Saturday, August 28, 2010

roasted cauliflower salad

Cauliflower  and asparagus roasted with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Combined with seasoned slices of heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, and walnuts. Sprinkled with Aleppo pepper, topped with lemon juice and olive oil. Yum.

braised kale

I crave green leafy vegetables, and the dinosaur kale (lacinato kale) is one of my favourites.  It's super healthy, and becomes surprisingly chewy when you braise it. You know how fixated I am about texture and chewiness.
image from san francisco
I've always braised it, though with different stuff as the mood strikes me. Last night's was a winner. You can substitute any leafy vegetable for it, but some greens (e.g. collard greens) I find too tough, and some (the tasteless spinach you get in the US) too insipid, although chard turns out delicious too.

I know it looks like another mud fest, but trust me, it's good.

1 red onion, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 jalapeño, chopped
2 bunches of kale, sliced into 1" strips
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of water (or stock)
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup

It's easiest to slice the kale while it is still in a bunch, and then wash it. I don't strip the stems, but I do discard about 3-4" from the end.

Something about my body chemistry must be changing because I held down the jalapeño with my left hand while chopping it, and my hand burned for almost 24 hours. This is the second time it happened. Didn't used to. So from now on, I wear my kitchen/surgical gloves when chopping hot peppers.

Saute the onion, carrots, and the jalapeño in the olive oil.
Add the kale.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add the water and cook on low heat until the kale has the texture you like. For me, that's about 40 minutes.
Make sure there's a bit of braising liquid left, so you can dunk home-made bread into it.
Add the pomegranate syrup a little at a time, according to taste. I like mine quite acidic.

Remember that when any dish is eaten chilled, it needs more oomph. So if you thought that the saltiness and the tanginess was just right when you took it off the heat, you might want to recheck it after chilling it. 

You can serve the kale warm, but I had mine cold today and it was a great lunch for a hot summer's day.  Love the combination of the deep flavours of the kale with the heat of the jalapeño and the tartness from pomegranates. By the way, it's the pomegranate syrup that turns the dish a muddy brownish colour. Learn to love it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

chana dal, again

Some days I think there's nothing to cook at home, and I realize I can still come up with a nutritious and decent meal. A few days ago, I had weird left overs. The butt end of a bunch of parsley, with some leaves still attached, the green stalks and fronds of the fennel, the last few slices of bacon. And my kitchen is almost never without green peppers, carrots and onions. Plus all kinds of legumes for protein. OK, another chana dal dish, I decided.

I cut up the bacon, cooked it well to render the fat, and discarded most of the fat. Then added to the pan chopped green peppers, chopped fennel parts, chopped parsley stalks and leaves, sliced red onions, sliced carrots. Now that's heavy duty aromatics. Looked pretty.

Then I added the chana dal without pre-cooking it. It works, but it takes quite a long time to cook. Not like lentils.

I added a bit of water, and simmered until the chana dal was done.

It tasted very nice, but it was one of those days when I needed something sharp and strong.  I remembered that I had some chimichurri which had been sitting in the fridge. Dumped it all in there. Now we had more herbs, lots of garlic, and some acid. That was what it needed.

What starch to accompany it? I don't know how this happened, but I was out of bulgur. But I had farro. I had used some of it when I was baking bread, and now it was time to see how it cooked into a pilav. I kept it simple. Added some tomato paste and a bouillon cube to the olive oil in the pan, added 2 cups of water and brought it to a boil, then put in 1 cup of farro. Turned it down and let it simmer until done. Verdict? Unexciting but very pleasant. Nice toothiness -  texture not as chewy as wheat berries but more 'alive' than bulgur. The more I ate it, the more I liked it as an accompaniment to something else with rich flavours. Just right for the chana dal.

So I had a delicious dinner. Patted myself on the back for cooking something so healthy (and frugal, though I must admit that's not a major concern when it comes to food) with whatever was lying around.

And then it hit me. True, a dish made out of staples and left overs. True, it tasted excellent. But it was way too complex. Somehow I yearned for something naked and pure and simple. And then my daughter posted about simple pleasures. Yup, we're like that, my baby and I.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

simple pleasures

Sometimes in life you just crave the simple things, the basics. Sometimes you want to make experiment, branch out, expand your horizons, and sometimes you just want a grilled cheese sandwich. Or vanilla ice cream. Or spaghetti bolognese.

Simple enough, I'm sure you all do this too, but I just enjoyed the meal so much I had to post it.

Onions and red peppers, diced and sauteed.

Ground beef, browned, along with (gasp) canned tomatoes, which I actually just squish between my fingers rather than chop up, and a nice stream of red wine. Salt, pepper, oregano, and Turkish red pepper.

And that's it. Made some whole wheat spaghetti, and then topped it all off with grated pecorino romano.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

life is good

There was a recipe for simit on ev cini's blog, and today was the day. Thank you ev cini!

However, I made the simit with some of the dough that was destined for sourdough bread, and I think sourdough was not a good idea. Next time, either I'll make it with commercial yeast or with my bread dough before it has a chance to sour. Still, brought tears to my eyes.

sunshine in the morning

Ever get tired of the same breakfast over and over? Sometimes just the slightest change and it feels brand new. And it doesn't have to be anything fancy or time-consuming, just breakfast reformatted. This was breakfast a few days ago and it really just made my day, and I'm sure it took no more than 5 minutes to make.

A few slices of that dense brick-like rye bread (is it German? Swiss? You know the kind I'm talking about.), spread with Laughing Cow cheese (or cream cheese if you like), with a bed of fresh spinach and over easy eggs on top. Add an iced latte on the side, and you've got energy for hours.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

close, but not quite there

Latest attempt at the seeded whole wheat. Made a big batch, baked one loaf on that day, let the rest retard in the fridge for three days. Not because that's a good length of time for retardation, but because I wanted to postpone baking until the first loaf was almost gone.

soaker (241 g dry):
  • hulled barley
  • steel cut oats
  • flax seeds
  • sourdough starter (300 g)
  • whole wheat flour (625 g)
  • bread flour (475 g)
  • water (693 g)
  • soaker (487 g wet)
  • sunflower seeds (52 g)

Now unless I'm brain-dead, this dough ends up with 87% hydration! 

water: 693 g water added to the dough, plus half the weight of the starter (at 100% hydration) which is 150 g, and the water that came with the soaker (487 g wet weight-241 g dry weight), for a total of 1089 g.

flour: Whole wheat plus bread flour for a total of 1100 g, plus half of the starter weight, for a total of 1250 g.

That's 87% hydration. Which is very very high. True, it was a soft dough, but by no means an unusually liquidy dough. I'm thinking that's because the whole wheat flour absorbs more water than all purpose flour. Gotta go ask on the Fresh Loaf.

The first loaf turned out very respectable.


The crumb was open and moist. The crust was densely covered with sesame seeds, which warms my heart because it reminds me of simit from the streets of Istanbul. But I really miss the chewiness of wheat berries and I still haven't replenished my stock. The barley, like the farro, became a bit too soft after baking. Not toothy enough for my taste.
Yesterday, I baked the rest of the dough into two boules. The dough had risen a lot over the three days, of course, but had not collapsed. I took it out of the bowl, divided it into  two balls, folded them a few times. It was interesting to see that after a set of folds in each direction, the gluten was so developed that it was hard to press the dough down anymore. I let it rest 10 minutes, then gave a couple more folds. After about an hour and a quarter, I scored one and put it in the oven.

And here's the exciting bit. I had just gotten myself a large, 8 quart stainless steel bowl to cover the loafs with in the oven, following the tips from the Fresh Loaf. No sesame seeds on top this time, because I wanted to see how the dough would behave under the dome. The bowl lies flat on the baking stone, and traps the moisture from the dough so the loaf doesn't dry out immediately. Which is supposed to give you a great oven spring. Did I believe it? Not quite. For so many years, I had tried to take care of this by spraying the oven walls, spraying the dough, putting ice cubes on the lava rocks in the cast iron pan under the dough, etc. None of them had worked. None. So I had become a bit of a skeptic. But ladies and gents, the dome works! Beautifully! I got almost 3 times the oven spring I usually do.

I removed the bowl after 12 minutes so the crust would brown. It turns out this procedure also takes care of one of my pet peeves in bread baking. If I bake the loaf enough to cook it through, the crust gets thicker than I'd like (though that seems to be OK with many people), with no crunch, no pleasant chewiness, no redeeming factors. But if you bake the loaf under a dome, you end up with a thin and crisp, beautiful crust. I was soooo excited about this unexpected result.

If you look closely, you can see the blisters, which I thought was impossible in this kind of a loaf.

The crumb was very open and light and wonderful.

I'm very close to  baking my ideal daily bread. I think.

halibut success

In my last post I said my husband doesn't get too excited about food. Either I was wrong, or I'm becoming a much better cook. Two nights ago I decided to make some fish, which we never do here just because we never do. Inertia. I bought some halibut at the supermarket, chosen because in Spanish apparently it's called "halibut", so it made sense to me. And then I decided to make a whole meal out of it. Started off with Turkish green beans, and I'm not going to tell you how to make them because my guess is you all know. The whole meal really was so simple, but it was so damn tasty I couldn't resist posting it.

Usually when I wear my glasses to cut onions, I cry a little, but with my contacts in it's like I have built-in eyeball shields, so I never even shed one tear. Grated onions though? I thought I was going to die. Literally, I thought someone had bombed the apartment with tear gas. My eyes, my nose, my throat, my lungs... is that normal? Does that happen to you?

Onions, green beans, diced tomatoes all tossed in a pot with olive oil, salt, white pepper, red turkish pepper, and, cause I felt like it, a dash of lemon juice.

Also made a pot of brown rice, and then, just like I saw on the Whole Foods website, rinsed my fish in cold water, patted it dry, sprinkled it with salt and black pepper, and tossed in in the pan. Just like that. I knew it was done when it started falling apart literally before my eyes. Is there another way to test if your fish is done other than seeing if it disintegrates? Honestly though, I think my method worked pretty well, because it was pretty damn amazing.

And my husband loved it. Loved it, with a capital L.

Monday, August 16, 2010

bircher müesli

I have a husband who doesn't tend to get too excited about food. There are a few things however that get him all worked up, like cheeseburgers from Alt n' Bachs in Madison, tacos from La Taqueria in San Francisco, my very own pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, turkish green beans (served warm if possible), and Swiss bircher müesli. Oh yes, of course, he loves tons of other foods, but he doesn't really tend to rave about things. Again, except bircher muesli. So on my recent trip to Switzerland, aside from procuring him 2-3 bowls of the stuff a day, I got a real live Swiss person to explain to me how to do it. This week for our sunday brunch, we made our first attempt. Result? Success!

The first step was to find a decent mix of muesli to start with. I didn't want to go through the trouble of making my own, but all the ones I found that said Authentic Swiss on them had raisins. Sorry, there were no raisins in any of the 50 bowls of muesli we had there. So I went to my trusty organic fair trade health food store and picked up this mix of wheat flakes, barley flakes, oat flakes, rye flakes and rice flakes.

Perfect. Toss half the bag (about 250 g) in a bowl and drown it in whole milk, then dump 250 g of greek yogurt on top and drizzle the whole thing with honey.

In addition you'll need one apple, grated roughly,

tossed into the mix.

And two bananas, sliced to bits,

At this point the milk was all soaked up so I tossed a bit more in, maybe too much, will try less next time. Meanwhile husband was meticulously washing the berries (he's the meticulousest). We used raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and red currants to start.

Chop the berries, some super finely so they are almost a puree, and some in bigger toothier chunks.


Then wait. And wait and wait and wait. And when you can't stand it anymore, serve in two beautiful bowls, and devour.

The result that morning was pretty good. Which we were happy with for our first attempt. But we both deemed it too milky and not flavorful enough. So later that day we bought another box of raspberries, a box of blackberries, and some raw sunflower seeds. I chopped the berries really fine again into a mushy mess and stirred them in and we got a lovely deep purpley pink color, (the blackberries I think are key), and a much richer flavor. Once I tossed in a few handfuls of sunflower seeds, it added a nice earthy dimension to it, and that, combined with the extra berries and the 10 more hours it sat in the fridge, resulted in damn good muesli. This morning the last of it disappeared, and yes, I think it was even better. We have no pictures of the new and improved version, because it vanished so quickly, but it was gorgeous. So, lessons learned: use less milk, be prepared to spend over 20 euros on berries, and make it the night before. You can bet we'll having bircher müesli pretty often now.

sea bass with balsamic glaze 2

I made this again, and again it was spectacular. This time I took pictures. I could have made an attempt to make it look pretty, but I was too hungry. Details of the recipe is in the post on the previous version.

The pluots were a bit too sour, but it balanced out in the end. Here they are, sitting on the glaze before mixing.

Instead of Fresno peppers in the vegetable bed, I used Aleppo pepper in the balsamic glaze. Easier. And here it is, in all its muddy glory.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

breads of the last ten days

I'm catching up on the breads I baked in the last ten days. First, I baked a couple of quick whole wheat breads  - half whole wheat flour, half bread flour. I'd been wondering whether I was overproofing my loaves, so I wanted to experiment with shorter fermentations. I divided the dough in half, and baked the first loaf after about 1.5 hours of proofing. As you can see, I had a blow-out, indicating it had not proofed long enough. I will continue to go with my instincts, instead of the usual proofing time suggested in most formulas.

This loaf was inedible. Unbelievably dense crumb. Couldn't bring myself to take a picture.

The second loaf of the same batch of dough was retarded overnight after shaping. The result:

Much better. Not a whole lot of oven spring. Taste still boring. The sesame seeds on the crust were the best thing. I miss the complexity of seeded breads.

A few days later, I experimented with long retardation.

the soaker (200 g dry):
  • farro (first time I'm using farro in anything)
  • steelcut oats
  • flax seeds (using much smaller amount than before)
Soaked in boiling water overnight, with a pinch of salt.

the dough:
  • sourdough starter (200 g)
  • whole wheat flour (400 g)
  • bread flour (200 g)
  • water (400 g +)
  • soaker, drained
  • roasted pumpkin seeds
  • salt (15 g)
Mixed very briefly, without the salt and the pumpkin seeds.
Autolyse for 30 minutes.
Added the salt and the pumpkin seeds, and mixed for 4 minutes in the mixer.
Gave it 3 s&f's at 20 minute intervals.
Covered and put in the fridge for retardation overnight.

Next morning, divided the dough into two, shaped the loaves, put one back into the fridge. The other one proofed at room temperature and baked as usual. That loaf had a very disappointing texture, mealy like the rye loaf that turned out terrible, though perhaps not quite as bad. This puzzled me to no end, so I checked my formulas and saw that both this seeded whole wheat and the seeded rye had a relatively low proportion of bread flour. I'm thinking that the amount of seeds and grains require the strength that the bread flour provides. The slices were better when toasted, but still not good enough.

The second loaf sat in the fridge for 3 days, then baked after an hour at room temperature. Significantly better. This long retardation seems to have helped the mealiness quite a bit. Wish I knew enough to understand why.

At first, this loaf seemed too sour, expected because of the long proofing. But the next day, the acidity seemed perfect. Generally, very happy with this loaf, though I think increasing the ratio of bread flour will make it much better.

The farro didn't give the same chewiness as wheat berries. I'll switch to wheat berries as soon as I get some more.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

today's variation on chimichurri

Refreshing, but sharp.

green sauce:
  • one bunch Italian parsley
  • one bunch cilantro
  • two large cloves of garlic
  • grated peel of one lemon
  • one Fresno pepper or jalapeño (or dried hot pepper flakes)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt
  • olive oil
In a food processor, chop everything together. Start with a small amount of olive oil, and after everything is chopped, continue to pour the olive oil in a small steady stream until the green sauce is the consistency you like.

I had some for lunch. Spread toasted home-made bread with ricotta, then the sauce, then topped it with a tomato slice. Woke me up. Like a gentle slap on the face.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

sea bass with balsamic glaze

Sorry, no pictures. I made it late last night, and thought I'd photograph the leftovers today, but there were no leftovers. Yup, that good.

This recipe by Brita at food52 for mozzarella with plums in balsamic glaze had been on my mind for quite a while. Actually, it was the plums-in-balsamic-glaze part. I didn't want to use it on mozzarella, because I eat enough mozzarella as it is. Last night, it dawned on me that it would be great with sea bass. Oh my. I don't think I've eaten anything this good for a long, long time. So here it goes.

  • onion (1 medium)
  • fennel (2 small stalks, or one large)
  • fresno pepper (or other hot pepper, like jalapeño)
  • fresh ginger
  • sea bass fillet (I had two fillets, half a pound each) 
  • salt
  • pepper
  • lemon juice
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar (1 1/2 c)
  • pluot (1 large)
the bed:
Cut the onion into thin slices, and saute in olive oil for a few minutes.
Cut the fennel into thin slices.
Finely mince the fresno pepper after taking the seeds and membranes out.
Grate the fresh ginger.
Add the fennel, the pepper, and the ginger to the onions, and continue to saute.
Season with salt.

the fish:
Season the fillets with salt and pepper.
Lay them on the bed of vegetables.
Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil.
Add a few tablespoons of water to the pan.
Cover and steam until done.

the balsamic glazed pluot:
Pour one and a half cups of balsamic vinegar into a small pot.
Boil it down gently until until it is very thick.
Cut a large pluot into sections.
Put them in the glaze, and make sure they are well-coated.
Cook another couple of minutes.
Add a pinch of salt.

the assembly:
Plate the fish skin side down on its bed.
Place the glazed pluots around it.
Pour the rest of the glaze on the fish.

I had bought two small fillets of sea bass from the tail end. I prefer this, because the fillet is even in thickness, and I foolishly thought one fillet would be enough for one person. Well, it is enough, but that doesn't mean one person will eat one fillet.

My main method of cooking fish has been pan searing for as long as I remember. But recently, I have become a fan of steaming. I've had perfect results every time.

The balsamic glaze is strong and assertive. You need enough fennel and ginger to stand up to it.

I thought the glaze needed that pinch of salt to balance the acidity and the sweetness.

I think the glaze would be great as a sauce for the fish, even without the plums. But I do like fruits in main dishes.

Why pluots? Because at WF, the plums looked pathetic and the pluots looked good. They tasted good too, unlike other pluots I've tried. The pluot also retained its texture very well. No mush.

Finally, a note on unventing. 'Unventing' is a knitting term made up by Elizabeth Zimmerman. You unvent something when you come up with it on your own, but you can't call it 'inventing', because surely, somebody else must have done it before you, somewhere, sometime. When you think of the number of hours spent in the kitchen by millions of people every day, chances are even higher than in knitting that you're not the first one who had this brilliant thought. Unless you just made cockscomb foam or something. So this morning I googled 'fish with balsamic glaze', and got many hits. Still, the joy was in the eating, not in the pride of inventing.

Monday, August 2, 2010

on the sixth day

I remembered the strawberries. I took them out of the ziploc bag in the fridge and saw that there were four (only FOUR) strawberries that were moldy. In fact, barely beginning to mold on an area the size of a pencil tip. Amazing. Unbelievable. A few others had started to go soft in tiny spots, but no mold, and tasted fine. I cut up most of it, froze the pieces on a cookie sheet, and put them into the washed ziploc bag. Gonna be strawberry-rich for quite a while.