What is it?
Over the past several months, I have come across the French term on menus and recipe sites. I knew that it meant a kind of sauce, but in my years of cooking, I’d never made a gastrique. A little research dispelled some of the mystique: It is a reduction of sugar, vinegar, and a defining ingredient: be it herb, fruit or vegetable, wine, juice, or even hot sauce. You could call it sweet-and-sour, a la Francaise.
That sweet-sour sauce is more akin to a syrup. It can take on any ingredient; give it a boost. And it does so, with little effort. Sugar paired with your choice of vinegar, caramelized and slow-simmered with whatever ingredient you wish to showcase, becomes an intense tangy glaze.
Our Third Thursday Community Potluck became the happy beneficiary of my gastrique experiments. Since my co-host Gigi (who doesn’t eat fish) couldn’t attend (a first in almost 5 years!) I decided to feature steelhead. (”When it comes to food, I just don’t like the ocean,” she says.)
Steelhead trout is not salmon, although it is in the same family. Steelhead is Rainbow trout that migrates to the sea, returning to spawn in fresh water. Unlike salmon, it survives spawning. But its appearance and taste are very similar, hence steelhead is gaining in popularity. Recipes for it and salmon are interchangeable.
Before I roast the fillets, which cook quickly in a hot oven, I like to begin introducing flavor in the form of oil and spiced salt. When you brush the (cleaned and dried) fish with good olive oil and dust it with this savory mixture, you are in effect laying down the first layer of flavor.
This spiced salt rub consists of 5 ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry. You’ll combine S+P with paprika, and 2 kinds of seeds (yellow mustard and coriander) that you’ve freshly ground together.
In this fashion, you can season the fish hours before you cook it, if you like. The olive oil ready absorbs into the fillet, a sealant in a sense that also holds the spice rub in place. Refrigerate until a half hour before you want to roast it.
Meanwhile, you can make the gastriques.
I chose to make two: one with Sriracha hot sauce and one with white wine. Each has only three ingredients, but what amazing taste!
The hot sauce gastrique packed plenty of fire, that was amplified and yet tempered by the sugar and vinegar.
The white wine gastrique was almost like honey.
After the gastriques cooled, I poured them into squeeze bottles. You can really control how much and where, with a deft squirt and squiggle.
Roasted simply with the spiced salt mixture, the steelhead was very good, without question. But the intriguing overlays that the vigorous striping of gastriques brought to fish elevated it to something extraordinary–imbuing unexpected pops of sweet heat and pungency. Even served at room temperature at potluck, the dish was devoured with gusto by our group.
A new world of cooking possibilities afforded by these infused syrups! I’ve scarcely scratched the surface. I love considering gastriques using different vinegars, like sherry or red wine, married with figs, or blackberries, or even tomatoes.
In my research, I found this luscious sounding recipe for Gorgonzola stuffed Chicken Breasts with Strawberry Gastrique on Cooking Light’s website. It is still winter, but this week, there have been hints of coming spring. And, in Tennessee, that means strawberry season is soon to follow.
ROASTED STEELHEAD TROUT WITH SPICED SALT RUB, AND TWO GASTRIQUES
3 pounds boned steelhead trout fillets (or salmon)
3 tablespoons olive oil
spiced salt rub (recipe below)
Sriracha gastrique (recipe below)
white wine gastrique (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Rinse off the fish fillets and pat dry. Lay onto a baking sheet, skin side down. Brush the tops liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle with spiced salt mixture.
Roast the fillets for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let them sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
Place on a bed of sauteed spinach greens. Stripe the fillets with both gastriques and serve.
SPICED SALT RUB
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
Place salt, black pepper, and paprika into a small bowl.
Place yellow mustard seeds and coriander seeds into mortar, and coarsely grind them together.
Add the ground mustard and coriander seeds to the salt mixture and blend well.
1/2 cup Sriracha (or other choice of hot sauce, such as Louisiana Hot, or Tabasco)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
Place the three ingredients into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved into the mixture.
Bring to a simmer, (uncovered) stirring occasionally. Simmer until the mixture reduces by half—this could take 20 minutes.
The gastrique will deepen in color, and acquire a glazy sheen. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Makes about 3/4 cup.
WHITE WINE GASTRIQUE
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white wine
Place the three ingredients into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved into the mixture.
Bring to a simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cook until the mixture reduces by half—-this could take 20 minutes.
The gastrique will become syrupy, with a glazy sheen. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Makes about 3/4 cup.
Creamy peanut butter, spread to the bread’s edges, a layer of blackberry jelly, capped with another slice of wheatberry bread. A quick double-cut into triangles, then a wrap and tuck into the lunchbox. Anything else? A nice piece of fruit. A cup of yogurt. Every now and then, a cookie.
But always a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
That was my morning routine, for many years, getting my daughter ready for school. I couldn’t count how many PB &Js I’d assembled of the course of her school career. But I do remember how miffed I got, when I learned that she had been making them for herself whenever she stayed with her dad. Until she said,
“But Momma, you make the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!”
I softened, of course. And I thought about the love that went into that simple lunch. Financially, we’d experienced some lean years, for sure. But, unlike many in America and around the world, I never had to worry about Not being able to provide her nourishment.
I thought about those many mornings packing lunches when I was learning about the important work of The Lunchbox Fund.
I recently learned about this organization through Nichole Gulotta of The Giving Table. In food education and activism, I place my focus locally, for the most part. But it is important to open the lens wider. Last year, mobilized by Nichole, we raised awareness about hunger and food insecurity in America, a call to action aligned with the release of the documentary, A Place at the Table.
Today, through Nichole’s initiative, our team of 100 bloggers is shining the light on childhood hunger in South Africa, where over 12 million children live in poverty. The South African government does have programs that feed 8 million of them. But that leaves 4 million with nothing. Founded in 2005, The Lunchbox Fund is dedicated to bridging that gap, providing school feeding programs for these kids who have been left out entirely. The work they are doing is changing lives. And, through our network of bloggers participating in this outreach, we can help.
Our goal, throughout this week, is to raise awareness, and raise $5000.
That money will stretch far, and provide a daily meal for 100 South African children for a year. That’s impressive bang for the buck. If you feel moved to donate, as little as $5 or $10 would make a big difference.
Do good deeds wherever you can. We are all in this together, on this beautiful planet.
Sometimes we extend our hands out into our immediate community. Other times it is our community-at-large, wide, wondrous and ever connected.
THREE HEALTHY DELICIOUS SANDWICHES TO TUCK INTO YOUR LUNCHBOX:
I ‘ve included some easy, affordable recipes, right for any lunch: Fresh Dill-Tuna Salad, Gala Apple-Golden Raisin-Peanut Butter Wrap, and Herbed Quinoa-White Cheddar-Vegetable Wrap. I encourage you to check out Cooking Light’s Ideas for the Lunch Box Brigade for other healthy and tasty ideas for packing.
FRESH DILL TUNA SALAD SANDWICH
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 heaping teaspoon fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 rib celery, diced
2 tablespoons diced red onion
1 6 ounce can of tuna, drained well
1 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds (optional)
handful lettuce leaves, cleaned and dried
whole wheat bread
In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise, Dijon, lemon juice, fresh dill, garlic, black pepper and salt.
Stir in the diced celery and red onion. Add the tuna and toss gently until well combined.
Place the lettuces on a slice of bread. Scoop on the tuna. Top with another slice. Cut and serve.
Makes 2-3 sandwiches
GALA APPLE-GOLDEN RAISIN-PEANUT BUTTER WRAP
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1/2 gala apple, thinly sliced
soft flour tortillas
Slather the tortilla with your favorite peanut butter. Place thinly sliced apples in the center. Sprinkle with golden raisins or currants.
Roll it up. Slice in half, at an angle. Wrap it and tuck it in a lunchbox.
WHITE CHEDDAR-HERBED QUINOA-VEGETABLE WRAP
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 carrot, julienned
1/2 cucumber, julienned
1/4 red bell pepper, julienned
handful of fresh spinach leaves
1 ounce white cheddar, shredded
2 tablespoons coarse grain mustard
whole wheat tortillas
Place red onion into a small bowl. Add vinegar, parsley, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stir well.
Fold in the cooked quinoa.
Spread some coarse grain mustard over the tortilla. In the center, spoon on a mound of quinoa. Place the julienned vegetables on either side of the quinoa, followed by a layer of spinach leaves. Sprinkle on the white cheddar. Roll tightly and wrap in plastic
Makes 2 generous sandwich wraps.
Yes, I realize that it has scarcely been a month since the holidays, ever a cookie fest. No matter. It is always a good time for cookies, especially ones that have noble aspects about them without sacrificing great taste.
Noble aspects, you ask? Indeed!
One recipe boasts reduced fat and sugar and the other is gluten free.
You see, I have become involved in Cookie Trials!
Today’s foray into Cookie Trials brings us Easiest Peanut Butter (remarkable, with only 4 ingredients!) and Cranberry-Orange-Oatmeal (orange zest, sour cream and egg white distinguish this batch). As the batches of both came together quickly, with minimal effort, I thought I would share them with you. Two more cookie recipes for your culinary stockpile…
We’ll start with our 4-ingredient wonder, with a confession.
I love peanut butter, but I’ve never been crazy about peanut butter cookies. The ones I had have been either too dry and crumbly. Or too sweet. And not “pea-nutty” enough.
So, I was intrigued by the idea of a peanut butter cookie made without flour. Maybe flour has been the culprit in forming my distaste. Peanut butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla—that’s all that goes into this recipe. I could imagine the peanut taste really coming through. But, how would it bake up? Would it have a good cookie texture?
The verdict: These are very good peanut butter cookies. They are crisp and a little chewy and have a rich, roasted peanut flavor.
They baked up nicely, thickly. I could have made them smaller. I used an extra-crunchy peanut butter, which fills the dough with plenty of peanut bits. A creamy peanut butter would result in a lighter batter that might spread out a bit more as it bakes.
It should go without saying, but a peanut butter cookie is only as good as the peanut butter going into it. Be sure to use your favorite.
Next up is a “lightened” Cranberry-Orange-Oatmeal cookie, its recipe taken from Cooking Light’s Cranberry-Oatmeal Bars.
The ingredient list looks long, but likely you’ve got most of the items already in your pantry. I had to run out for some sour cream.
I was excited to try this recipe; the classic oatmeal cookie ranks high in my world. So a variation on the theme is generally welcome.
The lightly beaten egg white helps bind the batter, making it a softer cookie: more airy and delicate, like a macaroon.
Orange zest and juice, paired with the sour cream, really bring this cookie to life.
The recipe calls for quick oats, (which I had) but I think you could use the regular “old fashioned” rolled oats, and actually have better results–the oats being more defining, in both taste and texture.
Verdict: overall, a delicious cookie. I like that these can be made easily into a small size–another lighter aspect of the cookie.
Small but good bites are satisfying, especially in these starker, post-holiday times.
GLUTEN FREE PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES from Southern Living
1 cup peanut butter (your choice of creamy or crunchy)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place all four ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Beat until the mixture is well-combined. Form into 1 inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, one inch apart. Flatten the tops gently with the tines of a fork.
Bake on the center rack in a 325 degree preheated oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5–7 minutes before removing the cookies from the baking sheet.
Makes 20-24 cookies
CRANBERRY-ORANGE OATMEAL COOKIES adapted from Cooking Light
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup oats
1 1/3 cups dried cranberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons melted butter
3/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, dried cranberries, both sugars, orange zest, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.
Beat in the sour cream, melted butter, orange juice, vanilla, and egg white.
Scoop small rounds of dough, placing them onto the parchment lined baking sheet, each an inch apart.
Bake on the center rack for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing from baking sheet.
Makes 3 dozen cookies
You never know how or from what place cooking inspiration will come. Today’s dish arose from an unexpected find: a 10 pound box of loosely packed dried guajillo chiles in our food bank’s warehouse. Whatever entity had donated the box didn’t realize that it would be considered a reject. Dried chiles offer little in the way of real food to people who don’t have a viable kitchen or the means to prepare them. Unless anyone at Second Harvest wanted them, ten pounds of dried guajillos were destined for the dumpster.
Of course, we (meaning the staff and volunteers of Second Harvest’s Culinary Arts Center) wanted them. You can’t imagine how many peppers filled the box. Thousands, I’d say! We portioned them into ziplock bags and now have a seemingly inexhaustible supply.
It set me to thinking about molés, those rich complex sauces from Oaxaca, Mexico that have layers of flavor from chiles, fruits, nuts, spices and chocolate.
With our potluck on the horizon, and a turkey breast in my freezer, I deemed it time to make Pavo con Molé—turkey mole. CAC Director Mark gave me a ziplock of chiles and wished me success.
All these many many years of cooking, and I had never made a molé. I’m not sure why. Likely I thought that it was too complicated. Likely I’ve never had a big bag of dried guajillos.
In either event, it’s a project long overdue.
I didn’t have a recipe. Research on the ‘net and some of my cookbooks turned up scads of molé recipes. I cobbled together my own version, which was gleaned from the stellar likes of Diana Kennedy, Susana Palazuelos, and Rick Bayless, tempered by what I had in my pantry.
The common threads:
–Pan-toasting the sesame seeds and spices, to bloom their flavors, before grinding. The same is true for the almonds.
–Steeping the guajillos in boiling water. I add the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and dried currants to the batch. The resulting liquid is infused with intense tastes.
–Stirring in the unsweetened chocolate at the end of the cooking process–the final bass note of flavor to the molé.
Don’t be daunted by the lengthy ingredient list. Believe me, there are molé recipes out there with lists twice as long. This mole possesses wonderful fruity heat and complexity. Its texture is lush.
The method has a few steps, but it is not difficult to make. At all. In fact, it was a pleasurable process to undertake.
In the time it takes for the turkey breast to braise in a Dutch oven, the sauce comes together, filling the kitchen with heady aromatics.
An immersion blender is a life-saver, making the puree a breeze. If you want the mole ultra-smooth, you may run it through a sieve, post-pureeing. I didn’t. I liked the minute bits of guajillo skin, which give the thick, mostly smooth sauce more character.
This makes a lot of molé—plenty to cloak the turkey, with a few cups to spare. That extra will keep up to a week in the fridge, or three months in the freezer.
At potluck, we all were over the moon about this dish, which I served with corn tortillas. Sparks of clove and cinnamon, toasted nuts, fruit and heat, bitter depth of chocolate: The tastes revealed themselves from the front to the back of the tongue, slowly, leaving a mild, contained fire in the mouth. So satisfying to eat!
We were also psychically connected in our potluck preparations. We never assign dishes, or share ahead of time what we are going to bring. And yet, asparagus salsa, Mexican rice and lentils, and black bean-corn salad all turned up on the table–fabulous molé accompaniments.
MOLE SAUCE FOR TURKEY
12-15 dried guajillo chiles
3 bay leaves
2 sticks cinnamon
1/3 cup currants or raisins
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 cup almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 bulb (about 10 cloves) garlic, minced
1-28 ounce can plum tomatoes in sauce
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped or broken into pieces
Place a kettle of water on to boil.
Break off the stems of the dried chiles and shake out the seeds. Break the chiles into pieces and place into a large bowl. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and currants (or raisins.) Pour boiling water over the ingredients to cover. Allow the chiles to rehydrate for 30 minutes.
Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and cloves. Add a teaspoon or two of the guajillo chile seeds. Toast the mixture, shaking it occasionally, for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and place into a separate bowl. Add the almonds to the skillet and toast them in similar fashion, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.
Place cooled almonds, sesame seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds and cloves into a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse an process nuts, spices and seeds into a fine grind.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the minced garlic and continue the sauté.
Open the can of plum tomatoes and add the juice to the onion-garlic mixture. Season with salt.
Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them as well.
Discard the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks from the steeped guajillos. Pour the chiles, currants and liquid into the pot. Add the ground nuts, spices, and seeds. Stir in the 4 cups of stock.
Finally, stir in the unsweetened chocolate.
Reduce the heat to simmer and cook the mixture for 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until it is smooth and glossy. It will still have texture, and will be thick.
Makes 2 quarts molé
PREPARING THE PAVO (TURKEY)
1 turkey breast (6-8 pound)
juice from one lime
Rub the inside and exterior of the turkey breast with lime juice. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
Brown the breast on both sides in a Dutch oven set on medium heat. This will take several minutes—6-8 minutes per side. Add a cup of water (or stock.) Cover and reduce the heat to low.
Braise the bird for about an hour. When done, remove the breast and let it sit, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Remove the skin and pull the breast meat, in lobes, from the carcass.
Place a base of mole, like a thick blanket, over the surface of a serving platter.
Slice the turkey breast and place the pieces on to the blanket of sauce.
Add more sauce over the top.
Garnish with sesame seeds and slices of fresh lime, if you like.
Serves 10-12 generously
In the case of potato gnocchi, I have felt like I’m on a quest for something elusive. Once, a long time ago at a restaurant that no longer exists, I had a sumptuous plate of hand-formed dumplings, pillowy-light bites cloaked in garlicky brown butter sauce: a pleasure to eat. In the wake of that ethereal meal, I would often order potato gnocchi when I’d find it on a menu. Just as often, I would wind up disappointed. The dough was either gummy, or the restaurant had used something pre-fab, vacuum-sealed in a box, a factory line of same-shaped dumplings that cooked up rather dense and chewy. Blecch. No, thank you.
This fall, I had lunch at an eatery in downtown Franklin called Gray’s on Main. They offered a potato gnocchi dish where the dumplings were tumbled with Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and pancetta in a butter sauce. Ah! These cushions of potato had golden butter-crisp exteriors gleaned from a final spin in the skillet. That contrast made them exceptional. At last, I had found the elusive!
Before it vanished.
Their house gnocchi plate is no longer on the menu.
The solution: it’s time to learn to make them myself.
There’s an aspect of gnocchi-making that reminds me of biscuit-making. With a terse list of ingredients, it is not just the quantities of potato, flour, salt and pepper, eggs–or no eggs—that distinguishes the outcome. It’s the process–the light hand in forming the dough. Fluffy biscuits and pillowy gnocchi have this in common. You want to mix and fold the dough deftly, quickly, but not handle it too much. Overworking is what causes that unpalatable toughness.
Indeed, it a matter of practice: Learning the feel of the dough, that “right discrimination” that informs your hands and brain that, yes! this it. This has the right consistency.
The kind of potato you use is critical. Waxy reds or new potatoes won’t work. The humble Russet, boiled in its jacket, peeled and run through a ricer or food mill is The Way. Eggs or no eggs? I have found recipes espousing either. Rachel writes that the Romans prefer the dough with: sturdier in the boil and pan. Head north of The Eternal City, and gnocchi di patate are made without.
While I was mixing up the riced potatoes with flour, I could feel how an eggless dough would work. But I ultimately added the eggs.
It makes a richer dough. And, as I wanted to finish the gnocchi in the skillet–get that lovely crust—using eggs made good sense.
Divide the dough into quarters, rolling each one into a ropey length. After you cut them into little pieces, you’ll roll and press each one with a fork. My gnocchi look a little wonky, I know. No worries. They still tasted delicious. I’ll get better at forming them, with practice.
There is little doubt when they are done—the dumplings will rise to the surface after a couple of minutes in the rolling boil.
Look at these plump dumplings! At this point, they would be delectable, plunked into a red sauce. We are taking it another step:
Pan-seared in a skillet with a saute of shallots and parsnips in butter, topped with a few curls of shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano.
Elusive no more.
PAN-SEARED POTATO GNOCCHI WITH PARSNIPS
adapted from Julianna Grimes at Cooking Light
4 medium Russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 medium parsnips, peeled
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting, rolling out dough
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4-5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced shallots
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano
2 green onions, finely sliced for garnish
Place potatoes and parsnips into a large saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. After 12-15 minutes, remove the parsnips, which should be tender but still firm. Set them aside on a plate to cool.
Continue boiling the potatoes until they yield to a fork–another 15 minutes. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool. Peel them and run them through a potato ricer or food mill (with a shredder-ricer blade) into a large bowl. Season the riced potatoes with salt and black pepper.
Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and rapidly mix by hand. Add the lightly beaten eggs. Mix well to incorporate the eggs into the mixture, but do not overwork the dough–otherwise it will become dense and tough. The dough will actually have a light airy feel to it.
Dust your work table with flour. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope. If the dough becomes too sticky, dust it with a bit more flour. Cut the rope into bite-sized pieces. You may then roll each piece gently with the tines of a fork to make the distinctive indentations—but you don’t have to.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil on medium high heat. Drop the gnocchi in, a dozen or so pieces at a time. You don’t want to overcrowd them. Gently swirl them around in the boiling water so that they don’t stick to the bottom. They will cook quickly.
After a minute or so, they will rise to the surface. Allow them to cook another minute, and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place the cooked gnocchi in a large bowl.
Slice the cooled parsnips into bite size pieces.
In a large skillet set on medium heat, melt the butter. Saute the diced shallots until translucent. Add the parsnips and thyme. Continue to saute for 2-3 minutes. Remove the mixture. Increase the heat to medium high and add a layer of gnocchi to the skillet. Sear the gnocchi until they are nicely browned on one side and remove. When all of the gnocchi are browned, toss them with the parsnip-shallot mixture until well combined.
Portion into warm bowls. Sprinkle each with shaved Parmeggiano-Reggiano and sliced green onions.
Serves 4 as main dishes, 6 appetizer/first course
There’s a huge pot simmering on my stovetop, (yet to be photographed!) filled with white wine, lemons, onions, celery, assorted peppercorns and bay leaf. I call it my spicy-winey lobster bath. Later this evening, my guests and I will be plunging our lobster tails into this heady bath, which will poach them into succulence.
I’ll also make drawn butter, spiked with lemon and cayenne, and place the bowls of that decadence within easy reach for dunking the rich meat. I think the term “gilding the lily” applies here. Oh, well–it is our farewell to 2013.
This is our communal lobster pot gathering, a tradition born a few years ago when we could no longer face going out New Year’s Eve, and, serendipitously, lobster tails happened to be on sale at the market.
Here’s the basic plan: Everyone brings his/her own luxuries–crustacean, and champagne, if that’s your pleasure . In the beginning of this new tradition, I would do a seated dinner. In addition to the spicy-winey bath, I’d make the accompanying courses, which I served at a leisurely pace. In more recent years, we’ve become less formal. We share the making of different dishes and set everything out buffet style. Graze as you will.
Tonight, Heather is bringing a big salad, and a plate of fruits and cheeses. Teresa is bringing some tasty hors d’oeuvres. She’s not sure what they’ll be yet, but our food styling friend always has some terrific ideas and ingredients on hand.
To insure the most good luck possible, I am making “Hoppin’ John” risotto with kale pesto.
But what I want to quickly share with you now is a dessert. I want to end this last day of 2013, which also is this humble blog’s 200th post AND 5th Year Anniversary, with something sweet. (I know! Time. Fleeting!)
It’s a flourless chocolate torte, adapted from this Cooking Light recipe, which caught my eye for its lightness. It has a lower caloric count, yet imparts a depth of rich chocolate taste–especially if you use high quality cocoa and bittersweet chocolate, like this bar from local artisan Olive and SInclair.
Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone. I am serving it with my brandied cherries and a dollop of whipped cream. So, no, it isn’t Super Light, but it is gluten-free, and a sliver of this treat is all that you need to satisfy that one lingering need for a sweet bite, after a fine meal.
Here’s my wish to you for a very happy, healthy, creative, loving, peaceful, generous, and open-hearted new year. May it be filled with many delicious things, too.
FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE TORTE WITH BRANDIED CHERRIES
adapted from Cooking Light
1 tablespoon butter
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa, divided
6 tablespoons ground toasted almonds
4 tablespoons brewed coffee
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9″ springform pan with parchment. Coat the sides and bottom with butter and dust with 1 teaspoon (or so) cocoa.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form, but not dry. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is light and lemon colored. Then, beat in the cocoa and ground almonds.
Place the coffee and chopped bittersweet chocolate into a small saucepan set on medium heat. Stir until the chocolate is just melted.
Beat this to the egg yolk-cocoa mixture.
Fold in the egg whites.
Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan.
Bake on the middle rack for 25-30 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool on a baking rack for 15 minutes.
Serve the cake slightly warm, topped with brandied cherries and whipped cream.
I originally made these for my friend Wendy, who love the Manhattan cocktail. She’s got the bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, now she’s got the luscious brandied cherry to place into the drink. I kept a container to make into other things, like the sauce for this cake.
2 pounds frozen, pitted cherries
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3 whole cloves
1 cup brandy
2 ribbons orange zest
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
Fill 2 glass jars with frozen cherries, dividing them evenly.
Place sugar, cinnamon stick, brandy, orange zest, water & salt in a pan and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Let cool for 10 minutes and pour equal parts over the cherries. Let cool with the top off then cover and refrigerate.
Allow the cherries to cure for a couple of weeks–but know that they will last for several months.
BRANDIED CHERRY SAUCE
1 cup brandied cherries, drained from brandy mixture
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup brandied cherry juice
Place drained brandied cherries into a small bowl.
In a small saucepan set over medium heat, stir the cornstarch and brandied cherry juice together until the cornstarch is dissolved. Continue to stir as the mixture comes to a simmer. It will thicken and become glazy. Remove from heat, and pour over the drained brandied cherries.
It was more than my hope, it was my intention to have numerous posts this month. The kitchen muse thought otherwise. What a spate of not-quite wonderful dishes and complete duds the past two weeks!
The first was the worst: my glaceed chestnuts. Mealy and a misery. Ugh. A chuck into the trash bin was all they deserved, with no looking back.
Next up, Maggie and I made panettones. What an involved fun project! We ordered the special baking forms and Fiori di Sicilia extract. I candied orange, grapefruit, and clementine peels. Maggie made the Biga, or starter.
As the breads baked, they imparted incredible aromatics but they lacked the distinctive soft, spongy texture that makes them a pleasure to eat. Maggie and I both plan on turning that misfortune into panettone bread pudding.
More yolks? A better rise? I will rework the recipe, and try it again. Practice! Failing that, I will respect that most Italian households with accomplished cooks in the kitchen still purchase their Christmas panettones from their local bakers.
And lastly, something went awry with the beautiful Linzer cookie recipe that I found here. The crumbly dough would not roll out. I’ve since figured out what I did wrong.(I used frozen raw egg yolks—but I should have added 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar to the 4 yolks before I froze them. Then, they wouldn’t have been gummy.) I rescued that though, by baking the cookies in individual petite tins in a variety of shapes, and filling them with raspberry preserves.
Okay, The power of threes–three up, three strikes, three outs. Let’s hope this spell of funky kitchen karma is over.
In the meantime, I want to share a successful recipe that you’d be pleased to serve during the holidays. It’s vegetarian; it’s gluten free, and will serve a crowd. It’s even got the Christmas colors going for it: roasted tomato-sweet red pepper sauce and fresh spinach-laced ricotta are spread between thick roasted slabs of eggplant. It is not eggplant parmesan. It’s not lasagna either. There’s no pasta–the eggplant takes the place of the noodles. The best part: it is simply delicious.
I’ll be back soon, with other good things, I promise.
I wish you beneficent times in the kitchen. May the muse smile upon your efforts.
ROASTED EGGPLANT “LASAGNA”
Like most lasagna recipes, there are 3 easy steps to the recipe, before you assemble the layers.
RED SAUCE: Sweet Red Pepper-Tomato
4 large red bell peppers, each cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and black pepper to sprinkle over the vegetables
28 oz can whole plum tomatoes and sauce
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the red bell pepper halves and onion quarters onto a baking sheet. Coat with olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place the canned plum tomatoes and their sauce onto a separate baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Place both baking sheets into the oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the red bell pepper skins are blackened and blistered. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel the pepper skins and discard.
Combine the roasted red bell peppers and onions with the roasted tomatoes into a large saucepan. Using an immersion blender, puree them together until smooth. You may add a little water–start with 1/2 cup—-if the mixture is too thick. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
“GREEN CHEESE” Spinach Ricotta
1/4 pound fresh spinach leaves
1 pound whole milk ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until all of the spinach is finely chopped and incorporated into the ricotta. The mixture will be creamy green.
3 large eggplants
2 cups shredded cheese: 1 cup mozzarella, 1 cup sharp white cheddar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the eggplants lengthwise, about 1/2 inch-3/4 inch thick. Lay the pieces onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Allow them to “sweat”—about 15 minutes—-then gently dab the water droplets with a paper towel.
Drizzle both sides of the eggplant with olive oil and place back onto the baking sheet. Place into the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove, and using a metal spatula, flip the eggplant. Roast for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Keep the shredded cheese handy for the assembly.
Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Coat the bottom and sides of 2 casserole pans with olive oil. Ladle a generous spoonful of red sauce onto the bottom. Cover the sauce with a layer of eggplant, followed by a layer of spinach-ricotta, and a sprinkle of shredded cheese. Repeat the process: red sauce, eggplant, ricotta, shredded cheese.
Baked uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling hot. Let the eggplant lasagna sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Light. This is the challenge, this time of year.
Daily, my work alternates from the kitchen to my home office perch; each space has walls of windows to keep me in tune with the rhythm of the day. Lately I’ve been caught off guard, absorbed by testing recipes, cooking meals, or writing articles, only to look up and find myself shrouded in darkness. The hours move so rapidly, yet I think I’m keeping up.
Suddenly, the curtain drops. Night is here. At 4:45!
Some days I fret at my missed opportunities of sunlight, the better photographs, the lifted spirits. I tell myself–tomorrow, tomorrow—although we know, headed into winter, that each tomorrow means even less.
Moving deeper into the season, I have to capture that light in other ways.
Some mornings Bill and I rise very early, drive to Warner Park, and hike the 2 1/2 mile trail that loops around the wooded hills. Wearing headlamps, we begin in pre-dawn darkness, and find our way along the craggy path. Sometimes I’ll hear the who-who of owls call, or the rustle of a wild turkey flock on its own forest trek. Sometimes I’ll see a set of headlamps on the trail ahead of me, only to realize that it is a set of glowing eyes. A deer!
After thirty minutes of so, we turn off our headlamps. The world is dim, almost colorless, but visible. And then, sunrise.
Ah! Surrounded by hickory and beech trees, their leaves already yellow, we become enveloped in shimmering gold light.
Light and Balance. We need these in the food we eat too.
Today I am sharing two light and leafy recipes–one is a salad, the other cooked greens. Both autumn dishes help to balance out the heavy, hearty fare that defines the approaching holiday season.
I have been relishing fennel, its crunch and lively anise flavor enmeshed in a salad of Honeycrisp apples and clementines. My new favorite! This is a salad of fresh contrasts, melding sweet, peppery, citric, licorice and pungent tastes, with no cooking required. Just skilled prep—apples cut into thin batons, clementines peeled, sectioned and sliced, fennel and red onion almost shaved. Liberally season with salt and black pepper, which will help each element release its juices. Add salted Marcona almonds and your choice of a salty blue (gorgonzola, maytag, danish…)
The dressing is basic. Use a good olive oil—this beauty is from my friends’ biodynamic farm in Tuscany near the Tyrrhennian Sea—and a shake of white balsamic vinegar. As I have learned from Rachel in measuring this, use the Italian sensibility: “q.b.” quanto basto-–what is enough—in other words, use your good judgment.
A member of the chicory family, escarole is a beautiful and mildly bitter green that resembles leafy lettuce. Its core leaves, small and delicate, are ideal in a salad. But the whole head, sliced into ribbons, yields to heat readily, collapsing into a great delectable sopping mound. It makes a sumptuous side dish on its own, or can be spooned over rice or pasta. Served with beans or cornbread, it becomes an Italian dish that has migrated to the South.
In this pot, reds complement the greens. Red onion, red wine vinegar, and a handful of currants to bring pops of sweetness to the dish. You may use golden raisins in place of the currants; either dried fruit will gain a jewel-like glisten in the saute.
I could tell you, “Be grateful for your greens!”–because I am really reminding myself of the same.
Enjoy them chilled crisp in the salad bowl, or braised supple in the Dutch oven.
Enjoy your time with loved ones.
In this season of indulgence, enjoy some time of light and balance.
HONEYCRISP APPLE-CLEMENTINE-FENNEL SALAD
1 Honeycrisp apple, cut into small batons
3-4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, and cut into pieces
1 fennel bulb , shaved or sliced thinly
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup Marcona almonds
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 pound mixed leaf lettuces
Place the prepared apples, clementines, fennel, and red onion into a large chilled bowl. Add the almonds and blue cheese crumbles.
Sprinkle the salt and black pepper over the salad ingredients, followed by the olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Top with mixed lettuces.
Toss the salad gently but thoroughly, so that the myriad ingredients are well-dispersed and the lightly coated with the oil and vinegar. Taste and adjust for seasonings.
Makes 8-10 servings
WILTED ESCAROLE WITH RED ONION, GARLIC, AND CURRANTS adapted from Cooking Light
5-6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sliced red onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2-3 dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3-1/2 cup dried currants
1 large head of escarole, leaves washed and sliced into 1/2 ” thick ribbons
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Place a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Stir in the red onion, garlic, and dried red peppers. Season with salt and saute the mixture for 2 minutes. The red onion will become translucent. Add the dried currants and saute for another minute.
Add the escarole ribbons. Stir and fold them in the red onion mixture. The heat will cause the escarole leaves to collapse and wilt. Add the red wine vinegar. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Allow the escarole to braise for 5 minutes.
Makes 8 servings
Isn’t it wonderful, when you find out that something
you were convinced
would be terribly difficult,
was, in fact,
a breeze, a lark,
That was my pretzel-making experience.
When Jessi brought her pretzels to potluck a few years ago, we all went crazy for them. Who makes pretzels? We rewarmed the soft salty twists in the oven. A dunk into a crock of spicy mustard, we greedily devoured them.
As I was compiling our recipes for the cookbook, I had no doubt.
The pretzels had to be represented.
Jessi readily accommodated, sending me her method, with tips.
Seeking to recreate the same distinctive taste that she and her husband had enjoyed in Bavaria, she had done extensive research and experimentation. The outcome–a straightforward, authentic, and easy-to-make recipe.
The dough is basic. It does not require lengthy rise time or punching down. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, you can whip it up in short order, let the machine do the 10 minute kneading process, while you do something else. Hand-rolling the dough into long strands and looping them into the pretzel shape is quite fun.
But there is one piece to the process that was news to me. What Jessi learned—call it the secret, or the trick to making perfect pretzels—-is that you dip the dough knot into a diluted lye solution before baking.
Lye? Isn’t that the stuff Paulie put into Bed-Bug Eddie’s coffee in The Pope of Greenwich Village?
The idea of working with this caustic substance, well, freaked me out, at first. But Jessi, our resident soap maker, and no stranger to the product, assured me that there was nothing to fear. “Just Be Prudent.” (I’ve listed her prudent tips below, with the recipe.)
Food-grade lye is an intrinsic component of curing olives, and making hominy, In the case of the pretzels, there is amazing science here–the interaction of sodium hydroxide with the oven heat produces that characteristic browning and taste before it vanishes.
And, it was not a problem to use. Really!
I made a batch of pretzels for one of the cookbook’s photo shoot days. I was so elated with how splendid they turned out that I made them again when visiting my bread-baking friend Maggie.
For sure, they are delicious right out of the oven. But you can rewarm them the next day with terrific results. That outer brown sheen only gets crunchier—but there is still that soft chewy pretzel interior.
Many recipes use a combination of baking soda–which is another alkali– and water. And I am happy to send you to Cooking Light for their recipe, if you are not comfortable using the food-grade lye dip. It will make a good pretzel—but not a great one.
Here’s the link to my homemade mustards, if you want to go all-out. The coarse-grain stout mustard is made for pretzel-dunking.
JESSI’S DELICIOUS GERMAN-STYLE PRETZELS
1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
2 cups warm water, divided
5 cups bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup food grade lye*
10 cups water
Coarse sea salt to taste
Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water.
Place the bread flour into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the salt, softened butter, activated yeast, and remaining water. Mix until combined. Knead the ingredients until the dough is elastic, about 10 minutes.
Cover with a towel and let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
Cut into 12 equal pieces and form into balls. Let rest for 5 minutes.
Roll each ball into a thin rope (about 18 inches long). Make into an upside-down U, and twist the ends around each other to create the distinctive pretzel shape.
Place each one on parchment paper–lined baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for a minimum of 2 hours up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a stainless-steel bowl, dissolve the lye in the water. Dip each side of the pretzels into the lye mixture for 15 seconds and remove to the baking sheet.
Sprinkle each pretzel with coarse salt.
Bake for about 17 minutes. Immediately remove the pretzels from the parchment onto wire rack to cool.
• You can find food grade lye at a number of online sources. I ordered mine from http://www.essentialdepot.com/servlet/Categories.
• Only use stainless-steel pots, bowls, and utensils when working with lye. No plastic. No wood. It is wise to wear gloves when dipping the pretzels into the diluted lye solution.
• Don’t be afraid of the lye mixture—just be prudent. It’s pretty diluted and really the key to making the outside of the pretzel firm and browned evenly.
• You can also make pretzel rolls. Snip or score the top of the rolled ball after dipping in the lye solution.
Hail Cantharellus cibarius!
Yes, it is that time of year again, when chanterelles, those golden hued beauties of the forest make their appearance at the market. I’ve been keeping a watchful eye out for them–their beguiling apricot color and scent, curious funnel-shaped stems, and soft gill-like ridges that stretch up to frilled caps. Trumpets of delectability!
So infrequently do I cook with them, that I want make the most of the occasion. Because of their nature, their keen readiness to yield into a silken umami state when sauteed in butter–I don’t want to do too much.
In the past, I’ve paired them nicely with caramelized onions in this tart, and made them the foundation and star of this spoon-creamy risotto. Today, I’ve folded them with cubed bread, eggs, cheeses, and an herb-infused milk, baked into a sumptuous Chanterelle Bread Pudding.
A pile of chanterelles looks formidable at purchase, but reduces quickly in the skillet, so be sure to indulge in a full pound of them.
They’ll retain their meatiness and won’t get lost in the mix. Cleaning them can be a bit of a chore however most necessary; click here for Cooking Light’s foolproof guide to a proper prep. The cleaning may be the most time-consuming part of the recipe!
For the rest of the process, it moves along simply, with simple ingredients. Likely you already have them in your pantry. Stale crusts of bread, eggs, some nutlike cheeses, a little onion and carrot to chop into a mirepoix to add to the base.
What makes this pudding exceptional—besides the grand chanterelles, of course— is the warmed half-and-half, with its plunge of fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage. That trio muddles in the rich milk, infusing it with woodsy herbal notes.
I saute the chopped chanterelle stems with carrot and onion in a nob of Kerrygold butter. After a few minutes, I toss in the mushroom caps, which I prefer to tear into pieces, rather than attack with a knife. In no time, they release their essence–both peppery and fruity– and become lustrous as they simmer. You could add a splash of white wine or sherry at this point—-chanterelles like a nip of the grape—-but it is not essential.
Once they are cooked, the rest is basically a mixing thing. Add your herbed-up half-and-half, shredded cheese (a combination of parmesan and gruyere is quite nice) beaten eggs and cubed bread.
I keep a bag of leftover bread–nubs, scraps, and pieces—in my freezer. Recipes like this one make me glad that I do.
The pudding puffs as it bakes. The interior sides and rumpled top become wonderfully brown and crusty, while the interior maintains its rich creaminess. Tasting the dish–which made a great meal with a green salad—reminded me of big holiday feasts on the horizon. And I realized that this would make an elegant side dish, or dressing. Some of my friends always make Oyster Dressing for Thanksgiving. I think this Chanterelle Bread Pudding rivals that.
CHANTERELLE BREAD PUDDING
1 pound chanterelle mushrooms, carefully cleaned
2 cups half-and-half
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
4-5 sage leaves
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups cubed sturdy stale bread
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese–combination of Parmesan and Gruyere
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1- 8 cup baking or souffle dish, coated with butter
Cut the stems from the chanterelles, setting aside the caps to work with later. Finely chop the stems.
Pour the half-and-half into a small saucepan. Add fresh herbs and place on medium low heat. When bubbles begin to form on the pan’s edge of the liquid, remove from heat. Let the mixture cool as the herbs infuse the half-and-half.
Melt the butter in a large skillet or pot placed on medium heat. Add the chopped chanterelle stems, carrots, and onions. Season with salt and black pepper. Saute for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Chop, or tear by hand, the chanterelle caps into bite sized pieces. Add to the vegetable mixture. Stir gently as the mushroom caps soften and collapse in the saute. This should take about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
Discard the herbs and pour the infused half-and-half into the pot with the mushrooms. Stir in the bread cubes and cheese.
Finally–and quickly—stir in the beaten eggs. When all of the ingredients are well-combined, pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. You may place a sprig of rosemary ( or sage, or thyme) on the top.
Allow the bread pudding to sit for at least an hour (or several hours—you may cover and refrigerate this overnight and bake the following day.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the casserole on the middle oven shelf and bake for 35 minutes.