Friday, October 19, 2012

Napoleon of fall vegetables and herbed goat cheese

Lately, it seems like I've been just doing a lot of routine cooking, and not spending enough time having fun in the kitchen. Since it's Friday, I decided it was high time to change that!

It's definitely been feeling like fall, with lovely colors in the trees, chilly mornings and evenings, and the abundance of squashes and root vegetables everywhere I look! I've been making use of fall produce in savory soups and curries, simple but tasty fare. This napoleon of fall vegetables is a more elegant dish that could serve as a first course or vegetarian main dish. It's easy to put together but looks like you spent more time and effort on it than you did. 
What is a napoleon, you may ask? It's usually a sweet, made of puff pastry layered with pastry cream and berries. I liked the idea, but wanted a savory version. Mine builds layers of crispy puff pastry with a herb goat cheese mixture and roasted fall vegetables.

For the vegetables, use a combination of whatever's in season. I used delicata squash, celeriac and rutabaga, since they have distinct, but complementary flavors. For the herbed goat cheese, I used parsley, which highlights the faint parsley notes of the celeriac, but you could use any other herb of choice, or even any other flavoring that works with the vegetables. I used store-bought ready-rolled puff pastry, but you could make your own if you have the time. 

I served my napoleons with hasselback fingerling potatoes and sauteed balsamic-glazed radicchio on the side. A plate full of contrasting fall flavors and textures: crispy puff pastry layers, cool and tangy goat cheese, sweet squash, earthy rutabaga, herbal celeriac and bitter-sweet radicchio. Definitely a hit with me! I'm sending this off to the Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Baking Challenge on Serious Eats.

Recipe: Napoleon of Fall Vegetables with herb goat cheese (serves 6)

The pastry, vegetables and cheese mixture can all be made ahead of time. Assemble just before serving.

1 sheet Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry (or equivalent)
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 t water
Roasted vegetables (Recipe follows)
Herb goat cheese (Recipe follows)

Thaw puff pastry according to package instructions. Roll out to thin it a bit. Cut into 9 equal squares/ rectangles. Dock with a fork, brush with egg glaze and bake in a 400F oven for 15-20 minutes. Cool for a few minutes on a wire rack. Slice each piece horizontally using a serrated knife.
Build alternate layers of pastry, cheese mixture and vegetables, beginning and ending with a piece of pastry. Serve immediately.

Roasted vegetables: Prepare any vegetables of choice as appropriate. I used delicata squash, rutabaga and celeriac, cutting them into large 2" pieces and peeling only the celeriac. Brush with olive oil flavored with any spice blend of choice. I used garlic and cumin. Roast in a 400F oven until tender and browned outside. Cool slightly, then slice thinly.

Herb goat cheese: Combine 3/4c soft goat cheese with 1/4c creme fraiche and 2T olive oil; stir till smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Fold in 3T chopped herbs of choice (I used parsley)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ice cream month! (Um...make that year)

Summer! Only a couple of weeks in and I've already harvested my first few tomatoes, lost power in a summer storm, had freshly churned pistachio ice cream turn into kulfi in said power outage, and become really lazy about turning the oven on. I'm happy to scarf down vast quantities of summer fruit in lieu of dessert.
The one thing I'm diligent about is making frozen treats, though. In the picture you see two that turned out really well, and are also delicious together. The chocolate ice cream is from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop, and boy is it a perfect scoop. Lush and intensely chocolaty thanks to a custard base enriched with both cocoa powder and a generous dose of good dark chocolate, this is an ice cream of which even a single small scoop leaves you happy and sated.

Why stop with one though? Add a rosy scoop of strawberry sorbet, bright and fresh with the flavors of summer, and you have a winning combination. I bought the most beautiful berries at the market, tiny, jewel-like and bursting with flavor. Of course, I bought so many that I needed something to do with them, since berries go moldy pretty quickly. And sorbet is so easy to make, no recipe needed. Just macerate the fruit with sugar until juicy, puree, strain to remove skin/seeds, add lemon juice to taste, chill, spin et voila! A guilt-free treat. 

Recipe: Strawberry sorbet (Makes about 3/4 quart)

2 cups strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
Lemon juice to taste
1t kirsch, tequila, Grand Marnier or any spirit of choice (optional)
Honey or agave nectar to taste (if needed)
Toss the strawberries with the sugar and let stand till juicy. Mine were so tiny I just halved them, but if they are bigger you may want to slice them to make sure the fruit macerates evenly. Puree in a blender or food processor, and strain to remove the seeds. You can leave the seeds in if you like but they interfere with the texture. Add a dash of lemon, the spirit if using, and more sweetener (honey/ agave nectar) if the mixture is not sweet enough for you. Chill for a couple of hours, then spin in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.
The same method can be used for any fruit sorbet, just vary the quantity of sweetener based on how sweet the fruit is.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Eat this now: David Chang's Asparagus with Miso Butter

Ah, asparagus. The harbinger of spring. I'm always excited to see the neatly-tied bundles when the markets open for the season. After months of winter greens and apples, the bright green of the vegetable is a sight for my sore eyes. Call me fanciful but even the shape is like a mascot for the growing season to come: spear-like, eagerly poking its head out into the world!

As you might imagine, come April and my crisper drawers contain a fair bit of asparagus. I eat the tender new asparagus for its own sake; barely blanched or steamed, or even raw, shaved into a salad dressed with lemon vinaigrette and parmesan cheese. Later on in the season, I like them in soups and stir-fries. 
New recipes are always welcome, though, and this recipe from David Chang called my name. His Momofuku restaurants and recipes have a cult following that I've never been able to appreciate, since they're known for being all about the pig. 

The picture may look like plain old asparagus with an egg on top, but it has a secret ingredient: miso butter. I took one lick of the miso butter as I was mixing it and immediately wanted another. I mean, good salted butter is lovely to eat on top of most things by itself, but add miso to it and it transforms into a dangerously addictive umami-packed substance. I'm definitely adding it to my arsenal of delicious condiments - I bet it would taste wonderful on many other vegetables

This dish is decadent enough for a Sunday brunch and takes only minutes to prepare. If you want to scale it up, you can even poach the eggs ahead of time and store in cold water. Reheat them in some simmering water just before serving.

Recipe: David Chang's Asparagus with Miso Butter (Serves 2)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Romantic dinner for two

It's March already and Valentine’s Day is a thing of the past, so why am I posting about this now? Well, my romantic dinners are driven by more practical considerations, such as having some time to spend in the kitchen, for starters. Which rules out busy weeknights, so I made mine during the weekend after. And while we're on the subject, why restrict romantic dinners to Valentine's day? I'd like to have one every weekend :)

My current cookbook crush is on Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. I've given him plenty of love (pun intended, ha ha) by blogging about his recipes from The Guardian website, and though the book features many of those, it's even better. Gorgeous color photos and recipes organized by main ingredient (mostly by vegetable), rather than by meal or course, make this a lovely book to cook from. This is a great dinner party cookbook too, since the dishes are familiar yet inspired.

This, belatedly, was my menu for this year's belated Valentine's Day dinner. As I write this I realize that the entire menu is also gluten-free, though I didn’t set out to plan it that way.

First course: Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce (pictured above, and on the cover of the book)

He describes this as a "rustically elegant appetizer" and I concur. The eggplant is cooked in a similar way to this, but it's even simpler to make! Simply brushed with olive oil and roasted in the oven, then topped with a buttermilk-yogurt sauce, za'atar and pomegranate seeds. Flavor, color and texture contrasts are stunning. I served it with wholewheat rolls to mop up the sauce, but you could skip the bread or choose a gluten-free version.

Main course: Mushroom and herb polenta

Polenta is flavored with Parmesan cheese and plenty of fresh herbs, then gets topped with braised mushrooms and Taleggio cheese and is finished off under a hot broiler. The Taleggio cheese is an inspired choice – it has the depth of flavor of a mature cheese, but melts beautifully like a young one. I’d never cooked polenta before for fear of creating a lumpy gluey mess, but I need not have worried! It is quite straightforward. Leftover bits of polenta can be pan-fried and served with any sauce for a different take on pasta, or cut into cubes and baked in a hot oven to make delicious croutons.

Dessert: Flourless Chocolate Cake with Hazelnut Ice Cream and Praline

For dessert, I stuck to a more traditional choice. It’s too bad Ottolenghi doesn’t tackle desserts – I’d be interested to see his flavor combinations! Chocolate and hazelnut are definitely a marriage that’s stood the test of time, though, so it is appropriate for the occasion. Plus points for introducing a heart-shaped element (hazelnut) if you're into that sort of thing :)

Oh wait, the weekend is almost here! Time to plan another one :)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy holidays + an edible gift idea!

Happy holidays! I am off on vacation to Colombia, and am super excited since this is my first trip to South America. In the spirit of holiday edible gift-giving, I'm taking this starter Indian spice kit to our hostess in Medellin. She actually lives in Italy, in a small town with limited availability of spices. I wanted to take her a traditional Indian spice box, which typically contains 7 identical open-top cylindrical containers that fit inside a larger round steel box, but didn't think it would transport well once she started using it, since the spices would all get mixed up. My version features these cute magnetic spice containers from Bed Bath & Beyond, set within a bamboo caddy (actually one rack from a 3-piece steamer), along with an insert (see image below) with tasting notes and instructions for use, the companion CD to Camilla Punjabi's 50 Great Curries of India, and refills.
Contents of Spice Box: Karamedhu Podi (South Indian Vegetable Seasoning), Haldi (Turmeric Powder), Kuzhambu Podi (South Indian Curry Powder), Dhaniya-Jeera Masala (Coriander-Cumin Powder), Garam Masala (Best-known Indian Spice Blend), Panch Phoron (East Indian Five-Spice Blend), and Kasuri Methi (Dried Fenugreek Leaves)

Friday, November 4, 2011

What I'm eating now: Shakshuka

If you're a lover of runny yolks, look no further: I have a wonderful idea for your lunch today. Or impromptu weekend brunch party. Or weekday dinner. Yes it's that good, and what's more, it's cheap, healthy, and comes together in a flash. You can make it for one, two, or up to eight people. Technically you could scale it up even further, but that would need a really large pan, which I'm guessing most of us don't possess. Best of all, it really is a one-pot meal. Sold already?

Shakshuka is a Tunisian dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. I think of it less as a recipe and more of a blank canvas, though. In the mood for Middle Eastern? Stick with the traditional version. Craving some Indian spice? Swap out the harissa for garam masala and add a splash of coconut milk to the sauce. More in the mood for Mexican? Jazz it up with cumin & coriander, serve with dollops of sour cream and sliced avocado.

Recipe: Shakshuka (serves one; scale up if you have more people)

2 large eggs
1 large ripe tomato, chopped (if out of season use equivalent in canned)
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno or hot pepper, minced (more or less to your taste)
2 t harissa
1 t sweet paprika
1 T olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Pita, Crumbled feta & chopped parsley or mint for serving
Heat the oil in a small skillet. Add the onion, hot pepper and garlic and cook for a few minutes, till soft. Add the tomato, spices and season to taste. Once the tomatoes have collapsed (about 2-3 minutes) crack the eggs over the surface of the stew, spacing them evenly. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, or more depending on how you like the eggs. Serve at once, topped with crumbled feta and chopped herbs. Have plenty of bread available to mop up the delicious sauce!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Diwali, via the Silk Route

Happy Diwali! This is a really fun, festive time to be in back home, with lights, color and good food everywhere. Growing up in India, I would eagerly await the arrival of all the gift boxes laden with sweets and dry fruits, and tuck in merrily without a care. Oh to have the metabolism of a teenager again :(
As I've grown older, though, my palate has gradually moved away from the candy-like sugariness of many Indian sweets, towards those with interesting flavors and textures. And as I reflect on my favorites, I realized that many of their ingredients - almonds, pistachios, saffron - came to India from outside, back when caravans traversing the Silk Route dropped these off and picked up ivory, textiles and spices in exchange.
So as a nod to the people who brought me my favorite once-foreign-and-now-quintessentially-Indian foodstuffs, I decided that my Diwali sweet for this year would be baklava. To give it an Indian flair I used our classic badam-pista (almond-pistachio) combination in the filling, and flavored the syrup with cardamom and rose water. The results are delicious! Even though baklava is not a traditional Indian sweet, it fits in perfectly with an Indian meal. I might even try a version with a saffron syrup next time. Now if only the caravans had brought filo pastry with them, I could have learnt how to make that in the kitchen of my grandmother as well...!

Recipe: Almond-Pistachio Baklava, adapted from here.

I halved the recipe and used an 8" square pan, since baklava is quite rich and a small piece is enough to satisfy even a pretty sweet tooth. I used only blanched almonds and pistachios in the filling, in equal quantities. I replaced the cinnamon in the filling with freshly ground green cardamom, and infused the syrup with cardamom pods instead of a cinnamon stick. I added some rose water to the syrup as well.