Thursday, June 30, 2016

Next Up: Something with Cantaloupe

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Chocolate Energy Bars – Looking Good…Maybe Too Good

If you compare these chocolate energy bars to similar fruit/nut bars sold at the store, I think they taste better, are nutritionally superior, and probably cheaper to make at home. The only problem is they look so good.

These look like fudge brownies, and so it does take a millisecond for the brain to process that they’re not going to taste like fudge brownies. Having said that, they really are delicious, and satisfying in a non-decadent, but still chocolaty way.

Try your hardest to find Medjool dates, but if you can’t, any dried date should work, as long as it’s soft and sticky enough. If the ones you’re using seem too hard and dry, simply soak them in water until they soften up a bit.

Beyond the advantages I’ve described already, you also have the freedom to use any combination of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits you’d like. There’s about a million ways you can go, and I expect to hear about any particularly brilliant combinations. I hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!

Makes about 12 Chocolate Energy Bars:
2 cups chopped, pitted Medjool dates
2 cups raw cashews
1 cup raw or roasted unsalted almonds
3/4 cup high-quality unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Guittard Cocoa Rouge)
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoon cold espresso coffee or water,
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon fine salt)
very small pinch cayenne

Friday, June 24, 2016

Buttermilk Panna Cotta – The Magic of Barely Cooked Cream

For something called “cooked cream,” there’s very little cooking involved here. Actually, there is very little anything involved here. If you can somehow manage to start your panna cotta the day before you want to eat it, this classic Italian recipe is about as simple as it gets.

As long as you keep the same basic gelatin to creamy liquid ratio, you can flavor this any way you want. I’ve had them scented with everything from Earl Grey tea to cardamom, so feel free to play around. Same goes for the proportion of buttermilk, which can be increased for a tangier version.

One thing I should have mentioned is not to put the plastic wrap on while they’re still warm. It looked like I wrapped mine immediately, but I actually let them cool before putting them in the fridge. It’s not a huge deal, but if you put the plastic on warm, you’ll get condensation, which will then drip, and wreck that perfectly pristine surface.

This is so perfect in the summer, and not just because it’s easy and refreshing. All that amazing seasonal fruit gives you the perfect reason…excuse…to make these easy treats. I hope you give this panna cotta recipe a try soon. Enjoy!

Makes about 8 servings:
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (just shy of 1 tablespoon) sprinkled over 3 tablespoons cold water
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
3 strips lemon peel
extremely tiny pinch salt
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

“Gazpacho Verde” with Burrata Cheese – Swampy, in a Good Way

I’m not crazy about the name for this recipe, but I honestly didn’t know what else to call it, and I blame Twitter for that. Allow me to explain. I saw a photo on there of what I thought was a burrata sitting in a pool of green gazpacho soup, but after a closer look, it turned out to be salsa verde.

That does sound pretty good, but due to the mistaken identity, I was now fixated on the idea of serving this fresh, extra-creamy mozzarella in a bowl of ice cold, cucumber and herb-based gazpacho.

Except, I wanted the cheese to be the star of the dish, with the soup acting almost as a sauce. I thought of calling it something like, “Burrata in a Swamp,” but that didn’t pass the wife test, so long story short, I went with the search engine friendly name you see at the top of the post.

I really wanted a thin, light texture to play off the gooey cheese, so I didn’t add any bread, and also strained it through a fine sieve. The gazpacho seems colder, and more intense this way, and in my opinion works better than a thicker version would. So, whether you’re going to do this with the cheese or not, I really hope you give it a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredient for 4 portions “Gazpacho Verde” with Burrata:
8 ounces burrata cheese (1/4 cup per serving)
3 cups sliced English cucumber (about one large)
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons picked fresh oregano leaves
1 cup packed picked basil leaves
1/4 to 1/3 cup seasoned *rice vinegar, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup water, plus more as needed

*If using regular rice vinegar, season to taste with salt and sugar. You can also use white wine or sherry vinegar, and do the same.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Potato Roses – A Side Dish That's Stacked

I saw a picture of something called “potato stacks,” online last year, on a blog called Home Cooking Adventure, and I thought to myself, those sure look a lot more like roses than stacks. So, long story short, I stole the idea, and now that it has a much more social media-friendly name, I fully expect this to go viral.

The technique is straightforward, but make sure you season the potatoes generously. I use about two teaspoons of kosher salt in this, and along with the cheese, that seems to be just about right. Having said that, taste for salt varies greatly from person to person, so remember what you used, and adjust next time if need be. These would be great for entertaining, since you can make them ahead, and keep them warm in the pan, or cool and reheat in the oven when you are ready to serve. I really hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!

Makes 12 Potato Roses:
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
1 tablespoon minced rosemary or 2 tablespoon thyme leaves
freshly ground black pepper and cayenne to taste
3/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

- 400 F. for 45-60 minutes

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pourable Pizza – The Great Liquid Dough Experiment

I once made a mini-pizza using a crumpet. No, I’m not starting a limerick.  Anyway, I toasted it nice and crisp, topped it with sauce and cheese, and it really was not bad. So I thought, what if this was much thinner, and made from the same ingredients as pizza dough? After a few tests, this pourable pizza was born.

Besides being kind of fun to make, this method features a few nice perks. There’s no kneading required, nor do you have to roll/stretch/spin your dough into shape. While thick crust pizza is relative easy to form at home, few can pull off stretching the dough really thin, so this is a very easy way to achieve that.

Also, the great challenge with homemade pizza is the under-cooked crust bottom, and this method allows for that crispy, near-charred bottom you usually only get from a pizza oven. Once topped, I like to finish under the broiler, but a 500 F. oven will also do the job nicely.

Please note, I’m not trying to replace the classic method with this drippy dough, but rather offer a possibly easier-in-some-ways alternative for your next pizza night. And yes, this does work for making thicker crusts. I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 eight-inch pizzas:
3 cups (14 ounces by weight) *flour
2 cups warm water (105-110 F)
1 package dry active yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil 

Note: Like I said in the video, use a whisk attachment, not a dough hook! You can also simply whisk this by hand for 5 minutes. 

* I used something called double-zero flour or “00” flour, which is an Italian flour used for pasta and pizza making. It is very finely milled, and lovely to work with. If you can’t get or find, just use all-purpose.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Bacon & Asparagus Dutch Baby, Baby!

I’ve been seeing savory, non-breakfast versions of Dutch Babies pop up on menus lately, and while I’m not sure that means it’s a hot new trend, I figured I would get in on the ground floor with this amazing bacon and asparagus version, just in case.

Above and beyond the ingredients, the most important thing here is using a cast iron pan similar to, or better yet, exactly like, the 12-inch example seen herein. These relatively cheap and indestructible pans are one of the best kitchen investments of all time, but if you don’t have one, there is a Plan B.

You’ll have to do the bacon and asparagus steps in a frying pan, and then transfer everything to a similarly sized casserole dish. Make sure the sides are coated with your bacon fat, and then pour in your batter, and bake as shown.

It will take a few extra minutes in the oven, but just simply bake it until it’s browned, and properly puffed. It won’t work as well, but you should get similar results. Either way, I really hope you give this wonderful bacon and asparagus Dutch Baby a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 2 large or 4 small portions:
3 large eggs
2/3 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/4 cup if packed, but don’t pack it)
freshly ground black pepper and cayenne to taste
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup all-purpose flour *packed 
*push and pack as much flour as you can fit into the 1/2 cup measure)
1 tbsp olive oil
6 strips bacon
1 generous cup sliced fresh asparagus

- Bake at 475 F for about 12-13 minutes, or until browned and puffed

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Thai-Style Sweet Chili Sauce – Nam Jim for the Win

As promised, here is my take on Thai-style sweet chili sauce, or Nam Jim, if you want to sound cool. I do a sort of hybrid between the cooked and fresh versions, and using this technique, I think you get the best of both worlds.

If you can’t find these beautiful Thai bird’s eye chilies, you can make this sauce with any other combination of fresh, preserved, and/or dried chilies. Things like jalapeno, red Fresno, or Serrano chilies work great, as does habanero. If it’s hot, give it a shot.

Above and beyond the array of deep-fried treats you enjoy this stuff with at your favorite southeast-Asian restaurant, it also makes an incredibly good sauce for grilled meats, especially chicken and pork. Even the most insipid boneless-skinless breast shines, once shined with this sauce.

And I wasn’t kidding about the fish sauce being mandatory. It really is a key ingredient here, so I’m counting on you to either get some, or maybe sit this one out. As always, the amounts listed below are what tastes “perfect” to me, but what do I know? So, be sure to taste and adjust before you serve. I really hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 1 cup of Thai-Style Sweet Chili Sauce:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 teaspoons sambal chili sauce
1 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
6 cloves finely crushed garlic
2 tablespoons finely minced Thai chili peppers (or more of a less spicy pepper like Frenso, Jalapeno, or Serrano)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Spicy Shrimp Cakes – All Killer, No Filler

I love Asian-style fish or shrimp cakes, but almost never order them at restaurants, and the reason is a little thing called “food cost. “While the best tasting, and textured shrimp cakes are made with pure shrimp, chefs have always added some type of cheap, starchy filler to make the dish more profitable.  

Oh sure, they call it a “binder,” but make no mistake, it’s there to stretch a pound of shrimp into two pounds of cakes. Home cooks have been known to do the same thing, for pretty much the exact same reasons, but if you want to enjoy shrimp cakes in their most pure form, I encourage you to give this a try. It only takes a few minutes to put together, assuming you have a food processor, but even if you don’t, they can still be yours.

You’ll just need to pile up your ingredients on a cutting board, and using a large knife or cleaver, chop until you get a paste, which will take less time and effort than you expect. Maybe five minutes of the ol' choppa choppa, and you should have something very similar to what I achieved.

You can play around with the flavorings here, and it’s not a bad idea to cook a small piece of the mixture to test for spiciness, salt, etc. And please, don’t overcook these. They only need a minute or two per side. Even if they are a little translucent inside, as they sit for a minute on the paper towel, they will finish cooking through. I really hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy! 

Ingredients for 8 appetizer sized portions:

NOTE: I made mine with 24-ounce of shrimp, but since it’s generally sold in pound units, these ingredients are for a two-pound batch

2 pounds raw peeled and deveined shrimp
1 rounded tablespoon finely crushed garlic
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves and stems
1 or 2 teaspoons sambal chili paste, or freshly minced hot peppers
1 teaspoon kosher salt (you can always start with 3/4 teaspoon, then cook some to taste, and adjust)
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
pinch of cayenne
Panko breadcrumbs as needed
vegetable oil for frying

Friday, June 3, 2016

Next Up: Something with Shrimp, Possibly in Cake Form

We're still a day behind due to the long Memorial Day weekend, but tomorrow I'm excited to share one of my all-time favorite Asian-inspired seafood appetizers. Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Salami Bread – Fourteen Inches of Delicious Pizza-Related Serendipity

What started out as a frustrating attempt to test some pizza dough, turned into what we’re calling salami bread. This 14-inch long loaf of delicious serendipity was a revelation, and I didn’t even get to use it for it’s most obvious purpose…to make the world’s greatest Italian submarine sandwich.

As I mention in the video, I’m not even sure I’d do a meat sub with this, but instead may just load it up with lots of Italian cheeses, as well as fresh and pickled vegetables. Then I’d find a picnic, where I could sit back to soak in the sun, and the compliments.

There are hundreds of possible variations, so that’s going to be your homework. Why wait until the unlikely scenario of having pizza dough, but no toppings? Let’s be proactive. But no matter how you roll, and I really do hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for one salami bread:
12 to 16 ounce ball of pre-made pizza dough
8-10 slices salami or other similar meat
1/4 cup tomato sauce, or other crushed tomato product
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to cover
scattering of freshly chopped herbs, to taste
olive oil, as needed

- Bake at 400 F. for 25 to 30 minutes until browned and cooked through.