Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Muscovado Mint Juleps

Classic mint juleps get an update with molasses-y muscovado sugar and lime. Adapted from Brown Sugar Kitchen.

Now that its spring, we're finally getting a winter in San Francisco. Karl the Fog (yes, our fog has a name... and instagram account) has been hanging around most days, blowing chilly sea air inland. I'm glad he's back – I mist him! (SF humor.) In addition to getting to flaunt my favorite boots and scarves, I especially love foggy days for taking pictures. The fog makes the sky like a huge softbox, diffusing the sunlight, bringing forward colors, and creating delicate shadows. Plus Karl keeps my kitchen cool for baking.

But Karl or no, it's never too cold for a mint julep, the refreshing beverage of choice of the Kentucky Derby, which takes place the first weekend in May. A mixture of bourbon and mint, gently sweetened and poured over packed, crushed ice, mint juleps are essentially boozy snow cones. (Also: boozy snow cones.)

This variation of the classic drink comes from Brown Sugar Kitchen, an epic eatery in West Oakland famous for slinging such Southern delicacies as chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and buttery biscuits to hungry brunch-goers.

Though I must come clean: I have yet to actually go to Brown Sugar Kitchen. It's hard to get my hungry butt to the East Bay for brunch when I live a hilly stroll from Plow. But! I do have the cookbook, gifted to me by my brother and sister-in-law (who know me too well) for my birthday last year. We stopped by for dinner, and I watched Sheila dress a huge salad with something creamy and delicious-looking. She said casually, "Oh, the recipe's from this book." Then my brother handed me a brown sugar mint julep. "Oh, it's also from that book," he mentioned.

I sipped, I paged through the book, I ogled sweet potato scones with brown sugar icing, and I pondered whether I should order the book right then and there or wait until I got home.

Then my brother handed me a wrapped gift. I opened it, and it was the book.

It was the best thing that ever happened to anyone.

Aside from these juleps, which we've been loving ever since. They get a simple update from muscovado sugar and citrus juice (they use lemon but I prefer lime) to embody their California roots. First you make a simple syrup with muscovado sugar and tons of fresh mint, then you crush more mint which you shake with the syrup, some bourbon, and lime juice. Pour it over crushed ice and you'll have yourself one heckuva refreshing cocktail. This one gets the balance of flavors just right to my taste: not too sweet, plenty minty, with an extra hit of flavor from the deep, dark muscovado sugar. When I'm too hurried to crush ice in the blender, I pour the julep over cubed ice and top it off with fizzy water.

Either way, mint juleps make me happy. So do cookbooks

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Muscovado Mint Juleps

Adapted from Brown Sugar Kitchen

I recommend a smooth bourbon for these drinks. Elijah Craig is quite affordable and tastier than other bourbons in its price range. Four Roses comes recommended by Brown Sugar Kitchen. I've made the syrup with both an unrefined muscobado sugar by Alter Eco, and a light muscovado sugar. Light or dark brown sugar will work, too; the darker the sugar, the more lovely molasses flavor and deep color the finished drink will have. For an extra floral variation, try the vanilla version below. 

Muscovado Mint Syrup (enough for many drinks):
1 cup (7 ounces / 200 grams) light or dark muscovado (or brown) sugar
1 cup water
leaves from 1 large bunch mint (1 cup packed)

The Julep (makes 1):
several mint leaves, plus one or two pretty sprigs for garnish
1/4 cup bourbon (such as Elijah Craig or Four Roses)
2 tablespoons muscovado mint syrup (above)
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
ice (crushed if you like)
sparkling water (optional, if using cubed ice)

Make the syrup:
In a medium pot, bring the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and add the mint. Cover and let steep 20 minutes. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve and into a heat-proof container. Let cool. Cover and chill until cold, 2 hours. (Can be made up to a few weeks ahead and stored airtight in the refrigerator.)

Make the juleps:
Place the mint leaves in a cocktail shaker or jar and crush lightly. Add the bourbon, muscovado syrup, lime juice, and a few ice cubes. Stir or shake until cold, 30 seconds, then strain into a glass packed with crushed ice. Top with more crushed ice, garnish with the mint sprig, and serve. (If using cubed ice, top the drink of with a spritz of fizzy water.)

Variation: Muscovado Vanilla Mint Juleps
Add half of a vanilla bean to the syrup along with the sugar. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Superfood Chocolate Crispy Treats {gluten-free, vegan, refined sugar-free}

This wholesome take on Rice Krispies Treats gets sweetness from coconut nectar, chewy gooeyness from almond butter, and a host of goodness from hemp seeds, cacao nibs, and superfood chocolate. A gluten-free, vegan, and refined sugar-free recipe that still tastes like a treat. 

The first job I had upon moving to San Francisco was at a gluten-free wholesale bakery. The communal kitchen where the bakery operated was home to several other businesses: caterers, bakers, and charcuterie-makers, to name a few. My predecessor at the bakery, Megan, was an artist who still lived in the neighborhood, and one day she came by the kitchen to work on her latest project: a giant Rice Krispies Treat which she would shellack and mount on the wall. 

Sadly, my shift ended before I got to see her creation, but I was left with a hunger for the infamous cereal bars of my childhood. Even more sad was the fact that I now eschewed marshmallows. The craving didn't fade, and eventually, five years ago, I took a stab at a marshmallow-less (and slightly healthier) version of the bars made with almond butter, chocolate, coconut oil, and a combination of brown rice and maple syrups. I used organic brown rice crisps and topped them with chocolate ganache, and I made them vegan and gluten-free. 

I called them Hippie Crispies

The hippie crispies developed a bit of a cult following. They were named a Community Pick on Food52 when I entered them in a cereal contest. Bonafide hippies flocked to them in droves when we made them, summer after summer, at a music camp in the Mendocino Woodlands. They traveled to Tasmania where food blogger Dearna of To Her Core makes them with puffed amaranth. And whenever I'm asked to bring a vegan sweet to a party or gathering, I whip up a batch or two and watch the hoards gather 'round.

When Aloha asked me to feature their superfood chocolate in a recipe, I knew it was time to revisit the hippie crispies. Aloha chocolate is sweetened with coconut sugar, which gives it a warm flavor, and it's packed with antioxidant-rich foods like spinach, spirulina, coconut, cashews, and raspberries. You might think that all of this stuff in your chocolate would be unpleasant, but their superfood mix is so powder-fine as to be undetectable; it just tastes like really rad chocolate. The texture is softer than regular chocolate, giving it an extra-creamy melt. I found it difficult to go back to regular chocolate after the Aloha experience, and had to exert extreme amounts of willpower to save enough for the recipe. 

But as luck would have it, I did, because when gently melted with almond butter, coconut oil and coconut nectar, it forms the base for these addictive bars. I added hemp seeds and cacao nibs, and topped the bars with extra Aloha chocolate. A quick chill to set the chocolate, and the bars are ready to be cut and devoured. 

I brought some crispy treats to dinner when Aloha's own Mimi (who is not only cute as a button but also knows her way around a kitchen [and a camera]) came to San Francisco for a visit. We ate vegan Mexican food at Gracias Madre which we chased with giant bowls of spiced hot chocolate before staggering out onto the street. We said our goodbyes and when I got home, Mimi reported that, despite our gigantic meal, she and her Lyft driver had devoured all of the crispies during the ride home. 

I hope these superfood crispy treats become as big of a hit in your kitchen as they've been in mine. Like Megan, you may be tempted to make a pan as big as your wall (minus the shellack). If you do, give me a call.

Thanks to Aloha for sponsoring this post! All opinions (and crispy treats) are mine mine mine. Also, check out Sarah's incredible Vegan Strawberry Coconut Chocolate Chip Ice Cream made with Aloha chocolate – pretty much the best ice cream ever, vegan or no. 

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Superfood Chocolate Crispie Treats {gluten-free, vegan, refined sugar-free}

Makes eight 2" squares in an 8x4" or 9x5" loaf pan

Aloha chocolate can be ordered here or procured in select shops in New York (and more to come, I'm told). Otherwise, give these a go with another raw and/or naturally sweetened chocolate, or make the O.G. Hippie Crispies with regular old bittersweet chocolate. If you are very sensitive to gluten, make sure to get crisp rice cereal that is certified gluten-free; some cereals contain barley malt. Feel free to double the recipe and form the squares in an 8 or 9" square pan, which is advisable since these disappear quickly. These treats are crispest the day they are made, but will keep refrigerated or at room temperature for up to a few days. All ounce measurements are by weight.

The bars:
1/2 cup (5.5 ounces / 160 g) coconut nectar (or 1/4 cup each brown rice syrup and maple syrup)
1/4 cup (2.25 ounces / 65 g) almond butter
1 (2.2 ounce) bar Aloha chocolate, broken up (about 1/3 cup)
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) coconut oil
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 cup (1.25 ounce / 40 g) hemp seed hearts
2 tablespoons (.5 ounces / 15 g) cacao nibs
2 1/2 cups (3 ounces / 85 g) crisp rice cereal (not 'puffed' rice)

The topping:
2 (2.2 ounce / 65 g) bars Aloha chocolate, broken up
1 tablespoon (.12 ounces / 5 grams) cacao nibs
1 tablespoon (.12 ounces / 5 grams) hemp seed hearts
1/4 teaspoon flaky salt (preferably Maldon)

Line an 8x4 or 9x5" loaf pan with a sling of parchment paper.

In a large saucepan, bring the coconut nectar to a gentle simmer for 1 minute, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon (be careful not to let it boil over). Remove from the heat and stir in the nut butter, chocolate, tablespoon coconut oil and fine sea salt until smooth and the chocolate is melted. 

In a large bowl, stir together the rice cereal, hemp seeds and cacao nibs, and gently fold in the chocolate mixtured. and pack the mixture firmly and evenly into the lined pan (damp fingers can help here).

In a small saucepan (or the same big one, if you've scraped it clean), melt the remaining 1/4 cup of chocolate and 1 tablespoon coconut oil together over very low heat, stirring constantly just until melted (be careful not to scorch the chocolate). Pour the chocolate mixture over the rice mixture, spreading to smooth. Sprinkle the nuts and flaky salt over the top.

Let the bars set in the refrigerator until firm, 30-60 minutes. Lift the sling out of the pan, trim away the edges if you like, and cut into 8 squares or 16 thinner bars.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Hot Sesame Rice Noodles with Asparagus, Shiitakes and Pea Shoots

Hot and steamy rice noodles get loads of flavor from ginger, garlic, tamari, toasted sesame oil, and lots of green vegetables in this gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan recipe. 

This week has been full of excitement. First, I got to test a Mark Bittman recipe and style a shoot for the New York Times. My friend Craig Lee, a photojournalist who shot for the San Francisco Chronicle for many years, recommended me when the editors were looking for a Bay Area tester/stylist to work on Bittman's new California Inspirations column. Unfortunately, the recipe was a bit of a doozy on the styling front. Cardoons are boiled then sauteed to a dingy brown with mushrooms and breadcrumbs. And to top it all off, the photography editor told me she wanted the plate to be "light and bright, happy and summery." And yet the dish was entirely brown, nary a fresh herb, lemon wedge or pepper flake to brighten up the plate. Luckily Sarah had my back with some bright props to put around the scene. Unluckily, I still have a bunch of cardoons! I'll be tackling those today and force-feeding them to Sarah, Jessica and Mitch when they come to dinner tonight.

Next, I was interviewed by Gabriel Soh for his podcast The Dinner Special. We spent half an hour chatting about all things food, including but not limited to my love of vegetables, Jamie Oliver, and funk in the kitchen (er, the music, that is). Feel free to take a gander here.

Speaking of thistles, I had the gustatory pleasure of attending an artichoke feast prepared by the talented Phi of Princess Tofu. Artichokes starred in every dish, including an aperitif made with gin-soaked artichokes, Cynar and Cocchi Americano (recipe from Gastronomista) and artichoke gelato, both shockingly good. In between there was artichoke dip with Adventure Bread, shaved artichoke and green almond salad, artichoke arancini, and a variation of the artichoke-stuffed chestnut pasta that Sarah and I posted (and made a video about) last week.

The fun didn't stop there. There was a morning matcha tasting with Encha organic matcha, a rainy-day Alameda Antiques Fair with Sarah and Todd, and drinks at Abv with a new and dear friend Chef Hollie who has created a fabulous plant-based recipe program for kiddos and their families.

My niece came into town from Manhattan where she's studying acting and musical theater, and brought a couple of friends. The five of us with Jay wandered over to a tasty Vietnamese restaurant in our neighborhood. We ordered a bunch of dishes to share, including some pan-fried rice noodles which are a favorite of mine. They showed up as they always do, a tangle of sticky rice noodles (the type used for Pad Thai) sitting atop some briefly cooked vegetables. The girls helped themselves to noodles, but due to the sticky factor, ended up accidentally hogging all of them and leaving only the veggies. Jay and I didn't go hungry, but we did wind up with an unsated noodle craving. Lesson learned: next time, two orders of noodles when teenagers are about.

This meant we needed to make our own noodles, so I whipped up this dish that we've been loving lately. It gets plenty of flavor from garlic, ginger and soy sauce, a dash of toasted sesame oil, and a mess of vegetables: asparagus, scallions, shiitakes, and pea greens. The noodles stuck to the pan when I tried to fry them, so I just toss everything together with tamari and toasted sesame oil. We added some tofu (the smoked jalapeño from Tofu Yu is actually compressed yuba) and ate ALL THE NOODLES.

Once you've prepped the vegetables, these noodles make a quick meal, and the leftovers (should you save them from hungry noodle hogs) keep brilliantly.

And best of all, you don't have to share.

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Oodles of noodles:

Hot Sesame Rice Noodles with Asparagus, Shiitakes and Pea Shoots

Feel free to play fast and loose with the vegetables here. Other tasty choices would be baby spinach, broccoli or broccolini, brussels sprouts, or peas of any sort. 

Makes 3-4 servings

12 ounces brown rice spaghetti (or other noodles of your choice)
12-16 ounces firm tofu (I used smoked jalapeño from Tofu Yu), in 1" pieces
12 ounces shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced into thick pieces
6 scallions, cut on diagonal into 2" pieces
1 pound asparagus, fibrous ends snapped off, sliced 3" on the diagonal
4 ounces pea greens, tough stems removed (or baby spinach)
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2-3" fresh ginger root, cut into 1" matchsticks
4 tablespoons sunflower oil (or other mild vegetable oil)
1 tablespoon mirin or white wine
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted (black or otherwise)
ichimi togarashi or other chile flakes, optional for heat

Have all your vegetables prepared before you get started; the cooking will happen quickly. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil, and keep it covered and simmering until you're ready to cook the noodles.

Meanwhile, coat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet (such as cast-iron) with 1 tablespoon of the sunflower oil and heat over a medium-high flame until it shimmers. Add the tofu in a single layer and cook on the first side until golden, 1-2 minutes. Flip and cook on the second side until golden, 1-2 minutes. Remove to a plate. Repeat with the remaining tofu, adding more oil to the pan as needed.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, swirl to coat, and add the mushrooms, garlic and ginger. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Pour the mirin over the mushrooms – there will be much sizzling – and stir up all the good stuff on the bottom of the pan. Remove the mushrooms to a large bowl.

Add a bit more oil and cook the scallions until bright green, 2 minutes, and add to the bowl with the mushrooms. Repeat with the asparagus, then the pea greens, cooking just until wilted and adding more oil as needed.

Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Meanwhile, re-warm the vegetables in the skillet. Drain the noodles well, then put them back into the now-empty pot and add the hot vegetables. Pour the toasted sesame oil and tamari over the noodles and toss with tongs to coat. Sprinkle in the sesame seeds and tofu, and give one more gentle toss. Taste for seasoning, adding more tamari or sesame oil if you feel it needs it.

Serve the noodles in wide bowls and pass the togarashi for those who like a kick. Leftovers keep well for a day or two and can be reheated in a skillet.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Dukkah Deviled Duck Eggs

The Egyptian nut and spice blend dukkah flavors these über-creamy deviled duck eggs with toasted cumin, coriander and fennel seed sharpened with lemon and cayenne.

This is a very special post because it's dedicated to a super special lady: Emily of The Pig and Quill, in honor of her pending new addition. Congratulations, lady!!! I had the pleasure of meeting Emily for brunch last fall and was instantly hooked on her good vibes and generosity of spirit. I know she'll make a terrific mama and I couldn't be more excited for her little piglet. For her virtual baby shower today, bloggers all over are converging on party foods to eat with our eyes.

Since Emily is the master of infusing comforting classics with world flavors (how badly do we all want a trough of these Greek sweet potato fries with curried tzatziki??) I added a North African twist to the classic nosh that has graced cocktail parties for decades.

Duck eggs are particularly good devilers due to their big, fat yolks. I first tried them at Alembic soon after it had opened when my friend Amelia and I would stop by for a drink (usually a Mediterranean Homesick Blues for me) after work. They were a steal at a dollar apiece and when they finally came off of the menu, I vowed to make them myself. 

It only took me six years. But hey, better late than never, right?

This recipe takes inspiration from The Perfect Egg, a brand-spanking-new book by the duo at Spoon Fork Bacon, Teri and Jenny. I was lucky enough to attend a bloggerly brunch at the picturesque Williams-Sonoma headquarters with Sarah, Ana and Pang where we got to watch Teri and Jenny demonstrate a few of the dishes from the book and then proceed to gorge ourselves on Brick Toast, Mini Toad-in-a-Hole Sandwiches, and Sabayon with fresh berries. The book brims with stunning picture after stunning picture of sweet and savory dishes all featuring eggs, including several deviled egg variations, each sounding more delectable than the last. Other recipes I've got my eye on are the Okonomiyaki, Avgolemono, and Spicy Chocolate Mousse. (Also, all of them!)

But first up were deviled eggs.

Deviled eggs are admittedly a bit of a pain. Eggs are boiled, peeled, scooped, whipped with goodies, and then shoveled back into their whites. I realized halfway through the peeling process that I've never posted a deviled egg recipe on this site and was more than tempted to just throw the little buggers in a bowl and call it dukkah duck egg salad. But there's something special about serving up those billowy yolks in their own vessels that makes all that effort well worth the adorable outcome. 

Usual deviled egg suspects can include onion, pickles, mustard, and paprika in addition to mayonnaise, but I keep the flavorings to a minimum to let the dukkah take center stage, adding just a bit of lemon zest and juice and a bit of cayenne to sharpen the flavors. The tangy acidity of lemon juice and zest creates layers of flavor along with a host of toasted spices: cumin, coriander, fennel seed, pepper, and toasted pistachios. 

A few do's and don'ts of deviled eggs that I've picked up along the way:

-Do yourself a favor and use eggs that are at least week old; they'll be easier to peel and won't make you hate life.

-Don't slice the eggs with a serrated knife unless you want wavy textured whites. They don't look pretty.

-Don't try to cut corners on the mayo. It has a bad rap, but it's really just emulsified oil. I've tried making deviled eggs with yogurt and it just isn't the same. Mayo haters, suck it up.

-Puree the yolks in a food processor or work them through a mesh strainer for a silky smooth filling. Mashing will never get it quite as smooth as you want, though it will work in a pinch. 

-Add enough acidity to counter the richness of all that eggy goodness. A mild vinegar, lemon juice, or pickle juice are all good options.

-Don't let your eggs sit out for too long before shoving them in the mouths of politely offering them along with a dainty cocktail napkin and glass of chilled rose to your guests. They will form an unsightly crust. (Don't look too carefully at these close-ups either...)

Many congratulations again to Miss Emily and her little one to be! Check out the smorgasbord of offerings from other party-goers below:

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Dukkah Deviled Duck Eggs

With inspiration from The Perfect Egg and Super Natural Everyday

If you can't find duck eggs, never fear: use 8 hen's eggs and reduce the cooking times to 1 minute of boiling and 9 minutes of steeping. You can boil the eggs, prepare the filling, and make the dukkah a day or two in advance, but these will be prettiest if assembled just before serving.

Makes 12 deviled egg halves

1 tablespoon pistachios, lightly toasted, cooled, and finely chopped
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds (white or brown)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon flaky salt (such as Maldon)

Deviled Duck Eggs:
6 duck eggs (or 8 hen's eggs)
1/4 cup good-quality mayonnaise (such as Spectrum olive oil mayonnaise)
finely grated zest from 1 small lemon (or 1/2 a larger lemon)
4 teaspoons lemon juice (more as needed to taste)
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder and/or a few dashes Tabasco (optional, if you like a bit of kick)
2 1/2 tablespoons dukkah, from above, plus more for sprinkling

Make the dukkah:
In a medium-sized, heavy skillet, combine the coriander, sesame, cumin, and fennel. Toast over a medium-low flame, shaking the pan regularly until the seeds are golden and fragrant, a few minutes. Let cool completely. Place the spices in a mortar and pestle and grind coarsely. Stir in the pepper, salt, and pistachios.

Make the eggs:
Place the duck eggs in a medium saucepan and add enough hot tap water to cover by one inch. Place over medium-high heat, and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes (set a timer), then remove from the heat, cover, and let stand 10 minutes. Drain the eggs and cover them with ice and cool water to stop the cooking. Let cool completely, then peel and rinse the eggs, and  use a sharp chef's knife to slice each in half lengthwise.

Scoop the yolks out of the eggs and place them in a food processor, placing the whites on a platter. Add the mayonnaise, lemon zest and juice, salt, and cayenne to the food processor and puree until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Scrape the yolk mixture into a bowl and stir in 2 1/2 tablespoons of the dukkah. Use a small spoon, spring-loaded ice cream scoop, or piping bag fitted with a wide plain tip (or plastic bag with the corner snipped off) to get the filling into the hollowed egg whites. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining dukkah, and serve.