Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thomas Keller's Confit Byaldi

Last summer Leslie made Thomas Keller's Confit Byaldi when we viewed Ratatouille and in my frenzy to host the aforementioned Gossip Girl Season Premiere party I decided its deliciousness was the perfect way to incorporate peak seasonal produce and stay in theme. She warned me it took HOURS to prepare but as usual my denial about how long cooking projects will take caused me to think I was superhuman and could create this dish in a mere afternoon. Ha! I was wrong again.

The piperade, chopping and arranging alone took the afternoon... By the time I was ready to cook it at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 2.5 hours (after which point I could hold it according to the recipe) I was already late leaving for Vika and Rafe's to watch True Blood's season finale. Into the fridge it went, instructions be damned. After I came home I cooked it overnight using my alarm clock at the appropriate intervals. My only change to the recipe was using my dutch oven instead of foil and a dish with lower sides. In the end, it came together and was as sweet and rich as I remembered, but I think Leslie's version was better. I blame my timing in combination with the dutch oven being too large to squeeze under the broiler.

To be honest, I probably won't make this again as I was perfectly content with Smitten Kitchen's simpler version last summer and/or any improvised ratatouille (adding things like radishes, peppers and whatever else might be in the fridge) I've put together since without writing about it. In this case, less time for a great taste wins for me. But if you make it...invite me over to enjoy it please!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Decorated Sugar Cookies

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking and themed September. September means many things to me -- my birthday, work deadlines and the arrival of Fall -- but I decided, perhaps predictably, to focus on TV shows as my theme. While I often mention TV here I follow just a few shows, usually with friends, and our informal viewing "parties" are perfect for distributing eats.

Earlier this month True Blood came to a close (what a bad ending!) and Gossip Girl began in Paris, so I made two sets of themed cookies. The Royal Icing was meant to be a just bitten red only somehow almost a full bottle of red food coloring left it merely mauve and at 2 a.m. I had had enough fooling around with it. The icing was too thick for flooding (oops) but worked well for piping; even if my illustration skills are weak I think the concepts for both are clear! And, yes, there is a cookie that states "Tights are not pants." It is a rule to live by people.

If you need (or want) to decorate sugar cookies, I'd recommend the linked recipes. The cookies are easy to make with a very almond flavor and a nice crunch that somehow turned back into a delicious dough-y texture in the fridge, over a few weeks of post-viewing storage and slowed consumption, and the frosting wasn't bad to put together either. Just recognize when you start the project that there is chilling time for the dough, cooling time the cookies and setting time for the frosting, so starting at 8 p.m. the night before you want to serve them...while also making baguettes, making and canning applebutter (two other never before done projects) and watching Can't Buy Me not wise.

Posts on the other French-themed food for Gossip Girls' Season Premiere will follow later this week!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Okra Fries

Lara's easy guide to Fried Okra, which I've never attempted to make though I love it, reminded me that I haven't mentioned my favorite way to eat okra of late. Kath of Kath Eats Real Food posts about Okra Fries sometimes and the idea imprinted on my brain. Once I saw okra arrive at the Greenmarket ($4/pound here in New York City), I had to make them right away and have made them once a week for a while now. Kath eats them with ketchup but I find the "fries" more than enough on their own.

This is a very simple way to enjoy okra's crunchy, slightly slippery texture. Since there isn't any tearing involved, these are even simpler than Kale Chips though the process is similar.

Three notes --
1) Red okra will turn green when you cook it (sad).
2) Be careful handling okra because it has prickly hairs on the outside that can get under your skin and cause minor discomfort.
3) I don't eat the stems; I'm all about fiber but that is a bit much for me.

Okra Fries
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit Rinse the okra and pat it dry.
2. Spritz or rub it down with oil, sprinkle with Salt.
3. Roast for approximately 20 minutes in the oven until it begins to brown and shrink a bit in size.
4. Savor as best you can because they will go quick if you're anything like me.

 Jeff sweet talked me into making dinner Sunday night. I served okra fries, sauteed potatoes with persillade (that didn't stay crisp) and sauteed pork chops with a rustic* blackberry-concord grape and shallot sauce.

For dessert we ate leftover Almond-Yogurt Cake with Raspberry Sauce and Candied Ginger Pieces. It was baked in a loaf pan but the texture allowed me to use my cookie cutter to pretty up the presentation. My plate had leftover bits and pieces, which tasted just as good.

*Meaning I didn't strain the sauce to make it smooth! I felt lazy and all my "washable cheesecloth" was waiting for laundry to happen thanks to the raspberry sauce and gazpacho.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lime-Vanilla Cupcakes with Cucumber Buttercream

Lime-Vanilla Cupcakes with Cucumber Buttercream sound strange, right? But I promise the only thing they are is strangely delicious. The cupcakes are very light, the cucumber buttercream is refreshing and you'll want to eat them all immediately. Gale and Kimberly said they were the best cupcakes I had ever baked and Kimberly asked that I forward the recipe to her Mom. This one is a keeper.

Almost as exciting as enjoying cupcakes was the fact that I successfully managed to halve a recipe. Perhaps relearning math is working! My only tweaks beyond halving the recipe were increasing the vanilla extract to its 1 teaspoon level and using a mixture of plain soymilk and heavy cream in lieu of regular milk as I didn't have any on hand.

On an separate note, I won the contest Cathy at Not Eating Out in New York hosted a few weeks ago and will be attending Just Food's Let Us Eat Local event tonight. My recipe also will be published in Just Foods' Veggie Tipsheets. I couldn't believe it but I'm very thankful. Best wishes to the other three people who entered the competition, which Cathy recapped here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

September 2010 Daring Cooks' Challenge: Applebutter Canned!

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

This challenge was very intimidating! Canning has been an idea that interests me but also one I've found a reason to avoid. John's challenge left me with no excuse but to face my fear and his meticulous instructions must have left no room for error because I'm the proud owner of a pint of canned apple butter.

My biggest struggle was how to extract the canned applebutter, keeping it level, from my stockpot after the boiling and cooling... I'm very lucky it sealed as I dropped it on its side several times back in the water before realizing I needed to carefully use both the tongs and the spatula, which barely worked. Water creates a lot of drag. Any tips on how to get canned goods out of the water?

In retrospect, I should have purchased two 3 pound bags of apples if I was going to go through the whole process but even having one successfully canned item is exciting. Nevermind that I never want to open the jar as staring at it makes me so happy. Fortunately, I saved the other half of the applebutter and am enjoying it homemade baguette slices, plain yogurt and/or by the spoonful. It's a delicious, cinnamon spiced fruit spread that is perfect for Fall without any added sugar. Even if you don't want to can it, you should make some applebutter to celebrate the new season.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Seared Scallops with Sesame Panko Eggplant and Plum Salsa

I had already started drooling over Just Food's Let Us Eat Local tasting line-up next Thursday, September 16 when I saw Cathy at Not Eating Out in New York post a contest where an amateur cook could win a ticket and have their recipe published Just Food’s upcoming Veggie Tipsheets book. The idea of tasting food from restaurants I have tried and loved as well as many on my restaurant wish list in one night lured me into creating the recipe below, which I attempted to document with more meticulousness than usual.

What started as a Plum Salsa turned into a fairly seasonal festive tower that packs a lot of punch. The salsa mixes sweet and savory thanks to juicy plums, silky sesame oil and bright mint in addition to the usual salsa ingredients. Its soft texture contrasts pleasantly with the Scallops’ caramelized exterior and the crispy Sesame Panko Eggplant rounds. This dish melted in my mouth.

If you don’t enjoys Scallops or want to be frugal, this still tastes great without them. I had plenty of the Sesame Panko Eggplant topped only with Plum Salsa and can tell you with confidence that Scallops aren’t required to make this dish enjoyable though they certainly take the appearance and taste up a notch.

Plum Salsa
3/4 cup plums (approximately 4)
1/3 cup tomato (approximately 1 medium; I used yellow for color and the low acidity)
1 teaspoon mint
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 tsp jalapeño
1/4 cup white onion
1/4 tsp sesame oil
salt to taste

1. Rinse plums, then cut in half, remove pits and chop roughly into small dice. Place 3/4 cup of plums into a small bowl.
2. Rinse tomato, cut across the equator and remove seeds with your finger. Cut out the inner walls (which still taste great so eat them as you go) and then chop the outer skin into small dice. Add roughly 1/3 cup to the bowl.
3. Rinse mint and remove leaves from stem. Lay leaves on top of each other and chop it finely until you have 1 teaspoon. Repeat this step with cilantro until you have 2 tablespoons. Add both to the bowl.
4. Rinse the jalapeño, cut in half and remove stem and seeds. Mince enough for 1 teaspoon and add to the bowl.
5. Remove skin from outside of onion, cut in half through the root end. Dice half of the onion or enough to fill 1/4 cup and add to the bowl.
6. Measure out ¼ teaspoon sesame oil and add it the bowl. Stir everything together gently. Salt to taste. Put in the refrigerator to chill and develop the flavor.

Panko Sesame Eggplant
(based on Chef Richard Ruben’s methodology for baked, crispy eggplant)
1 eggplant

1 cup Panko (or bread crumbs)
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
salt to taste

2 egg whites
1 tablespoon olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheight and cover a baking sheet in foil.
2. Peel eggplant and cut into 1/2 inch rounds, discarding ends. Salt and place in a colander for 15 minutes.
3. While eggplant sits, combine Panko, black sesame seeds and salt on a small plate or in a shallow bowl.
4. In a separate bowl whisk together egg whites and olive oil.
5. Rinse eggplant and pat dry. Dip eggplant in egg white and olive oil mixture until coated. Then dip in the panko mixture. Place on prepared baking sheet.
6. Once all eggplant is resting on the baking sheet, place it in the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until lightly browned and crispy. (For me the top never browned though unbeknownst to me the bottom did.)
7. Remove from oven and set to the side.

Seared Scallops
Olive Oil
Scallops (I defrosted New England Scallops from Trader Joe’s)

1. Pat scallops dry and salt them.
2. Heat a pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil. When the olive oil becomes fluid enough to spread through the pan, add scallops to it.
3. Cook 2-4 minutes on each side. The scallops are done on one side when they move easily when touched by the spatula.
4. Remove caramelized scallops to paper towel to drain.

To Assemble the final dish…
1. Place a scallop on the eggplant, then top with plum salsa.
2. Enjoy

*I actually tried a few ideas but this was my biggest success. One was so awful that I couldn’t even make myself eat the leftovers. Major fail.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tropical Granola

Ever ambitious I attempted two different granola bar recipes for my family vacation to Glacier National Park in Montana and Waterton International Peace Park in Alberta, Canada last month. My adapted version of Nicole at Baking Bite's Coconut, Almond Cranberry Granola Bars resulted in granola instead of granola bars. Oops. While granola isn't the most portable, this was a tasty mistake and is a recipe I'll revisit. Maybe one day I'll even make the original version following all the instructions!

This granola tastes like a beach vacation thanks to the dried pineapple, papaya, mango and coconut. It's lightly sweet with occasional taste-bud sparking touches of salt and I've been very happy eating it, slowly to make it last as long as possible. The use of Buckwheat, which adds a bit of crunch, was inspired by Kath Eats Real Food.

Tropical Granola
3 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup buckwheat (for some crunch)
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 cup agave syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt (mine was large, kosher flakes which made the salt really pop out)
3/4 cup chopped, dried pineapple, mango and papaya (used no sugar added where possible)

Line a 9×9″ square baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, lightly greased.
In a large bowl, combine oats, buckwheat, almond meal, ground flaxseed and coconut.
In a small saucepan, combine agave syrup, brown sugar and vegetable oil. Bring to a boil, whisking to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract and salt. Pour into oat mixture and stir until dry ingredients are evenly moistened. At this point it should look something like unbaked granola. Stir in dried pineapple, mango and papaya.
Pour mixture into prepared pan and press down into an even layer. Let it cool, crumble it out eating bites and then store the remainder to enjoy during the week (or longer if you refrigerate it).

This lovely little baggie of granola was enjoyed at Crypt Lake in Waterton International Peace Park. After taking a ferry, my brother, myself and the rest of the passengers trekked past 4 waterfalls, climbed a small ladder, crawled through a tunnel and crept along a ledge holding a wire to reach an elevation of 2,200 feet and the aforementioned lake. On the way back we took an extension to see Hellroaring Falls, which were noisy but a bit weak as it was August. This was the hardest hike I've done to date - we conquered the approximately 11.2 miles in approximately 6.5 hours. :)

Friday, September 3, 2010

10 Downing

Since making Chef Fish Lydon's Butterscotch Pudding I had wanted to visit 10 Downing. Thanks to Meg's amazing organizational skills I was able to do so during Restaurant Week in July with her, Holly and Laurie. When I looked up the menu I saw they were only offering a Coffee Butterscotch Pot de Creme, so I knew my dessert dream would go unfilled but I figured what the heck.10 Downing is an open space with outdoor seating, eclectic decor, and a very high ceiling, which causes it to be quite loud. Its service was erratic but not so much so that I'd attribute it to anything beyond Restaurant Week's frenzy.

To start we devoured the complimentary slightly grainy White Bean Hummus (?) accompanied by toothsome Ciabatta Bread and then savored the Chilled Tomato Soup with Watercress and Micro Basil, a refreshing and creamy soup with a cooling cucumber flavor. Our table ordered two of each entree: Pan-Roasted Diver Scallops with Sauteed Clams, Sweet Corn and Tarragon and Grilled Spiced Rubbed Tri-Tip with Radicchio, Farro and Bone Marrow Jus. Obviously I had the "sea marshmallows," which were expertly cooked. I couldn't stop scooping up the silky scallops with their crispy, caramelized exterior and the creamy, sweet corn. The Tri-Tip wasn't as good: the meat was a little tough and the sweet, charred Radicchio caused conflicted feelings. Was it addictive or off putting?

For dessert, I chose the Humbolt Fog Goat Cheese with Tomato Jam, Toast and Candied Walnuts to be  contrarian; everyone else had the ButterMilk Panna Cotta with Roasted Peaches in Balsamic Syrup, which was the better choice. The Panna Cotta was smooth and slightly sweet with an unlisted hint of citrus; the peaches in syrup were surprisingly sour but I assume this was intentional as it encouraged me to savor the whole dish rather than consume the pieces. My dessert's highlight was the crunchy, buttery, salty and sweet candied walnuts. I would have been to happy to have a cup of them alone!

Now we come to the part of dinner where 10 Downing KILLED me. Their in restaurant menu had Butterscotch Pot de Creme listed with no mention of coffee. I squealed and immediately ordered it while my friends waited patiently. You can imagine what happens next. It arrives, I gaze lovingly at it and spoon in to find the flavor to be coffee. I was crushed and after encouragement from my friends explained the disappointment to the server and it was kindly removed from the bill - very nice of them.

Overall, our consensus was that we really wanted to like 10 Downing but were disappointed with the food for their price point. Their menu descriptions were somewhat misleading and while enjoyable the food was a touch oversalted. That said I'm glad I went and wouldn't tell anyone NOT to go though I don't have grand and glorious plans to go back (irregardless of the Butterscotch Pot de Creme's menu status).

Location: 10 Downing Street (at Sixth Avenue just south of Bleecker Street)
Hours: Lunch Tuesday - Friday 12-3 p.m.; Dinner Daily 5:30-12 a.m.; Brunch Saturday & Sunday 10-4 p.m. 
Cost: $$$