Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lychee + Rose Boba with Pistachio Jelly {A collaboration}

It all started with a tweet. Phi of Princess Tofu asked if I would make her some pistachio milk, and I said yes on the condition that I get to try the mysterious finished product. I've been following Phi's culinary creations for a good while now and her flavor combinations never fail to blow my mind. She may have thought that the act of pistachio milk-making was a selfless one on my part; au contraire, I simply wished to score some Princess Tofu grubs.

Plus I made her squeeze the nut milk herself. 

So it was that Phi and Nik of A Brown Table came over bearing Mickey Mouse waffles and fresh lychees, respectively, to make some boba tea. Having other food bloggers around to squeal over mason jars, scrutinize light, and geek out on lenses made me feel a little less alone in my crazy world. 

Watching Phi expertly block and bounce light as she arranged props on various surfaces was an inspiration, and I'm continuing to take guidance from her aesthetic. 

When the pistachio milk was made and sweetened with a bit of sugar, Phi whisked it into agar agar dissolved in boiling water to make a firm panna cotta of sorts. The first was so softly set, we ate the silky custard with spoons; little bites of creamy heaven.

The second batch was solid enough to cut into cubes and slurp up in cups of black tea infused with fresh lychees and a splash of rose water. The lychees added just enough natural sweetness while giving the tea a soft fruitiness that blended beautifully with the delicate jelly. I'm not sure I've ever tasted anything so exotic.

Check out Phi's post, including the recipe and her exquisite photographs and writing, here

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Green Goddess Sandwiches

They say bad things happen in threes and this summer I seem to have reached my quota. First there was my pain in the neck, then a bout of poison oak. I figured that whatever karma had caught up with me, I was now in the clear. But then while photographing these sandwiches the other day, I toppled off a step stool and landed in the ER with three stitches in my knee.

I've never before had neck pain last more than a day, and before this month, I hadn't experienced the itchy wonders of poison oak. Falling off of stepladders is not a summer activity in which I usually partake, either. Clearly this is all a sign that I need to stay indoors on the couch watching Britcoms, drinking aperol spritz floats, and eating sandwiches until Labor Day.

After the fall, during which I screamed bloody murder for about 5 minutes (I am not a graceful patient), Jay cleaned me up, plopped me on the couch with several ice packs, turned the laptop to face me, and finished shooting these sandwiches. What a nice guy, right? When the pain didn't stop, we packed up the sandwiches and headed to the ER. The nurse asked if I had hit my head during the fall to which Jay responded, "She screamed. A lot. She was definitely not unconscious," which caused the entire staff to laugh uproariously.

Due to the bodily harm they caused, I should hate these sandwiches if only they weren't so tasty. As it is, we've been making them daily for our lunch. The idea came from a couple of different dining experiences. The first occurred at a restaurant that is usually quite excellent. I ordered a green goddess salad, excited for the little gems, radishes, avocado, red onion, and herbed vinaigrette promised by the menu. What I actually got were some chewed up outer leaves from a romaine head, rock-hard avocado chunks, and what tasted like a watered-down buttermilk dressing. I asked the server if I had perhaps been given the wrong salad, and she said, "No, that's it." The experience left me craving a proper green goddess coated in a nap of potent dressing.

The second source of inspiration was a simple vegetarian sandwich that Jay ordered from a cafe in our neighborhood that's been around for ages. Sourdough bread, avocado, sprouts, cheese, tomatoes, and a slather of tasty aïoli, it was essentially a salad between two pieces of bread – tangy and cool.

This sandwich starts by blending good mayonnaise with garlic, anchovies, lemon, and a mess of herbs: basil, tarragon, and chives being my favored combination. This gets slathered on some bread (preferably a hearty sourdough) and topped with all the green things: thin slices of cucumber, green zebra tomatoes, avocado, sprouts, and lettuce. For protein and ooey-gooiness we add fresh mozzarella, and for extra pungence, some quickly-pickled spring onions.

Thus the sandwiches of our dreams: messy, bright, and ultra-flavorful. Hopefully they will cause no more debacles; I'm very carefully crossing my fingers... 

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Sandwiches, sweet and savory:

One year ago:

Green Goddess Sandwiches

I like the briny umami that the anchovies add to the mayonnaise, but feel free to leave them out if you prefer. (You may wish to add more salt, garlic, or lemon if you do.) The mayonnaise keeps well for up to a week, staying vibrant green and marrying the flavors together nicely. I like the onions best when freshly pickled, but they will also keep in the fridge for a week or more. Wrapping the sandwiches in parchment paper prior to cutting them in half helps them to hold together, but feel free to skip this step in favor of deliciously messy sandwiches. 

Green Goddess Mayonnaise (makes enough for 4-6 sandwiches):
1/3 cup packed basil leaves
1/3 cup packed tarragon leaves
1/3 cup packed chopped chives
2 medium-large garlic cloves
2 anchovy fillets
zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup good mayonnaise (such as Spectrum's olive oil mayonnaise)

Pickled spring onions (makes enough for 4-6 sandwiches):
2 spring onions, bulb thinly sliced
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed

Per sandwich:
2 slices pan bread (I like something with a neutral flavor such as Josie Baker's Wonderbread)
1/2 a small, ripe avocado, sliced
2 fat slices fresh mozzarella
1 medium-sized green zebra tomato (or other heirloom tomato), sliced
a few thin slices cucumber
several slices pickled onion
a handful of sprouts (such as broccoli sprouts), rinsed and dried
a couple of small lettuce leaves (butter or romaine), rinsed and dried

Make the mayonnaise:
In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients except for the lemon juice (i.e., the basil, tarragon, chives, garlic, anchovies, lemon zest, salt, and mayonnaise) in the bowl of a food processor. Puree smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Blend in the lemon juice. Chill until needed. 

Pickle the onions:
In a medium-sized jar, combine the onions slices, vinegar, sugar, salt, and peppercorns. Put the lid on the jar and let sit for at least 10 minutes, shaking a few times to dissolve the salt and sugar. Use immediately or refrigerate until needed, up to 1 week.

Assemble the sandwiches:
Toast the bread and spread both slices with a thick layer of the mayonnaise. Top with the avocado, mozzarella, tomato, cucumber, pickled onion, sprouts, and lettuce. Sandwich with the other slice of bread and press down gently. Optionally wrap the sandwich in parchment or secure with two toothpicks, and slice in half with a sharp serrated bread knife or chef's knife.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Chocolate Cherry Skillet Blondie + Vanilla Bourbon Frozen Yogurt {Gluten-Free}

When people tell me things like "I want to get an ice cream maker, but I don't know if I'll really use it" or "what's a pizza stone?" or "I don't have an oven" they seem a bit foreign to me. It's not that I'm wealthy (very far from it) or a snob. It's just that I grew up with a foodie dad.

With my dad, it wasn't unusual to spend a Sunday afternoon baking cookies, churning ice cream, or making lasagna from hand-rolled pasta. We didn't live anywhere too remote that necessitated making good food from scratch; my dad just loves to cook. The culinary gene must have been passed down from his mother, who we called Bubba and who made the best blintzes ever. 

If cooking wasn't on the agenda, my dad would get out his trusty Zagat guide and take us out to an off-the-beaten-path Thai/Japanese/Italian/French restaurant where I would often get to drink a glass of wine and feel very grown-up.

In the summer, we would often stop to pick up a flat of cherries from a truck by the side of the road and eat them, spitting the pits or stems out the window, on the way home. 

It's my dad's birthday today, so I thought it appropriate to bake something celebratory and cake-like. I'm not much of a layer cake lady, so I made a warm, gooey skillet blondie doused with whiskey and studded with fresh cherries. 

Despite his love of food, my dad is very health-conscious, so I sweetened this puppy with an unrefined cane sugar – fair-trade, organic muscobado sugar from Alter Eco, which has notes of maple, molasses, and butterscotch. The blondie is relatively low in butter, though the moisture and sweetness from the cherries keep is rich and gooey-tasting. A generous shower of dark chocolate shards melt into the batter, and a shot of bourbon adds a touch of boozy tartness. I sprinkle the top with crunchy sea salt flakes; they make this thing extra addictive. 

The recipe is adapted from one I've been making regularly for the past couple of years: these Salty Bourbon Squares from The Vanilla Bean Blog. Sarah adapted the recipe for this goodness from The Settlement Cookbook, a book that details how to snag a man through tasty recipes. The way to my dad's heart is definitely through tasty food and drink, a trait which clearly runs in the family. (Also: kittens.)

I make this blondie gluten-free by trading the AP flour for a blend of sweet rice, oat, and tapioca flours. And I add a touch of ground chia seed to make them chewy like a classic blondie. I changed the proportions of the original recipe to accommodate a mess of juicy fresh cherries, and stuck the batter in a skillet. It can be scooped out warm into mugs or bowls alongside ice cream, or cooled and cut into wedges to travel on picnics and such. 

And I whipped up a super-easy frozen yogurt kissed with vanilla bean and bourbon because I learned from my dad and always have an ice cream maker in the freezer and ready to go. Greek yogurt and heavy cream make this the most voluptuous frozen yogurt ever. 

Happy birthday, Dad!

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Cherry Bombs:

One year ago:
Two years ago:
Three years ago:
Four years ago:

Vanilla Bourbon Frozen Yogurt

Start the frozen yogurt several hours before you wish to serve the blondies. Some bourbons can contain trace amounts of gluten, so seek out one that is certified gluten-free if you or your guests are highly sensitive. Ditto for the blondie.

Makes about 3 1/2 cups

1 cup (8 ounces / 240 mL) heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic blonde cane sugar (4.5 ounces / 130 grams)
pinch salt
2 cups (17.5 ounces / 500 grams) plain, whole milk Greek yogurt (I like Strauss the best)
3-4 tablespoons bourbon whiskey

In a small saucepan, heat together the heavy cream, vanilla pod and scrapings, sugar, and salt over a medium flame until hot and steamy, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cover and steep at least 20 minutes to infuse with the vanilla. Place the yogurt in a medium-sized bowl and whisk smooth.

Strain the cream into the yogurt and whisk to combine. Whisk in the smaller amount of bourbon, tasting and adding the remaining tablespoon if you want a more pronounced flavor. Optionally, chill this mixture for up to a day or two until you're ready to churn, or put it right into your ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions. Scrape into a container and store airtight in the freezer until firm, at least 2 hours and up to a month or two. For longer storage, press a piece of parchment paper directly to the top of the frozen yogurt to discourage ice crystallization and wrap or cover airtight.

Chocolate Cherry + Bourbon Skillet Blondie {Gluten-Free}

You can use 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum in place of the chia seed, or leave it out altogether for a slightly less cohesive blondie (not an issue if you plan to scoop the blondie out of the pan). If gluten isn't an issue for you or your guests, you can probably trade all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour (or rye flour!) for the total amount of flours here and omit the chia seed. Serve this warm from the oven scooped into bowls, or let it cool a bit more and cut into wedges. For square bars, bake in an 8" pan, cool completely, and cut into 12-16 squares.

Makes one 8" skillet; 6-8 servings

3/4 cup (4.25 ounces / 120 grams) unrefined cane sugar (preferably Alter Eco's Muscobado)
1/4 cup (2 ounces / 55 grams) unsalted butter, plus 2 teaspoons for greasing the pan

1/2 cup (2.5 ounces / 75 grams) sweet white rice flour (Mochiko)
1/2 cup (2 ounces / 55 grams) gluten-free oat flour
2 tablespoons (.5 ounce / 15 grams) tapioca flour/starch
1 tablespoon (.25 ounce / 5 grams) ground chia seed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 large egg (2 ounces / 55 grams)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons bourbon (or gluten-free whiskey if you are very sensitive)

1 cup (5 ounces / 140 grams) coarsely chopped dark chocolate (preferably 70% cacao mass)
1 1/4 cups (6 ounces / 170 grams) fresh sweet dark cherries, stemmed, pitted, and halved

1/4 teaspoon flaky salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Grease an 8" oven-proof skillet with the softened butter and set aside. 

In a small saucepan, melt together the butter and unrefined sugar over a medium flame until the mixture bubbles and the sugar is somewhat liquid, about 5 minutes. Scrape into a large bowl and set aside to cool for 10-20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, whisk together the rice, oat and tapioca flours with the ground chia seed, baking powder, and salt to get out the lumps.

When the butter is cool, whisk in the egg vigorously to break up the sugar which will have hardened back together a bit. Whisk in the vanilla extract and the bourbon. Add the flour mixture and stir until well-combined, then stir for 20 more seconds; this will make the blondie nice and chewy. Stir in 3/4 of the chocolate and half of the cherries. Scrape the batter into the greased skillet, and scatter the remaining cherries and chocolate chunks over the top. 

Bake the blondie until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs but not wet batter, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly, then scoop into bowls and serve with the frozen yogurt. Alternately, let cool to warm and cut into wedges. 

Leftovers will keep for up to three days at room temperature (though due to the moisture in the cherries I would recommend refrigerating the extras if your kitchen is very warm and/or humid).

Friday, July 18, 2014

Za'atar Broiled Figs with Pecans + Goat Cheese Honey Ice Cream

Last month, I had the good fortune to sit on a panel of food bloggers and photographers with a couple of top-shelf ladies: Phi of Princess Tofu and Kimberly of The Year in Food. Kimberly had just received a copy of her new book, Vibrant Food, and we got a sneak preview. Once I started leafing through it, I couldn't stop. 

I've written a full review of the book for Blikki, a fabulous online health and well-being magazine, which will come out in August. I had fun writing my first official cookbook review, and particularly getting to spend so much time with Kimberly's inspiring recipes and images. I'll post the link when the issue comes out, but for now I wanted to share a favorite recipe from the book: Broiled Figs with Za'atar and Pecans which I paired with a goat cheese honey ice cream.

Figs have a first small harvest in the late spring, and now they're just starting to tumble into season in earnest. Brown Turkeys tend to be juicy and sweet, Black Missions are a bit firmer, with deep purple flesh, and the green-skinned varieties are so pretty with their shocking pink insides. Any variety would be excellent here. 

The figs are simply sliced in half, drizzled with honey, broiled for a bit, then sprinkled with za'atar and pecans, and broiled again. The honey and cooking make this a fine treatment for figs that are slightly under-ripe, as all will become softened and sweet. Figs that are ripe yet still firm enough to hold their shape are ideal. 

Za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend usually made from sesame seeds, thyme, and sumac, adds an unexpected savory hit. I had some organic sumac sent to me by Spicely which I mixed with white sesame seeds and some lemon thyme that I've managed to keep alive in my window box. (I'm looking for more ways to use sumac, so if you have any recipes you like, chime in in the comments below.)

The savory-sweet figs could swing either way: on a salad, as part of a cheese course, or over ice cream for dessert. I especially love the honeyed fig juices that collect in the bottom of the pan.

I can't think of figs without thinking also of goat cheese, so I whipped up an ice cream sweetened with honey. I love the way the dessert turned out; like a cheese plate in an uncommon form.

I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of Vibrant Foods. Other recipes I have my eye on are:
-Yogurt Paprika Chicken with Lemon – Kimberly's take on Chicken Tikka topped with juice from roasted lemons
-Rhubarb Compote with Cacao Nibs, sweetened with honey and topped with crème fraîche
-Tomato Fennel Soup with Polenta Croutons
-Millet-Stuffed Peppers with Tomatillo Salsa
-Apple Sage Walnut Bread – a not-too-sweet snacking cake that happens to be gluten-free and whole grain

And I can't stop dreaming of the Pimm's Cup that I made last week, gussied up with sliced strawberries, cucumber, and mint. Mmm...

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Gettin' Figgy With It

One year ago:
Multi-Grain Sandwich Bread

Broiled Figs with Za'atar and Pecans

From Vibrant Food by Kimberly Hasselbrink, reprinted with permission

Kimberly says that you can use a store-bought za'atar if you can't find sumac, a dried berry native to the Middle East. The recipe calls for dried thyme; I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh thyme since I had it on hand, and I thought it worked well.

Serves 4-6

1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon dried (or fresh) thyme
1 teaspoon sumac
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup raw, chopped pecans
12 large fresh figs, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup honey
vanilla ice cream, fromage blanc, or goat cheese honey ice cream, for serving

Preheat the broiler.

To make the za'atar, combine the sesame seeds, thyme, sumac, and salt in a bowl. Toss with the pecans and set aside.

Place the figs cut side up in a small roasting pan. Using a small spoon, carefully drizzle the honey over the figs. Broil 6 inches from the heat for 5 minutes. Remove from the broiler and sprinkle the za'atar mix over the figs. Return to the broiler for another 1 to 2 minutes, until the pecans are toasted.

Allow the figs to cool for a couple of minutes. Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream or fromage blanc (or goat cheese honey ice cream) and a little of the remaining honey drizzled on top.