, and meticulous attention to detail.  I regularly use the cookbook as a source of inspiration.

These cookies are so ridiculously perfect in texture and taste, and so beautiful to look at, that when you share them with friends and family they will start to think of you as a master baker.  Admittedly, the cookies are a little fussy to make. There are multiple steps, but none of those steps are hard.  Plan to make these cookies when you have some time on your hands.

If you're a rugleach lover, look no further.  No store bought version will compare to these flaky, tender, jammy, chocolatey cookies.

Chocolate Raspberry Rugelach
Recipe via The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman

Yields approximately 48 cookies

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (very important)
8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, at room temperature (very important)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 cups all purpose flour

2/3 cup raspberry jam, seedless (seedless blackberry jam is another great option)
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup miniature bittersweet chocolate chips
Calls for 3 tablespoons chopped pecans, I omitted this ingredient

1 large egg yolk
1teaspoon water
Coarse or sanding sugar for sprinkling

Make the dough:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese together until they are light and fluffy. In a medium bowl, combine the salt and flour, then pour the flour mixture into the mixer.  Beat on a lower speed until the flour just disappears.  Scrape the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and shape as best you can into a flattish packet (you will later divide the dough into thirds, so keep that in mind).  Wrap the dough in the plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for two hours or up to three days.

Prepare the baking sheets:
Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Prepare the fillings:
Heat your jam in a small saucepan until it just simmers. This will make the jam easier to spread.

In a small dish, stir together your sugar and cinnamon, set aside.  Add the chocolate chips to a small dish and set aside.  Whisk together the egg and water in a small bowl and set aside.  Make sure you have your coarse sugar readily available.

Take out a rolling pin, small spatula for spreading the jam, flour for the counter, spoons for the dry toppings, and a pastry brush for the egg wash.

Assemble the rugelach:
Divide your chilled dough into thirds.  On a well-floured counter, roll the first third of dough into a large thin circle about 12 inches in diameter (keep the remaining dough in the fridge to keep it cool). Don't worry about rolling out a perfect circle, or about trimming the edges.

Spread 2-3 tablespoons of the jam thinly over your dough.  If you use 3 tablespoons of jam, some of it will ooze out during the baking process, and it will get just a little burnt. I prefer using extra jam. If desire a cleaner cookie, go with 2 tablespoons of the jam.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of cinnamon sugar, 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips, and nuts if you're using them over the dough.  Gently press the toppings into the dough.

Use a pizza cutter or a knife to cut the dough into 16 wedges. Like so:

As you can see, it's hardly perfect, and it hardly matters.  

Roll each wedge tightly from the outside to the center.  Transfer the rugelach to the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Spread them about 1 inch apart.  Pop the tray in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking (I didn't do this and it didn't seem to matter).

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  

Before baking, brush the cookies with the egg wash, and then sprinkle the coarse sugar on top.  Bake the rugelach for 20-25 minutes until they are puffed and golden brown.  Transfer the rugelach to cooling racks while they are still hot, otherwise the jam will harden and they can get stuck on the parchment paper.  Served cooled or lukewarm.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Banana Bread

You have leftover bananas...
Make banana bread, of course!

Friends and the readers of this blog know how much I love to make loaf breads.  Pumpkin is my go-to, but occasionally I have a pile of overripe bananas laying about, and naturally my mind goes to making banana bread out of them.

I have made countless banana bread recipes over the years, and this recipe is a combination of various tricks and tips I have discovered.   I've added some different ingredients this time around, including: coconut sugar, chia seeds, and a little bourbon.

And I always rely on a technique I picked up from a recipe by Tyler Florence.  He takes half of his bananas, and whips them up with sugar until they are nice and fluffy. Then he adds the other bananas (mashed) to the batter.  This way, you have all that moisture and banana flavor, but you still get delicious little chunks of fruit.  If you can't stand chunks of banana in your banana bread, then just mash your bananas super well before adding them to the batter.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with this recipe. It has huge banana flavor without being too sweet, and it is also incredibly moist.  I might add butter next time, I might use some brown sugar instead of coconut sugar, I might add one less egg, I might add cinnamon or clove (see notes at the bottom of the recipe). There's tons of room to play around. This is a very forgiving recipe.


Super Moist Banana Bread with Chia Seeds
Makes 1 9x5 loaf

1 3/4 all purpose flour*
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs*
1 cup coconut sugar*
1/4 cup granulated sugar*
5 super ripe bananas, 4 for the batter, 1 for garnish
3/4 cup vegetable or safflower oil*
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)*

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9 x 5 loaf pan (I used coconut oil spray or you could just grease it with butter).

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

Roughly mash 2 of the bananas in a bowl, and set aside.  I like to keep these bananas super chunky, if you don't like banana chunks, mash these guys really well.

With an electric mixer fitted with a whisk, or with a stand mixer, whip 2 of the bananas with both sugars.  Whip for 3 minutes, until you have a fluffy light banana cream.  Coconut sugar makes this a little less fluffy than regular granulated sugar.  If you don't feel like whipping, just use a whisk to thoroughly combine the sugar and bananas.

Add the oil, eggs, vanilla and bourbon to the sugar mixture and mix well with a whisk.

Mix in the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Be careful not to over mix.  Blend until the flour is just incorporated.

Fold in the mashed bananas and chia seeds.

Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan.  Garnish the top of the loaf with thin slices of banana. Next time I'd probably just scatter a few slices.  When it baked, the sides came out just slightly funny looking, but still delicious.

Bake the banana bread for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a cake tester (or skewer) comes out clean when you test the center.

Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes, and then remove the loaf from the pan and let it cool on a wire rack.

Slice it up and serve!

-Could sub AP flour with some whole wheat flour 
-Eggs could be reduced down to 2
-Coconut sugar can be replaced with 1 cup granulated sugar - I like the flavor of the coconut sugar, but I don't think it's essential. It is now available at lot's of grocery stores, including Trader Joe's
-1/4 cup granulated sugar could be substituted with light brown sugar for a more molasses flavor, especially if you skip the coconut sugar
-3/4 cup oil could be substituted with 3/4 cup of unsalted butter, melted
- I love chia seeds in baked goods, usually they add a nice texture.  They were barely detectable in this, but they may have contributed to the overall moisture.  You could definitely skip this ingredient.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Best Roasted Apple and Pear Crisp Ever

Photo by Mark Hanauer

For New Year's, my brother gave me the gift of the a.o.c. cookbook; a book I had been coveting. A.O.C. is one of L.A.'s exceptional restaurants, and the book is equally impressive.  

I had 30+ people over for dinner on Friday night (more on that in a forthcoming post), and I wanted to make a great dessert. As I skimmed through the book, I came across its recipe for Roasted Pear Crisp with Cranberries.  I love making crumbles and crisps for parties. You can do most of the work ahead of time, pop it in the oven while people are eating the main course, and your entire home becomes filled with the smell of butter, spiced fruit, and the promise of something delicious for the end of the meal.  

Most crisps are super simple to make.  This recipe includes an extra revelatory step: you brown the fruit in butter and sugar before you put it in the oven with the topping.  This extra step means extra work, but the extra work leads to extraordinary flavor.  I'm not going to lie: this dessert is time consuming. However, you and your guests will be handsomely rewarded for your efforts.  My methodology for making crisp will never be the same.

Roasted Apple and Pear Crisp with Cranberry Compote
Slightly adapted from the a.o.c. cookbook, by Suzanne Goin

For the crisp:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus 4 teaspoons or as needed for skillet and baking dish  
1/4 cup dark-brown sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for the pan
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces, plus more for the pan
6 ripe firm pears, preferable D'Anjou, peeled, cut into 1-inch wedges
4 Granny Smith or Pink Lady apples, peeled cut into 1/2 inch wedges I used both kinds of apple
1 recipe cranberry compote

For the compote: 
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 cinammon stick
1 star anise
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup water
Squeeze of orange or tangerine juice

For the compote:
You can make the compote several days before you assemble the dish.  Combine the cranberries, sugar, spices, vanilla, water and juice in a sauce pan.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat and simmer the compote, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries are tender and the compote has thickened, about 10-15 minutes.  

Cool to room temperature. Remove and discard the cinnamon and star anise.  Transfer to the fridge to cool.  It will thicken a bit more in the fridge.

For the crisp:
Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Prep all of your ingredients.  Peel, core, and slice the fruit. I like to core apples and pears with a melon baller.  I slice the pear wedges just slightly larger than the apples, because they are less firm and soften quicker when baked.  I like the combo of the apples and pears; the tartness from the apples balances out the sweetness of the pears. If you are just using pears, use 12 pears total as the recipe originally suggested.  If you are just using apples, you will probably need 8 total, depending on their size. 

Combine the flour, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1/4 cup dark-brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.  Pulse a few times, just to combine the ingredients.  Add 12 tablespoons of butter, and pulse just until the butter and dry ingredients come together and resemble a coarse meal. You can also make this mixture by hand using a pastry cutter.  Turn the meal out into a bowl and use your fingers to squeeze it into clumps.  Transfer the topping to an airtight container, and refrigerate it until you are ready to use.  I made the fruit part hours before the party, and I kept the topping separate until I was ready to stick the dish in the oven.

Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat for 1 minute.  Add 1 tablespoon butter, and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the granulated sugar evenly over the bottom of the skillet.  Add the pears cut-side down in a single layer. You will need to cook the pears in batches, don't crowd the pan or the fruit won't brown properly.
*Note, I forgot to peel the pears at first, and then I had to go back and remove them.  This was dumb. 

Cook the pears for about 4 minutes without moving them, until the undersides are golden brown.  Use tongs or a spoon to turn the pears to caramelize the other cut sides in the same way; turn each pear as it is done, some will brown faster than others; be careful not to burn them or let them get mushy.  The second side will brown much faster-about 2 minutes.  Remove the pears from the skillet to a sheet pan in a single layer, and let cool to room temperature.  Wipe out the pan with paper towels between batches. Continue this process until all of the fruit is browned.

To assemble: 
Rub a little butter on the inside surfaces of an 8 x 10, or 9 x 10 baking dish.  Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of brown sugar over the butter.  Arrange half of the browned fruit in the dish, and spoon half of the cranberry compote over them.  Top with the remaining fruit, and then top with the remaining compote.  Sprinkle the top of the crisp with the butter and flour topping.

Place the dish on a baking sheet to catch any juices that bubble over, and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the crisp topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling up around the edges.  Remove the crisp from the oven, and let it cool slightly before serving.  Serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or yogurt sherbet. Observe the looks of satisfaction as people bite into this warm, heavenly dessert. Enjoy.