Monday, November 22, 2010

Coconut Macaroons by the Gentile

Masha needs her macaroons NOW and I don't know if you've ever tried to get between her and her macaroons but it's just unwise so here it is.  Yep. I said it.

Stuff you'll need;

  • One package shredded coconut (about 3 cups) (I suggest the unsweetened if you can get it otherwise they get too sugary)
  • One can sweetened condensed milk
  • Two egg whites - beaten stiff
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar (to beat the egg whites)
  • 1tsp almond extract (or vanilla - that's good too)

Oven to 350

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.  In a separate bowl, combine coconut, condensed milk and extract, forming a thick putty or paste.   Fold the egg white mix into the coconut mix gently (don't want to destroy the egg whites.)

Drop heaping spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet (or use a silpat - my favorite tool) with enough space in between for a little bit of spread, bake for 8 to 12 min until the edges become golden brown.

If you really want to be schmancy, you can melt down some chocolate and carefully dip the macaroons into them for a little twist!

The gentile girl brings dessert....Enjoy!!

Butternut, bacon and white bean ravioli

It's Autumn, which makes me feel like it's time for some kind of comfort food.  Plus I've seen butternut squash all over the place and it's as though it's calling to me so that's the impetus for this dish.  There are tons of options on what to put in the middle - blanched spinach with sausage and ricotta comes to mine - or a veggie mix perhaps?  If you're using fresh pasta (below) you'll want to make sure that your filling is pre-cooked, as the actual boiling time of the ravioli is not long enough to cook fillings through.

Stuff you'll need:

  • 2 - 3 cups of butternut squash,  roasted (instructions below) and smashed
  • 5 Spice powder
  • Olive oil
  • One clove of garlic - diced up
  • sweet onion diced into small bits (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons of heavy cream (give or take)
  • 3 tablespoons of water (give or take)
  • 1/2 cup of bacon - diced (up to a cup if you, like me, are a bacon lover...)
  • 1/2 cup of white beans
  • 4 cups semolina flour + enough to dust surfaces and coat finished ravioli
  • 2 cup of water
  • 1 (or 2 - let's be honest butter is awesome...) stick of butter or 4oz of home made butter
  • Handful of fresh sage (chopped)

There are a lot of steps to this but the pay off is sooo worth it and none of the steps is difficult - ready?

Heat the oven to 400.

Starting with the squash - peel and cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks, put it in a bowl and toss with a splash of olive oil and 5 spice powder to coat.  Lay the chunks of seasoned squash in a roasting pan with high sides, spread the squash out to an even layer (I used my silpat which doesn't actually fit in the pan, but makes for super easy clean up, parchment would help as an alternative - the squash is high in sugar and will stick like crazy to your cookwear when it starts to caramelize in the oven)

Put the diced squash into the oven and roast for about 40 to 50 min till tender.  Pull the squash out, and let it cool for a couple min. then using a fork make a nice mash of the squash.  Set it aside.

Find a pan that is large enough for the squash, beans and bacon combined - I used a saute pan.  Drop the diced bacon and stir while cooking - you're going for softened and caramelized, but not crunchy -  you don't want crunchy, crunchy bits inside of ravioli can be unsettling...

Add the garlic (and onions if you're using them), and continue to stir as they cook, letting them caramelize and become translucent. Turn off the heat, and set aside to let the temp come down a bit.  We'll get back to this in a little bit when it's cooled off.

We're going to take a second to attend to the pasta here.  In a large mixing bowl, add one cup of water to two cups of semolina flour - stir well to incorporate, it should result in a firm if slightly sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a well floured counter and knead till you have a smooth ball.  Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the surface of the dough and place in the refrigerator for 30 min.  The glutens have to have time to do their thing in order to ensure that you have pasta that cooks to a nice al dente rather than dissolve when they hit the water.

Now, back to the filling.  Add canned white beans to the bacon/onion mix, and stir, then fold in the butternut (folding will keep the beans intact) and add the cream bit by bit - you want to get a paste like consistency without annihilating the beans.

Transfer the filling mix to a covered container and place in the refrigerator for the time being, and back to the noodles.

Retrieve your pasta dough, and turn out onto a well floured surface.  My kitchen space is limited so I had to break my pasta dough into 3 portions.  Roll the pasta out to thin sheets, but not so thin that you can see through or that light comes through, add more flour to the rolling usrface as you need it to prevent the pasta from sticking.

You have a couple of method options here, you can put dollops of filling on one side, fold in half, seal and cut or you can roll a second sheet, put dollops of filling on one side, seal and cover and cut random shapes, or you can do what I did - make square (ish) ravioli.  I'll explain what I did, but have fun with this - there are no rules!  the imperfections are what make the ravioli a rustic home made look.

I cut the pasta into two fat strips and put spoonfuls of filling evenly spaced on one of the two.  Then brush the edges and in between the filling portions with an egg wash (one egg beaten with water added)  like this;
Try to push out as much air as possible around the filling as you seal the ravioli, and be careful not to tear the pasta. Press the edges to seal the filling in - you could actually use cookie cutters to seal the pasta and make fun shapes as well, or the tines of a fork to make fancy crimps around the edge.  You should wind up with your variation of something like this;
You'll want to set the ravioli aside to dry for about an hour before cooking, which will help give it a nice final texture.

To serve the ravioli;

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil -you want to make sure you have enough space in the pot for the raviolis to move about so they don't stick together.  Add the ravioli carefully - no splashing - and allow them to cook for about 5 minutes.  

In a separate pan, melt down a stick or two of butter - add the sage and let it brew over medium heat while the pasta cooks - the butter should start to brown just a bit, and you'll smell the sage in the butter.  When the ravioli is just about done, remove them one at a time from the pot and slide them into the melted butter - be careful, it'll sizzle up a bit.  Slide the ravioli around a bit to coat them, then plate and serve em up!
I was so hungry I neglected to take a proper photo of the final dish but here's a poorly lit camera phone snapshot so you can get an idea of what you're going to get;

Sprinkle a little bit of Parmesan and a touch of sea salt on top for a nice contrast to the sweet filling, and voila you have  your home made ravioli!!


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Simmered Daikon

My mom used to make this dish - but at the time I wasn't a fan of daikon so I really didn't eat it.  Naturally mom knew best and now I find myself making this dish - although it's really mostly out of curiosity about technique and the amazing flavor of the broth, more so than sudden love for the flavor of this particular vegetable.

Bonus - it's easy to make this dish vegan if need be, by substituting a soy broth for the dashi broth (dashi involves steeping dried fish in the soup base, so it's really just a matter of how strict you need to be.)

Stuff you'll need:

  • Dashi stock - enough to cover the daikon slices (I used about 4-5 cups, click the link for the recipe)
  • Soy sauce to taste - a couple of table spoons for the non-vegan version, about 1/4 to 1/2 cup for the vegan version
  • Mirin - 2 - 3 table spoons
  • Dried Shitake - again use dried here the fresh ones don't have the flavor or aroma
  • Daikon - Japanese radish, looks like a massive white carrot on steroids

Peel the thin outer skin from the daikon, and slice into fat slices - I find just under an inch works for me.  Using a pair of chopsticks for a guide, slice part way thru the slice creating an 'X' on the surface.  This is both decorative and practical as it helps the simmering sauce penetrate the daikon slices.

Put the daikon and the dried mushrooms in a pot with the dashi stock add soy sauce and mirin to taste (I prefer to go light on the soy sauce as it results in more delicate flavors in the end) cover the pot, and bring to a boil, move the lid aside a bit to let steam escape, turn the heat down and simmer until the daikon are tender and start to become ever so slightly translucent.

The vegan substitute for dashi stock would be more soy sauce, and mirin - also adding a piece of thick konbu to the pot - the flavor will be similar to what you would get if you use dashi, but without the fish stock flavor.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Dirty Green Beans!

This dish is probably one of the easiest ever to make.  Like most Japanese food, there are a couple or few steps but still way simple.  Bonus is - it tastes sooo good!  This is usually the first empty plate on the table!

Stuff you'll need;
  • Green beans - string beans, yellow beans would work too
  • Black sesame seeds
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce 
  • Mirin (optional) 
  • Chili paste (sriracha - also optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil - while the water is boiling, clean and dice your beans - I like the segments to be somewhere between one and two inches long but it's totally up to personal preference.

Add beans to water, and cook for about 3 minutes - you want the beans to soften a bit without becoming mushy because you're going to man-handle them in a moment.

Once the beans are cooked, transfer them to a roomy bowl and set aside.

In a clean dry skillet, pour out your black sesame seeds - do NOT add oil or water or anything else, you want to dry roast the seeds.  Stir the seeds constantly - keep them moving for about 4 min.  you'll know they're ready when you start to hear them popping.  Pull the off the heat - now I use my coffee grinder for this, but you could actually either use a mortar pestle or just leave the seeds whole if you like.  I prefer them ground as I like the flavor that releases from them. 

Grind those sesame seeds into a fine powder.  Take your cooked beans and drizzle them with the sesame oil, toss them to coat - add soy sauce to taste (optionally this is where you could add in some mirin or sriracha or both) .  Once the beans are coated, dump the ground sesame right on top and stir to coat.
The trick at this point is going to be plating them and getting them to the table without eating them all standing over the sink in the kitchen! 

And that's it - you're done!


De-constructed lasagna for Shani

This dish is an example of me living up to what I say - there's nothing to be afraid of in cooking, it's either going to work or it's not - even if it only 'kind of' works, it's a great opportunity to improve things!

My very first attempt at pasta - vegan pasta at that - is a perfect example.

I was not aware you could make pasta without eggs - seemed impossible to me.  Then a friend came over to eat, and this friend happened to be vegan, and similar to when my Shani came over and I had to think of something vegan to serve for dinner, I had impetus to sort out something other than a slab of cow.

And being admittedly too lazy to commit to a full baking dish of lasagna, I thought I'd try to be clever and 'de-construct' the dish.  I can def. use some practice here - it doesn't look quite like I would like it to but you get the idea...

Stuff you'll need;

  • Seminola flour - something about the gluten levels in this pasta make it excellent for making pasta.  I'm going to look it up later but for now just know this is what you need
  • Water - it would probably be helpful for me to know how much water, but I really didn't measure it.  Water is a safe ingredient, if you add it slowly chances are you'll be OK without measuring it...
  • Pinch (literally) of salt - I didn't actually put salt in the pasta dough (my doc. would be so proud) but most recipes online would call for it so I'm listing it here.  Honest, you can skip it.

I looked at about 12 different versions of vegan pasta recipes online, they all tell you to pour out XX grams of seminola flour onto a wooden board, made a hollow in the center and mix the flour in slowly.  It looks very authentic, but I have a kitchen that was built in a space that used to be a closet and I just don't have that kind of counter space so I used a bowl.
That's the whole thing.  There's really just no "mixing on the counter" when you have no counter...

In a roomy bowl, dump about 2 cups of seminola flour (if you only have 2 cups cut this in half - you're going to need extra flour to work the dough later) - add about a quarter cup of water, and stir gently to combine - there's no need to be overly vigorous just yet, you want to build the dough slowly and ensure equal saturation of all the grain first.  Add water a bit at a time (by a bit, I mean a couple tablespoons) and continue to mix.  You should notice that the mixture is starting to clump - clumping at this juncture is good.

In all you'll probably add just under a cup of water to form the dough - it's roughly a two (flour) to one (water) ratio, less a little water.  It's always easy to add water so proceed slowly, you're making pasta dough not pancake batter.  Oh and I use a fork for the first part of this.  Waaaay less messy...

Once you've managed to incorporate all the flour, you're going to need to get your hands in on it - wash and dry your hands, and get in there smashing the little bits together tor form one big ball of dough.  Once you've got one ball of dough, play with it a bit!  Stretch it out, fold it in half, do it again and again!  Squeeze it from one end to the other into weird shapes, put it on a lightly floured work space and smash it with the heel of your hand and fold it back up -  whatever, you're going to want to abuse the dough for about 10 min.  You're "stretching the glutens" by doing this - really just ensuring that the moisture content is equally distributed.

Divide up the dough and roll it out - now this is where I had challenges - I don't have a pasta machine.  I hand rolled the dough with a rolling pin - while on some level this made me feel very smug and look-how-authentic-I-am, on the other hand it made me realize that I need a boatload more practice.  I will admit that my noodles were all over the place in thickness.
Make sure to flour your working surface to make sure that the pasta doesn't stick and proceed to roll it out. you want thin as-even-as-possible sheets.  As you're rolling the pasta out, be liberal with the flour, it'll help keep everything from sticking together.

Now here's another fun part - the shapes.  I'm sure there's a pasta aficionado somewhere that's about to be horrified but this part is too much fun to let that sway me. The first batch of noodles, I cut into something 'like' lasagna shaped noodles because I wanted to plate them folded up on themselves.  The next batch I used a cookie cutter and went to town - the point being let your presentation determine the shapes!  I haven't tried any of the rolled shapes yet, just flat ones, but have some fun with it!

Once you've got the shapes you need but your well dusted noodles on a well dusted plate and let them dry a bit - dry noodles are less likely to dissolve in a pot of boiling water, and it's easier to get a nice al dente texture from them.  Once you're noodles have dried a bit (they don't need to be stiff like store bought noodles but you do want them to dry for at least an hour), boil up a big pot of water, add salt and a float of olive oil, drop the noodles in and don't walk away.  The noodles will start to get floaty in about 2 min - cook them for another minute to two minutes then fish them out.  Fresh noodles don't take as long to cook!

While the noodles are drying it's time to sort out a sauce.  While a nice store bought sauce is fine, it's such a great chance to be creative!  Here are a couple of options to consider;

Super-ultra vegan sauce - dice plum tomatoes, sweet onion and garlic, set aside.   Warm a generous helping of olive oil in a sauce pan - add the garlic and onions and cook them slowly over medium heat stirring constantly until they start to become soft and translucent.  Add the diced tomatoes and a spoonful of tomato paste (canned is fine), and a dash of your favorite dried herb mix (I use herbs de provance), and salt and pepper to taste.  Keeping the heat at medium/high, let the tomatoes simmer - they'll start to soften which is exactly what you're looking for.  And instead of salt, I used capers - it adds a briney flavor that I thing works really well with the tomatoes.  When you can't wait to shovel the sauce into your mouth it's ready - layer it over and between the noodles, top with shredded basil and serve.

Not so super ultra vegan?  Add shredded Parmesan or mozzarella - I did one version with a slice of prosciutto sandwiched in the middle of the stack.  The photo at the start of this entry even shows a small stack of garlic chips on the side!

Herb butter sauce - in a pan, melt a generous clump of butter (I like home made butter but store bought is fine).  Add a handfull of chopped up fresh herbs - sage works really well here.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  Quick steam a handful of asparagus stalks chopped to about one inch pieces, and toss them into the butter to finish. Layer the asparagus with the noodles (once cooked) topping with remaining butter sauce and a healthy sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

I'm sure you can think of other yummy things to put on top of a dish of pasta right?


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Macha and smashed Lavender Creme Brulee

I had left over egg yolks, because I've got it in my head I'm going to make French Macarons.  The other recipe involves 6 egg whites, so rather than to let the yolks go to waste, I figured I'd bust out the kitchen torch and see what happens...

There are a number of different flavors I considered but I decided to twist it around and use macha (green tea powder) AND crushed lavender.  (In the past, I've also used thai tea, or vanilla beans or almond extract - all delicious options!)

So for this batch, stuff you'll need:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for topping
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon of macha powder
  • Roughly quarter cup of lavender flowers (crush them with a mortar and pestal to release the flavor)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and put on a pot of water for the bain Marie.

In a saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat, add lavender flowers and macha powder.  Don't let the cream boil - you want it to get warm enough that you can smell the lavender and the macha powder can be incorporated (it'll just float on top of cold cream).  About 5 min.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar together until well blended - yolks without the whites won't gain volume so just make sure everything is well mixed.

Strain the cream to remove the buds from the lavender.  Slowly pour about a quarter cup of the warm cream into the egg mixture, while stirring - this process is calling tempering, and it allows you to mix the egg with the warm cream without scrambling the yolks!  

Once the yolks are tempered, you can whisk them back into the remaining cream mixture.  Now, I cheated a little bit here - the color wasn't what I wanted it to be, so I added just a touch of green food color - totally unnecessary step but I was going for a more distinguished green color.  So sue me.

You'll notice in the photos, I didn't use real ramekins - actually I found these cute little custard cups in SF Chinatown about a billion years ago, and I use these instead whenever I need ramekins.  They're cute and the come with matching lids...  Ramekins would be ideal, but any single serving oven save ceramic bowl should do the trick.

In a baking pan with high sides, place a dish cloth - this is going to help stabilize the ramekins when you bake. Place about six ramekins in the dish, and divide the creme brulee mix among them.  Fill the baking pan with boiling water so that it comes up about half way up the sides of the ramekins - if your oven has shelves that slide out, you may want to do it over there rather than trying to move a pan full of boiling water.  Safety first and all that!

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 min, or until the edges set and the middle is still jiggly.  Take them out of the oven and let them cool a bit then cover place in the fridge to cool even more.

Before serving, pour a bit of sugar onto the surface of the custard - tilt the dish around to coat the top.  

Using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar to create that crunchy crust which is the primary reason to eat creme brulee in the first place. The kitchen torch might take some practice, I pretty consistently get darker sugar than I intend to, although I rather like the taste.  Let it cool for a moment to harden and dig in!