Sunday, December 10, 2017

Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens... The 2017 Gift List for Foodies

What’s cooking? Are you kidding? Who has time to cook?






Who’s on your shopping list this holiday season? A newlywed outfitting a new house or apartment? Someone whose kitchen got wiped out in one of this year’s natural disasters? Maybe you just need ideas for your own letter to Santa. Whoever it is, if your friend or loved one is food- or cooking-obsessed, the Kitchen Goddess has some great suggestions for you.

Disclaimer note: The Kitchen Goddess, being a paragon of virtue, has not received as much as a Christmas card for her endorsement of these products.

Stocking Stuffers


The Kitchen Goddess finds herself apron-deep in kitchen tools this year.

The latest word is that tongs are so 2000s, having been replaced by many in the professional world with tweezers. I know, you think tweezers are for eyebrows, but not these beauties. The extra-long 12-inch Tweezer Tongs by Kuchenprofi ($12.49 at amazon.com) are great for turning steaks or chicken or tender sea scallops, and much easier to use than traditional tongs. They’re also way better for grabbing a piece of pasta out of a pot of boiling water when testing for doneness. For plating food and picking up small items – as when you’re sautéing tiny bay scallops or fishing olives or capers out of those ridiculous jars – the smaller, 6½ -inch stainless steel precision tongs with offset tip by Mercer Culinary ($11.15 at amazon.com) are amazing. The Kitchen Goddess also prizes them for placing decorations on rollout cookies. Just about anything tongs can do, tweezers work better.

As much as the KG loves baker’s parchment and the labor it saves from not having to grease baking sheets or scrub to get them clean, those rolls of parchment never cut as neatly or easily as, say, wax paper. And then there’s the trick of trying to keep the corners from curling while you’re laying out dough on them. No more! The Kitchen Goddess has discovered pre-cut parchment sheets. Want to start small? The Smart Baker will send you 24 for $8.80. If you don’t need convincing, get a pack of unbleached sheets from EntreBake, where they’re $11.98 for 100 or $19.98 for 200. But if you’re going to buy 200 (the Kitchen Goddess’s choice, naturally), get the ones from 2DayShip, which sells 200 unbleached sheets for $12.99. All of these are at amazon.com.

Those people at America’s Test Kitchen will take on any challenge. Most recently, they spent a ridiculous amount of energy testing veggie peelers. You heard me. But the KG is not ashamed to take advantage of such studies. The one they liked best is the Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler (model 2212) – fast and smooth, with minimum food waste, cheap, and comfortable to use. And eight great colors. Winner winner lobster dinner! The KG bought five (she has stockings to stuff, too), and agreed with ATK on all points. You can buy one for $3.95 at Chef’s Resource (online), or $4.50 at amazon.com. Or get three for just under $10 at amazon.com or Walmart or Bed Bath & Beyond.


In the KG’s humble opinion, you can never have too many strainers. The only one she doesn’t yet have is a chinois – a conical sieve with an extremely fine mesh. It’s used to strain custards, purees, soups, and sauces, producing a very smooth texture. It can also be used to dust food with a fine layer of powdered sugar or cocoa. A 10-inch version from webstaurant.com is $23.49; but if you have the storage space, there’s a totally cool version, the Fox Run Food Press with pedestal, that comes with a stand and a pestle, that’s only $26.09 at Ace Hardware online.



Actual Gifts


I know, it sounds like a treatment at a high-end spa (and there’s another great gift idea!), but in truth, the Sous Vide Immersion Circulator is the latest in sophisticated cooking equipment. Sous vide (pronounced “soo veed”) cooking involves sealing the food in a plastic bag and immersing it in a water bath that is precisely controlled at a specific temperature. Eventually, the food reaches the same temperature as the water, and it’s ready to eat. (For meat and fish, you’ll still want to quickly sear the finished product to give it a more traditional look.) The low cooking temperature offers a few game-changing benefits: 1) meat remains juicy – never dry; 2) use of a specific temperature delivers a consistency that can’t be achieved with a stove, oven, or grill; and 3) there’s virtually no risk of overcooking.


High-end restaurants have been using this technique for years, and the equipment has finally gotten small enough for home use.

The folks at America’s Test Kitchen ran a bunch of  immersion circulators through their paces, and they recommend the Joule by ChefSteps. It’s not the cheapest around, but it’s small, powerful, and works via an app on your phone. How cool is that? It’s available in white polycarbonate for $179 (plus tax) at amazon.com, or in stainless steel for $199 (plus tax). Free shipping.





One of the women in my book group told me she’d only recently purchased her first piece of Le Creuset. She called it a life-changing piece of cookware and she can’t believe it has taken her so long. I agree – on both counts. So if any of you don’t have the Le Creuset 5½-quart Dutch oven, or are buying a gift and don’t mind spending a bit of moola (best price I could find on these is $329.95 at Bed Bath & Beyond), there’s hardly a better gift for the money. Williams-Sonoma has a broader selection of colors, but you’ll pay an extra $36 in shipping cost for the privilege.

Actual Food


About a year ago in New York City, I ate at David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, the birthplace of the whole ramen noodle craze in the U.S. A great lunch, the highlight of which was discovering Chang’s Ssam Sauce. This spicy, umami-rich seasoning can transform a bowl of ramen noodle soup into a near hallucinogenic experience. Now you could make your own, because the recipe is right there on the internet. But you’d have to go out and find two kinds of fermented chili pastes, and frankly, I’d just as soon skip that step. So I buy it online, at Momofuku Foods, where I gladly pay $7.50 per 11-ounce bottle. They’ll charge you an additional $6.95 for the shipping, but that same $6.95 is also the charge to ship up to five bottles, so get at least one extra while you’re at it. Or maybe go in with a friend and get more. It’s a great gift for anyone who likes Korean food.




At the end of the olive harvest, farmers in the Abruzzo region of southern Italy create special oils made by pressing citrus fruit simultaneously with the olives. The cold-extraction process releases the oil from the citrus peel directly into the olive oil, which makes the flavor clearer and more intense than with infused oils. While you can find it in tangerine and orange flavors, the lemon is the most widely known: Agrumato Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 200 mL ($25.54 on amazon.com.) It’s a great finishing oil for any seafood, as well as grilled veggies and salads.















I know, buttermilk doesn’t sound like a gift. Read on. Why is it the milk industry doesn’t offer 8-ounce containers of buttermilk? I don’t know anyone who drinks it, and most recipes call for, ... oh, half a cup. But it adds moisture and flavor to baked goods, so you buy the quart – the smallest that stores have – and you keep it and you keep it, and maybe you throw another half cup into some soup or a salad dressing, and finally you throw it out because it’s about a month after the due date. Then the next week, you have to buy more for another half cup. The KG has the solution: powdered buttermilk. (The one pictured here –  and in my pantry – is Saco Cultured Buttermilk Blend, which is $5.48 at Walmart.) It only needs refrigeration once you’ve opened it, and it’ll keep for 2-3 years(!). When you’re making something that calls for buttermilk, just stir the powder in with your dry ingredients and add water in the appropriate amount.

Cookbooks


In 1998, New York Times food writer extraordinaire Mark Bittman published How to Cook Everything. Then, in 2007, he emerged with the definitive book on vegetarian cooking, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and in 2008, the Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition of How to Cook Everything. So you’d think he’d have covered the waterfront. Hah! This year, we have the Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (hardcover, $15.40 at amazon.com). This one is the usual doorstop (at 830 pages), but the first, to my knowledge, that includes color photos, which is a great help. And in an interview on NPR, he says this new version has less egg/cheese, and generally lighter cuisine. I didn’t get the first edition, but this one is remarkable – Bittman’s usual tips on cutting, cooking, and storing, as well as separate sections on soups, pasta, breads, and sauces, plus 150 pages of A-to-Z details on all the major fruits and veggies. I guess that is everything.


Winning the prize for the longest title is A Meatloaf in Every Oven: Two Chatty Cooks, One Iconic Dish and Dozens of Recipes - from Mom’s to Mario Batali’s, by Frank Bruni and Jennifer Steinhauer (hardcover, $16.32 at amazon.com). Two more New York Times journalists (Bruni was the Times’s restaurant critic for 5 years, and Steinhauer has covered Congress since 2010) got together one day and started talking about food. It turned out that both were fanatics on the subject of meatloaf. So they wrote a cookbook. The only criticism of note that I’ve seen is that it’s too chatty for some. But I like chat, especially about food, and 46 of 53 amazon reviews gave it 4 or 5 stars, with many commenting on how much they enjoyed the chat. It’s worth noting that the authors solicited recipes from a number of famous chefs, including Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, April Bloomfield, and Alex Guarnaschelli, and – in a nod to the Capitol beat – Republicans Susan Collins and Paul Ryan, and Dems Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Something for everyone.




Happy shopping!



Monday, November 20, 2017

Go! And the Race Is On... – Day 4 of the Marathon of Sides

What’s cooking? Mâche, Watercress, and Endive Salad with Honey-Lemon Vinaigrette




As you’re dashing around making the stuffing and the turkey and the pie and the sides, the final dish to prepare should also be the easiest. That last dish is almost invariably the salad, because the ingredients can’t really be readied the day before, can they? It would be a sad salad indeed that has been sitting in the fridge overnight.

Now let me stop for a moment and make a confession: the Kitchen Goddess doesn’t like to make salad. I’m not sure why – maybe because it doesn’t really involve cooking. Salad dressings are interesting enough, but not salad. So my favorite salads are the kind that, once you assemble the ingredients, you’re essentially done. I don’t mind cutting up a few things, but I don’t want to shred cabbage or tear all those large lettuce leaves into small pieces, or julienne the celery, or any of those other salady tasks. Crazy? Probably. But we all have those tasks we avoid – taking out the trash, washing dishes, making the bed, ... Mine is making salad.

So this salad, which in my humble opinion is a really good salad, is particularly notable for fast, easy assembly. The endive must be sliced (minimal task), the oranges must be peeled and sliced (which actually can be done a day or two before) and the pomegranate seeds must be dug out (surely you have a son/daughter/spouse/guest to whom you can hand off this job); but then it’s all along the lines of throw-it-in-the-bowl and add some dressing.

The mâche (pronounced "mahsh") is one of those greens that used to be a weed and is now chic. Also known as “lamb’s lettuce,” it may be the most delicate of all salad greens; but unlike most salad greens, it’s a good source of the B-group vitamins, vitamin C, iron, potassium and folic acid. Mâche’s soft, sweet, almost nutty-flavored leaves pair well with the peppery flavor of the watercress and the sharp, citrusy Belgian endive. Add the lightly tart pomegranate seeds and the sweet orange pieces, and you have yourself a flavor rainbow. I like to toss on some toasted almonds at the last for a bit of crunch and because they go so well with the honey-lemon vinaigrette.

Watercress: For this salad, I trim the tough stems way back.
Shopping tips: I find the mâche at Whole Foods; it’s supposed to be available year-round, but it’s especially common in winter salads, so you should be able to find some. If not, just add extra watercress and endive. When buying Belgian endive, look for firm heads with tips that are pale yellow-green; avoid those that seem wilted or are browning. Store the endive wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a plastic bag. For watercress, look for perky, dark green leaves – avoid bunches that have been smashed or are wilted or yellowing.

You can, of course, make the vinaigrette a day or two ahead. Use it sparingly on the salad, as you don’t want to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the mâche.

Pewter is a great salad bowl material. Chill the bowl separately or with the undressed salad, and  the salad will stay fresh a long time.


Mâche, Watercress, and Endive Salad


Serves 6.

Ingredients
1 large navel orange
3-4 ounces watercress
2 large heads Belgian endive
2+ ounces mâche rosettes
¼ cup pomegranate seeds
1-2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted



Directions
Cut a thin slice of the orange off to give you a stable base. Slicing down the sides of the orange in long, continuous strokes, remove the peel and any of the white pith showing. Cut the remaining orange ball crosswise into slices about ⅜-inch thick. Cut the slices into pie-shaped bits and reserve.

Lay the bunch of watercress on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut off the thick stalks. Toss any yellow or limp pieces, and further trim back any thick stalks from the sprigs.

Slice across the endive heads in ½-inch widths.

In a large salad bowl, combine the watercress, endive, and mâche rosettes and toss well. Sprinkle the orange pieces and the pomegranate seeds on top. If not serving immediately, lay a damp paper towel across the top of the salad and refrigerate.

When you are ready to serve, toss the salad with a couple of tablespoons of the vinaigrette, taste and add more vinaigrette if necessary. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and sprinkle the toasted almonds on top.


Honey-Lemon Vinaigrette


Makes about 1½ cups.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons lemon juice (regular or Meyer lemons)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8-10 grinds of fresh black pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions
Combine the honey, lemon juice and salt in a jar and shake well to dissolve the salt. Add the remaining ingredients and shake well until emulsified.

For the Mâche, Watercress, and Endive Salad, start with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette, toss the salad well, and add – sparingly – more dressing to taste. Store extra dressing in the fridge.

* * *


Thus ends the 2017 Marathon of Sides. As usual at this time of year, I am especially thankful to all of you for cooking along with me, laughing along with me (please tell me you are occasionally laughing -- life is too short not to), and learning along with me. I wish you all a happy and at least somewhat stress-free Thanksgiving. I'll be back after my grandchildren leave, with a holiday shopping list for the foodies in your life.





Saturday, November 18, 2017

Not Quite to Go... – Day 3 of This Year’s Marathon of Sides

What’s cooking? Smashed Carrots with Feta and Mint





It will take me longer to write this post than it will take any of you to cook this dish, and it’s not going to be a long post. That’s because I’m running out of time to get something up for you before midnight, even though I’m pretty sure most of you – except maybe my friend Henrietta – have the good sense to be in bed by now.

But that’s not going to stop me. Why? Because this new carrot dish is amazing – the texture and flavors are entirely fresh and different. It’s such a pretty dish, too. Even my prince said they were the best carrots he’d had in a long time, and I don’t think it was because he was just hungry.

When you go to buy carrots for this dish, do the Kitchen Goddess a favor and buy the big ones. No frou-frou baby carrots for this dish. It won’t have the same texture, and it won’t have as many of those wonderful nutrients – vitamins A, C, and K, plus potassium – that make carrots so good for you. Cup for cup, baby carrots offer 55% less vitamin A, 55% less vitamin C, 30% less vitamin K, and 25% less potassium than the big-boy carrots. At least, that’s what my research tells me. Of course, if your children will only eat the baby ones – that have been specially bred for sweetness and minimal core – then by all means, buy them. Just not for this dish.

I loved the texture of this dish. Smashing the carrots – which is way more interesting than puréeing them – gives you that lovely mix of soft with not-so-soft, and combines well with the cheese. In effect, the smashed carrots have the same texture as the crumbled feta, so the dish has a nice, even consistency. And the feta, with its sharp, salty flavor, is a great pairing to bring out the natural sweetness of the carrots.

Please note that while it takes very little time to make this dish, you can still cook the carrots/garlic mixture a day ahead. Then when you’re close to serving time, reheat the mix and add the feta/mint. What a winner.

The KG liked garnishing with a pretty bit of carrot top. Check at your grocer or local farmers’ market.

Smashed Carrots with Feta and Mint


Adapted from David Tanis in The New York Times.

Serves 4-6.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
Salt and pepper
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup well-flavored chicken broth (or vegetable stock)
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons freshly chopped mint leaves
Pinch of Aleppo pepper (or crushed red pepper)

Directions
In a large skillet with a lid, heat the olive oil at medium-high until it shimmers (not smoking). Add the carrots and stir them around in the oil to coat. Sprinkle the carrots with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.


Add the garlic and stir it frequently with the carrots until it reaches a golden color, about 3 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown. Add the chicken (or vegetable) stock and stir to combine well.

Cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium low, so that the carrots simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to simmer the carrots another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then turn the heat to medium high until most of the stock has evaporated, which should take another 2 minutes.


Using a potato masher, smash the carrots in the skillet until the mixture reaches a texture you like. Try to leave it a bit rough.

At this point, the carrots can be covered and set aside until you are ready to serve. When you’re ready to serve, reheat the carrots over low heat, adding a tablespoon or two of broth if the mixture seems dry. Check the seasoning and add salt/pepper to taste.

Reserve 1-2 ounces of the feta and about a quarter of the chopped mint as garnish. Stir the rest of the feta and mint into the warm carrots, and transfer the mixture to a serving dish. Sprinkle with the Aleppo pepper (or crushed red pepper), and the remaining feta and mint.

* * *

Come back Sunday for the final installment of this year's Marathon of Sides. Yes, the Kitchen Goddess is taking Saturday off.




Thursday, November 16, 2017

Get Set... – Day 2 of This Year’s Marathon of Sides

What’s cooking? Fava-Mint Pesto




Fava beans are one of those foods I always expect to learn that Martha Stewart popularized. (And yes, I do remember the Hannibal Lecter line from Silence of the Lambs, but I think that reference more likely put people off this fine veggie.) In any case, it’s certainly true that favas currently enjoy a sort of cult following among foodies and chefs, including Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Giada De Laurentiis, and – laughably – 15 recipes at marthastewart.com. The woman is truly incorrigible.


Yet it happens that fava beans – known also as broad beans, field beans, and tic beans – have long been an integral part of cultures as far-flung as China, Colombia, Croatia, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Sudan, and Turkey. Whew. Even tiny Luxembourg, where I’m told (by wikipedia, of course) that smoked collar of pork with broad beans is the national dish. It seems that the U.S. is one of the few countries where these nutty, buttery members of the pea/bean family have not been widely celebrated.

That’s about to change, as the Kitchen Goddess is now a fan. Hahahaha... well, we must have our little joke. But seriously, the expanding popularity of favas in the U.S. has meant that they are much easier to find in your grocery store. (If you don’t find them, try the frozen food aisle.) And although the peak season for them is in the spring, I found some just the other day. I’d been saving today’s recipe for next spring, but was so delighted to see them that I decided what-the-heck. I’ll bet you can find some, too. And if you can’t, try this recipe with lima beans, which are not as flavorful but will take you in the same general direction.

One of the oldest plants in cultivation, fava beans are also one of the most densely nutritious. They’re a cheap and fiber-rich source of lean protein, with no saturated fat or cholesterol. What they do have is lots of thiamin, vitamin K, vitamin B-6, potassium, copper, selenium, zinc and magnesium.

So don’t be put off by the way they look, which is a bit like something Jack might have stolen from the giant. The only small downside is that they take a bit of time to peel:

1. Snap off the end of the pod, and pull the string – like you would with a sugar snap pea.

2. Use a finger or a paring knife to break open the pod along the seam, almost like a zipper. Remove the large, white shells.

3. The meat of the plant is inside those large white shells, and it’s easiest to extract the green insides if you drop the shells in boiling water for 30 seconds, then cool them off in an ice bath.







4. Make a small slit in the white shell, and you can practically squeeze the green insides out.

So, not really hard, just a little tedious. (This is where re-runs of Law & Order will come in handy.) The good news is that the green insides need very little cooking (30 seconds). And once they’re cooked, the pesto comes together quickly with a food processor. So for your Thanksgiving feast, this pesto recipe gives you a tastes-good and good-for-you spread to use on crackers or crostini as an appetizer.

Kitchen Goddess note: The recipe calls for Agrumato olive oil, one of the few items the KG doesn’t have in her larder. It’s an extra-virgin olive oil that has been pressed from olives and lemons, simultaneously. The idea intrigues the KG, but not enough to put off making the recipe. So she bought a lemon-infused olive oil, and was very happy with the results. Then, to satisfy the itch, she ordered some Agrumato. Will let you know how that goes.

The freshness of the lemon and mint flavors works beautifully with the nuttiness of the favas, pistachios, and Parmesan. And the color is outstanding.


Fava-Mint Pesto


Adapted from Los Angeles chef Jessica Largey, in Saveur magazine, June 2015.

Makes 2-2 ½ cups.

Ingredients
3 pounds fresh fava beans in their large, green pods (If you find shelled beans or frozen beans, you’ll need 2 cups of them.)
kosher salt
2 tablespoons raw pistachio nuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, sliced in half
6 tablespoons Agrumato lemon oil or another good quality lemon-infused olive oil
¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
¼ cup loosely packed mint leaves, roughly chopped
finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For presentation:
• seeded crackers or French baguette, sliced and toasted
• shaved Manchego cheese or Pecorino Romano, OR goat cheese with small, fresh basil leaves

Directions
Shuck the fava beans from their pods, then peel off and discard the white shells. (See directions above.) You want to have about 2 cups of cleaned fava beans.

Fava beans: the shucking process.

Prepare a bowl of ice with water and set it aside. Drop the beans into a medium saucepan of boiling, salted water, and when the water returns to a boil, cook the fava beans 30 seconds. Drain the beans and plunge them into the ice bath for a minute to stop the cooking and set the color. 

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the pistachios with the garlic until well chopped. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides, then add 2 tablespoons of the lemon oil and pulse again to combine it well with the nuts and garlic.

Add the fava beans and pulse long enough to get a coarse purée. Scrape down the sides of the processor bowl, and add the remaining 4 tablespoons of lemon oil, the Parmigiano-Reggiano, mint, lemon zest, and juice. Continue to pulse long enough to reach a consistency you like. (This spread looks best when it’s slightly rough.) Season with ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with seeded crackers or crostini on the side, or assemble the crostini with shaved Manchego or Pecorino, or goat cheese with a basil leaf.





* * *

I’ve shown the crostini paired with the Curried Butternut Squash Soup from yesterday’s post, but they’d work well with any of these other treats you can find here at Spoon & Ink (click each name for the appropriate link). And all of them can be made ahead of time and reheated on the big day:

Cold Zucchini Soup
Cream of Broccoli Soup
Thai Curry Soup with Broccoli, Spinach, and Cilantro
Wild Mushroom Soup with Madeira

Come back tomorrow for Smashed Carrots with Feta! We’re marching toward Thanksgiving...


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

On Your Marks...

What’s cooking? Curried Butternut Squash Soup




I’ve been running this form of marathon for four years now, and for the first couple of years these Thanksgiving posts started on the Monday of Thanksgiving week. Because that’s when the Kitchen Goddess starts to get serious about what’s going on the table come Thursday. That’s just how she operates.

Then a couple of years ago, a good friend mentioned – in the nicest tones possible – that he and many of his friends had actually decided on most of the menu well before those last four days, and would it not be possible to get my brilliant ideas a bit earlier?

Well, you have to walk before you can run... At least that’s how I explain that even though I swore last year to start earlier – and in fact did start on the Saturday before Turkey Day – it’s still not as early in the game as I always wish. But we are making progress.

I don’t have a particular theme in mind this year, though if pressed, you might say that it’s about raising the level of interest in veggies any way you can. So this week, I’ll be suggesting radical changes in the appearance or texture of your veggies, and even disguising them as appetizers or salads.

In the days of yore, when the Kitchen Goddess had her annual New Jersey soup party, one of the soups offered was always a purée, and this butternut squash soup – exotically flavored with mild curry, and sweetened up with apples – was invariably a favorite among the guests. Reasonably low fat, elegantly textured, it’ll slip down their throats before they know it’s a vegetable. For appetizer portions, I serve it with a squiggle of light sour cream or yogurt; with more substantial portions, I add grated Granny Smith apple. Beautiful and yummy! Let us give thanks.



Curried Butternut Squash Soup


Adapted from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins in The Silver Palate Cookbook (1982).

Serves 6 as an entrée, 10-12 as a first course, 20-25 as an appetizer

Ingredients
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
This year, I bought Opal Gold with my Granny Smith.
2 cups finely chopped onion (2 medium-large onions – use your food processor)
5 teaspoons mild (sweet) curry powder
3 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½ -¾-inch dice (or, if you are as lucky as I am, and can find it already peeled and diced at your grocery store, use 2 ¾ pounds of the ready-cut)
2 apples (8-9 ounces each – find the most flavorful that you like), peeled, cored, and cut into ½ -¾-inch dice
3 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 cup apple juice or apple cider
1½ teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (or black pepper if you don’t have white)
Garnishes:
light sour cream or plain yogurt
grated Granny Smith apple (unpeeled)

Directions
In a large soup pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter and add the onion and the curry powder. Cook the onion, covered but stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes. Adjust the heat to avoid browning the onions.


Add the squash, apples, and stock, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the soup merely simmers. Cook, partly covered, for 25-30 minutes, until the squash and apple are very tender.

Ready to be puréed.

Strain the solids from the soup and purée them in a blender or food processor until very smooth – 1-2 minutes. Add them back to the pot along with the broth, and stir in the apple juice. Add salt and pepper and adjust the seasoning to taste. Bring the soup back to a simmer and serve immediately.

Garnish with grated Granny Smith apple and light sour cream or plain yogurt.




Friday, November 10, 2017

Remembering the Amalfi Coast

What’s cooking? Lemon Panna Cotta with Blackberry Sauce and Chocolate-Espresso Italian Wedding Cookies




We’ve been back in Texas for a month now, and it’s been pretty non-stop in the kitchen. Dessert for a gourmet dinner group, a bake sale for the hurricane relief effort, two sets of houseguests, and a neighborhood reunion. Whew! Cleverly, I managed to make the same dessert for everyone but the bake sale.

First on the schedule was the gourmet group. It had an Italian theme, which was most fortunate, because before heading South, we’d spent two weeks visiting our favorite spot in Italy: the Amalfi Coast.

 

There’s something really nice about revisiting a place you love – all the must-do restaurants, the sites you most enjoyed in the past, the familiar tastes and smells. And because it’s not a voyage of discovery, you have the gift of time – looking and listening more closely to the hum of daily activity, spotting details of architecture and nature, and enjoying the occasional nap. On a couple of nights, we even eschewed the restaurant scene, bought a handful of items at the local tiny market, and luxuriated in a dinner on the balcony of our apartment.



Another presentation was topped with a tiny
basil leaf and candied lemon peel.
It was my fourth time in Positano, and still I made a discovery: panna cotta. And yes, I know it’s a classic dessert, but even the Kitchen Goddess hasn’t tried everything. I loved the lightness of it, and found the velvety texture with a hint of vanilla to be a really satisfying way to end a meal.

The name means “cooked cream” in Italian, but the cream (at least in this recipe) isn’t really cooked, just heated and combined with gelatin and flavoring. The classic way of serving panna cotta is unmolded, like a crème caramel, but one restaurant where I enjoyed it served it in a small glass with fruit sauce on top, so that’s the look I went for. Also, the Kitchen Goddess hates that whole process of letting the mixture set and then holding your breath while you see if the little darlings will emerge intact from their molds. Finally, I liked the layering of the custard and the topping. You, of course, are welcome to torture yourself with the mold/unmold process. If you do, be sure to oil your molds with vegetable oil before pouring in the custard.

This particular version is lighter than usual, in part because the cream combines with whole milk and crème fraîche, and in part because of the lemon flavoring. And just because she was in charge, the Kitchen Goddess threw a little elderflower liqueur into the berry sauce. Ooooh, yum.

I did switch out the blackberry sauce for lemon sauce with the neighborhood dinner, so you’ll find that as an alternative at the end of this post. Both are unbelievably easy. And again, because I was in charge, I made these really dreamy chocolate-espresso Italian wedding cookies. So that’ll be the fourth recipe you get with this one post. Don’t you just love the Kitchen Goddess?

A Kitchen Goddess note on vanilla beans: These weird-looking creatures are expensive, so if you prefer, you can substitute ½ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. Make sure it’s not artificial vanilla flavoring – which is extracted from wood pulp, can you imagine? OMG, I’m feeling faint. Anyhow, the most important thing about vanilla beans – which are not nearly as scary as they look – is to get ones that are relatively fresh. I know, I know, those dark, shriveled beans don’t look especially fresh, but the ones you want will still be moist and flexible. So don’t buy brittle beans, and keep your beans in airtight bags or jars in a cool, dark place (NOT the fridge).


Lemon Panna Cotta with Blackberry Sauce


Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine, April 2003

Serves 6-8.

Ingredients
For the panna cotta:
1 cup whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
½ vanilla bean
4-5 strips (about ½ inch wide) of lemon peel, with as little white pith as possible
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
½ cup sugar
1 cup crème fraîche

For the blackberry sauce: [KG note: Use any berry you like – just substitute the same quantity of frozen berries.]
3 cups frozen blackberries (about 12 ounces), thawed, drained, juices reserved
3 tablespoons light brown sugar (packed)
3 tablespoons liqueur of your choice (The original recipe called for crème de cassis, which is black-currant-flavored liqueur; the Kitchen Goddess used St. Germain elderflower liqueur.)

Directions
Make the panna cotta:
Combine the milk and cream in a heavy medium saucepan. With the tip of a paring knife, slice the half vanilla bean along its length, and use the knife to scrape the tiny seeds into the liquid, then stir in the bean as well.


Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover it and remove the pan from the heat. Steep, covered, for 30 minutes, then stir in the lemon peel and steep, covered, another 10 minutes.




While the milk/cream is steeping, pour the lemon juice into a small bowl, and sprinkle the gelatin on top. (It needs to sit for 10-15 minutes before you’ll be able to combine it with the milk/cream.)

Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the milk mixture into a medium bowl to remove the lemon peel and any large pieces of vanilla bean.

Return the milk mixture to the saucepan, and add the sugar and the lemon gelatin mixture. Stir often over low heat until the sugar and gelatin dissolve, about 2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the crème fraîche. Divide the mixture among oiled ramekins (if you plan to unmold them), or whatever individual serving dishes you’re using. Cover the dishes with cellophane wrap and chill until set, at least 6 hours or overnight.

No sauce yet. Make sure the panna cottas are fully set before adding sauce.
Make the fruit sauce:
Set aside enough of the thawed berries to use one or two as a garnish on top of each serving of panna cotta.

In a food processor or blender, purée the remaining berries and all reserved juices, brown sugar, and liqueur (if you’re using it). Using a fine-mesh strainer, strain the mixture into a small bowl, pressing with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to extract as much liquid as possible. (This will take more effort than you wish it would, but you really want to get those seeds out. A food mill might be useful here, if you have one. The KG uses a spatula to scrape the solids back and forth in the strainer until they scream for mercy. But she is relentless and you needn’t be quite so much.)

That's the actual sauce in the bowl, upper right. Lower left is what remained after straining.This sauce is soooo easy.
Discard the solids in the strainer. You now have a choice: either stir the reserved berries into the sauce, or leave them separate, as long as you protect them from the air. Chill the sauce, covered, until the panna cotta is well set. Note that the sauce can be made a day ahead. This recipe makes about a cup, which is enough to spoon 1½ tablespoons each on 11 small cups.

Assemble the dessert:
If you are serving the panna cotta a la Kitchen Goddess (i.e., in small glasses), once the custard has set, ladle a small amount of the sauce on top of each and add a berry or two. Return the glasses to the fridge, covered, until ready to serve.

If you are unmolding the panna cotta, run a paring knife around the edge of the ramekins. One at a time, dip the base of the ramekins in a bowl of hot water for 45 seconds. Lay a dessert plate on top of the ramekin, and holding the two together, invert them, shaking them gently, to remove the panna cotta. Garnish the custard with sauce and reserved berries. Serve immediately.

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And here's the lemon sauce, for a change of pace. What the KG really likes about this is the translucent look of the sauce. No butter or cornstarch, so it’s not as opaque as most lemon sauces. If you want it more or less firm, just adjust the amount of gelatin.


Lemon Dessert Sauce


Makes about 1 cup.

Ingredients
½ teaspoon gelatin powder
¼ cup cold water
⅓ cup lemon juice (Meyer lemons or regular lemons, or a mix)
¾ cup sugar

Directions
Put the water into a small bowl, and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let sit 10 minutes, to let the gelatin soften.

In a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice and sugar, and bring to a simmer, stirring only until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once it reaches a simmer, remove from the heat and stir in the gelatin. Put the pan back on low heat and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and pour the syrup into a container. Refrigerate until ready to use.

If you’ll be adding the syrup to the serving glasses with the panna cotta, wait until the syrup is cooled and the panna cotta is set. This syrup will gel somewhat, so add it to the panna cotta glasses before that point. With the panna cotta, you can add any number of garnishes: mint leaves, whole fresh raspberries, half a strawberry,.... Use your imagination!

* * *






And now for the cookies. The combination of coffee, cocoa, and pecans makes these Italian Wedding Cookies a great accompaniment to the lemon panna cotta, and they’re even pretty served on their own. The KG is not the only fan: 2,580 F&W readers gave these gems a 5-star rating.


Chocolate-Espresso Italian Wedding Cookies

             
Adapted from Food & Wine magazine, December 2011


Yield: Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Ingredients
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1¾ cups all-purpose flour (about 221 grams)
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (KG uses Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa)
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups finely chopped pecans
Confectioners’ (powdered) sugar, for coating

Directions
In a large bowl, mix the butter, sugar and vanilla on medium speed for about 2 minutes, until smooth and fluffy. Add the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder and salt until well blended. Stir in the pecans. Refrigerate the dough, covered, for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Line the cookie sheets with baker’s parchment, or grease them lightly with PAM Cooking Spray. (And if you don’t have baker’s parchment, why is that? OMG, the KG says they have changed her life.)


Using a tablespoon, scoop the dough into balls about 1½ inches in diameter, and roll them lightly between your hands to smooth them. Place the balls about 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Refrigerate the sheets for another 15-20 minutes, to let the dough firm up.

Before cooking.
Bake the cookies in the upper and lower thirds of the oven for 15-20 minutes – switching the positions of the sheets halfway through – until the tops are dry and the cookies are slightly firm to the touch. (Not all of the cookies will maintain a nice, round shape, but refrigerating the dough after rolling the cookies will help. And they all taste the same, so don’t worry.)

After baking. Not much change, but some will flatten slightly. Don't sweat it.




It’s important to let the cookies cool on the sheets for 10 minutes, as the lack of egg in this recipe means they can easily fall apart if you touch them before they’ve cooled slightly. After the 10-minute cool, gently transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely. Roll the cooled cookies in confectioners’ sugar to coat.