Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Garlicky Roasted Cauliflower with Capers and Golden Raisins



Do you ever go through periods when you think you've lost your cooking mojo? Over the summer and into fall, when I was helping my parents, I had little time or energy to cook. As things have slowly begun to return to at least my version of normal I've been spending more time in my kitchen.

And yet.

For awhile everything felt foreign. Favorite dishes I'd made for years as staple meals eluded me. What did I use to cook for myself? How did I do it?

Gradually it's been coming back. One of my favorites over the years has been roasted cauliflower. I had my way of making it--quickly blanched, then mixed with garlic, olive oil, and grated parmesan cheese before going into the oven--and I enjoyed it and that was that. We all have those. But while at the market recently I decided to pick up a head of cauliflower and add some new flavors. And, I wondered, what would happen if I didn't blanch the florets first or even cover the roasting dish during most of the cooking? Would the cauliflower end up tough or burnt?


The answer was no, not at all. So, this roasted cauliflower now takes less steps. It's still combined with garlic (because it's my favorite flavor and I'm just not giving it up), but also with capers and golden raisins and a minced spring onion. I seasoned it with sea salt and marash pepper flakes--an earthy, fruity red pepper with a little heat, used primarily in Turkish cuisine. And it's tossed in extra virgin olive oil and panko crumbs. I left out grated parmesan cheese, but go ahead and add it if that appeals to you. The result was a cauliflower dish that was sweet and salty with a little heat and a little crunch from the panko. The cauliflower itself cooked through without any issues; in fact, it was tender with just a little bite. I ate it as a side dish for a couple of meals and then tossed it with whole wheat pasta that turned out to be a natural combination.


I also decided to roast the dish in a hand-thrown clay casserole dish. I mention this because if you have some clay pottery you'd like to cook with there are rules to this so the pot remains intact. My friend, cookbook author Paula Wolfert, is an expert in clay pot cooking and has these tips. For my purposes here, one of the key tips is not to preheat your oven before placing the dish into it. Instead, you'll let the dish slowly heat up along with the oven so it won't crack.


Garlicky Roasted Cauliflower with Capers and Golden Raisins
Serves 4
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
1 head cauliflower
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup capers
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 spring onion, diced
2 teaspoons marash pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup panko crumbs plus 2 tablespoons to sprinkle on the top
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 375˚ if you're using a conventional casserole dish. If you're using a hand-thrown glazed or unglazed dish don't turn on the oven until you place the filled dish into it.
2. Remove the core and leaves from the cauliflower (you can save these to cook separately and puree or add to vegetable stock). Peel and mince the garlic cloves.
3. If you're using dried, salted capers, place in a bowl and cover with water to soak for 15 minutes. Then rinse and drain. Also soak the golden raisins in a bowl of water for 15 minutes, then drain.
4. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the extra 2 tablespoons of panko crumbs. Pour into a casserole dish. Top with the extra panko crumbs and drizzle a little olive oil.
5. Place in the oven for about an hour or until golden brown on top.


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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sweet and Crunchy Buckwheat Groats


So, last week I wrote about cooking up buckwheat groats as a hot cereal. Let's take a 180 with this grain and turn it into a crunchy dessert topping.


The same grains that get soaked and turn slimy and turn into a soft, comforting breakfast can, instead, be transformed after that same overnight soaking into a delightful jar of unusual crisp sweetness for anything from baked apples to ice cream.


It's pretty easy. Yes, you pre soften the groats with an overnight soaking in water. After rinsing and draining as you did for the cereal prep, you put them in a sauté pan and heat to dry them out. Then you'll add a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom (or other flavors you like), along with a splash of your favorite vegetable oil. Stir it up, then place on a silpat- or parchment paper-lined sheet pan and place in a 400˚ oven. Bake for about 7 minutes, then stir it around to get it evenly cooked, and place back in the oven for another 8 to 10 minutes until the groats are nicely browned. Let them cool completely, then break up the clumps.


And that's it. How cool, right?

Sweet and Crunchy Buckwheat Groats
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
1 cup buckwheat groats
1 tablespoons vegetable oil (canola or the like)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Directions
1. Place the goats in a bowl and cover with water. Let soak overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 400˚.
3. Drain the water from the groats and place in a colander. Rinse thoroughly and let drain.
4. Add the groats to a sauté pan and heat to dry them out. Once they start giving off a nutty aroma and you can no longer see water streaks on the bottom of the pan (about 5 minutes), add the rest of the ingredients. Stir thoroughly and let cook another couple of minutes.
5. Spread the groats mixture evenly on a sheet pan lined with either silpat or parchment paper. Bake for about 7 minutes, then stir the mixture up and return to the oven to bake for another 8 to 10 minutes until the groats are golden brown.
6. Remove from the oven and let cool thoroughly, then break up any clumps. They can be stored in an airtight container.




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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sick of Oatmeal? Try Buckwheat Groats


Since I read and wrote about Carolynn Carreños' book Bowls of Plenty, I've been a little fixated on breakfast bowls. Initially, having had no time to play around with the idea too much I took what I had--oatmeal--and livened it up with yogurt, toasted walnuts, and a dollop of honey. Then I branched out à la Trader Joe's with a canister of their Organic Multigrain Hot Cereal, a mix of rye, barley, oats, and wheat. I topped that with this tangy Bellwether Farms vanilla sheep's milk yogurt that I love, along with blueberries and honey. That's been my staple for weeks now.


But while at Whole Foods recently I was eying the grains they sell by bulk and came across buckwheat groats. Now these aren't exactly foreign to me. I grew up eating kasha (buckwheat groats) varnishkes. This is a traditional Eastern European Jewish dish that combines the toasted kasha with bowtie noodles (the practical Jewish American translation of the "varnishkes") in a heavenly mixture of onions and mushrooms sautéed in chicken fat. It has a distinctive nutty aroma from the kasha that becomes one of those childhood memories that never leaves you.

Out of that nostalgia I filled up a bag with the buckwheat groats and took it home. And kept staring at it as I tried to decide how to enjoy it. I finally concluded I'd use part of it to make a breakfast bowl.


Dutifully I soaked them overnight to help speed up the cooking process. The next morning I put the now slimy groats into a colander and rinsed them well. Then into a small saucepan they went to toast a little on the stove. Once I got that wonderful aroma I added milk (You can use water if you don't want the dairy; I like the creaminess it creates), a pinch of salt, and--get this--pumpkin pie spice. Yeah, you know that little jar you pull out once a year to make your pie (and that you really should toss because it probably no longer has any flavor)? Well, if you just bought it last fall for Thanksgiving this is a great way to get additional use out of it. After all, what better way to enjoy a porridge than by flavoring it with cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom? No pumpkin pie spice jar? No worries. Just toss in a half stick of cinnamon.


Okay, so the groats are mixed with milk, salt and the pumpkin pie spice. Bring the mixture to a simmer and keep stirring until the liquid mostly evaporates. Now if you read other instructions for making porridge--with oatmeal, buckwheat, or other grains--they'll probably tell you to cover the pot during this stage. My advice is don't do it. You will (especially if you have an electric stovetop) experience major bubbling over that's a drag to clean. Just keep the lid off, monitor the heat, and stir until it reaches the consistency you like.

Pour the buckwheat porridge into bowls and add a little sweetener. It could be honey, brown sugar, molasses... whatever you like. I mixed in a couple pinches of maple sugar. Then I topped it with low-fat vanilla yogurt and a handful of blueberries. You can change your toppings with the seasons--toasted nuts, berries, chopped figs, sliced bananas, toasted coconut, raisins or other dried fruit all work well.

And I have more cooked porridge to warm up for tomorrow.


Buckwheat Groats Cereal with Yogurt and Blueberries
(printable recipe)
Serves 4

1 cup buckwheat groats
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or half a cinnamon stick)
Pinch of sea salt
Sugar or other sweetener to taste
1 cup yogurt
1 cup fresh blueberries

1. Soak the buckwheat groats in a bowl of water overnight. The next morning, pour them into a colander, rinse them under cold water to remove the slimy texture, and drain.
2. Place the buckwheat groats in a saucepan on a stovetop and toast them while stirring until you can smell a nutty aroma--just a couple of minutes. Then add the milk, pumpkin pie spice, and sea salt. Stir well and let the mixture come to a simmer. Adjust the heat so it doesn't boil over and stir periodically until most of the liquid is absorbed.
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in your sweetener. Spoon the cereal into bowls and top with yogurt and then berries.






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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Baked Eggplant and Bell Pepper in Ricotta



Do you have a favorite vegetable? I do. Surprising even to me it's not tomatoes, which I do adore. Instead I'm going to go with eggplant, mostly because I love its adaptability. True, you can't eat eggplant raw. But, oh, the dishes you can prepare with them when cooked. Fry them, bake them, roast them, marinate them... the list goes on and on. And you find them in so many cultures around the world, which adds even more to their versatility and the range of flavor profiles you can create. Right now I have peeled and sliced eggplants tossed in salt and draining excess moisture in preparation for my favorite Italian marinated eggplant appetizer that I like to have in my fridge. On my shopping list is my favorite baba ganoush that I buy at Balboa International Market. I often stir fry eggplant with oyster sauce to top on brown rice. I'll cook it in coconut milk with spices to make a curry.


And in my refrigerator is the beautiful Baked Eggplant and Bell Pepper in Ricotta casserole that I made a couple of days ago. I love this dish. It's got some wonderful elements accompanying the sliced, roasted eggplant: roasted, peeled red and yellow peppers; a tomato sauce I had in the freezer, rich with spicy Italian chicken sausage and mushrooms; and lots of garlic mixed into the ricotta, parmesan, egg mixture. Oh, and I don't want to forget the panko mixed with grated parmesan that tops it all off.

All of these ingredients are layered into a deep 9 X 9-inch ceramic baking dish and baked at high heat for about half an hour. It comes out of the oven brown and bubbling from the cheese. Cut into it and you have layers of sublime flavors all complementing each other. Pair it with a salad and serve with a crisp white wine. Make it ahead and freeze before baking or freeze baked slices well wrapped to enjoy later.


Baked Eggplant and Bell Pepper in Ricotta 
(printable recipe)
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus about a teaspoon for the baking dish and to drizzle on the casserole
2 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise, about ½ inch thick
3 bell peppers (any color but green, which is too bitter)
15 ounces ricotta
3 eggs
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup grated parmesan cheese plus ¼ cup reserved for topping
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups marinara sauce
¼ cup panko crumbs

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 450°.
2. Place eggplant slices on two half sheet baking pans and brush lightly on both sides with olive oil. Roast for about 25 minutes, turning slices over halfway. The eggplant slices should be golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

3.     While the eggplant is roasting, roast the peppers on your stovetop or alongside the eggplant until all sides are blackened. Remove and place in a brown paper bag with the top rolled up to steam the skins off the peppers. Wait about 10 minutes and remove the peppers and peel the skins off. Slice in half and remove the core and seeds. Then slice into segments and set aside.
4. In a medium bowl mix together the ricotta, eggs, garlic, parmesan cheese, herbs, salt, and pepper. 

5. To put the casserole together, brush an 8-inch baking dish with olive oil. Then layer half of the eggplant on the bottom of the dish. Follow that with half of the marina sauce and a layer of the peppers. Spread with half of the ricotta mixture. Repeat these layers and end with the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle the top with the ¼ cup reserved parmesan cheese and the panko crumbs. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the casserole is bubbling and golden brown. Let cool about 10 minutes before serving.


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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Lemony Spinach Soup with Chicken and Barley


Last week I was gifted with a large bag of baby spinach, already cleaned and prepped and looking for a recipe. I had just made spanakopita so that was out. There's only so much spinach salad one person can eat, so that wasn't going to do it. And San Diego was about to get hit with another storm so a cold salad didn't appeal to me anyway.

But soup did.


I already had the remains (meaning the breast meat) of a rotisserie chicken I had bought at Costco. (Existential question: Does anyone really enjoy a market rotisserie chicken beyond the convenience factor?) I had feta cheese and a just wrinkling jalapeño pepper I needed to use, a huge head of garlic, a quart of vegetable stock and an onion, fresh herbs and Meyer lemons in my garden, and purple prairie barley in the pantry. As I scoured my kitchen and garden I figured I had the makings of a big pot of soup.


Now you can, of course, add other vegetables to this. Mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, or winter squash would all be nice. You could leave out the chicken for a vegetarian soup or add sausage or other proteins to make it even more hearty. Couscous or rice would work instead of barley. It's all up to you. But what you really want to keep in--besides the spinach, of course--is the lemon juice. It's the magical ingredient that makes this soup special. It turns a very nice conventional soup into something bright and interesting. And makes it the perfect go-to for a chilly cloudy weekend. In fact, my mom has already made a batch for herself and gave some containers to friends.

Lemony Spinach Soup with Chicken and Barley
Serves 4 to 6
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
1 pound baby spinach, thoroughly washed, dried, and chopped
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups water
Juice of 1 lemon
8 ounces shredded chicken or other protein (optional)
6 ounces barley
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
crumbled feta for garnish

Directions
1. Heat a large Dutch oven and add olive oil. Add the garlic and onion. Sauté until golden. Add the pepper and sauté another 30 seconds.


2. Add the spinach in batches, stirring until it cooks down.
3. Add the stock and water, stirring to mix. Then add the chicken and barley. Bring to a boil, then reduced to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 40 minutes or until the barley is tender.
4. Add the herbs and lemon juice. Stir. Let cook another 5 to 10 minutes.
5. Serve with feta.




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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Joe Magnanelli's Saucisson Sec


It isn't often I walk into a restaurant kitchen and am greeted by a pig face. In fact, what greeted me at Cucina Urbana wasn't just the head but the entire broken down small pig that was the work of executive chef Joe Magnanelli and chef de cuisine of Cucina Enoteca in Newport Beach, Cesar Sarmiento.


Joe had invited me to come in while he made a batch of saucisson sec for his April Beast Feast that features pork. The dinner will feature porchetta, roast loin, bacon, headcheese, a ragu, and other dishes using almost every part of this local 130-pound Guinea Hog.

"The idea is to utilize the whole animal, to respect the animal, and not let anything go to waste," he explained.


Before getting started on the sausage, Joe spent some time working on the side of the pig, trimming one half for a roast loin and bacon. The other was for the porchetta, which he rolled up and put in the walk in.

Then he got to work on the saucisson sec. It takes two months to cure, which is why he started on it in February. But I have his recipe for you below if you'd like to have the fresh, uncured version.

Joe taught himself the techniques for curing sausage, reading books on the subject--yes--but also just learning through trial and error. For saucisson sec, the recipe calls for 20 percent pork fat and 80 percent meat, along with dry white wine, roasted garlic, black pepper, salt--and then the curing ingredients (external bactoferm, pink curing salt, and dextros. The idea is to get the pH to go down and the acidity to increase even as the water in the mixture evaporates. Joe prepares the filling, presses it out into casings, ties them up, and pricks them all around to release the water and air. He keeps a small amount, rolled in plastic wrap as a tester, using measuring equipment to test the pH.


"I want to get it below 4.9," he explained. The sausages then incubate for 24 hours in a CVap Thermalizer--a machine that controls food temperature and humidity. Joe checks them again, looking for a pH measurement below 4.0. He weighs and dates each sausage.

"Eventually you want it to weigh 30 percent less," he said.


Then he moves them into the curing chamber. Covered in a wash of bactoferm 600, the sausages develop an exterior white mold. This is important, Joe explained. "It adds a little bit of flavor, it prevents the casing from getting too dry, and protects the sausages from letting in harmful molds."

The process of making cured and fresh sausages are the same, minus the curing ingredients and curing process. Joe prepped the fat and meat, cutting them into 1-inch pieces before putting them on a tray and into the freezer until they were firm. This is hugely important. The chill keeps the protein from sticking to the grinder blades and smearing. Then he mixed together the fat and meat with the flavor ingredients--minus the wine--and began feeding them into the grinder. While he used a commercial grinder, if you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, you can use the grinder attachment.
Once the mixture is ground, it's time to blend it and get it to the right texture, using a paddle attachment.

"The texture is the most important," he said. "You want the protein and fat to bond together into an emulsion."


At that point you slowly pour in the wine. Then you can increase the speed a little for a couple of minutes. Once the mixture is sticking to the sides of the bowl, it's ready to be stuffed. Or you can cook the ground mixture to make a crumbled sausage for pizza or pasta.

Joe made me a fresh sausage to take home. His instructions were to place it uncovered on a plate in the refrigerator for a day or so until the case grew firm and tight. Then I put it in a 325-degree oven, and roasted it for 12 minutes on one side, then turned it over and continued roasting it for another 8 minutes.


Once it was cooked, I sliced some pieces and enjoyed them with mustard. The pork was sweet and just salty enough and each bite was filled with a definite flavor of wine and gentle garlic. What's next with it? Joe suggests slicing it and adding the slices to a bowl of lentils or beans. They can flavor soup or a stew. They can top a pizza or flat bread or be chopped into a tomato sauce. Or become part of a sandwich. Just enjoy it.

Joe Magnanelli's Fresh Saucisson Sec
Yield: 2 or 3 large sausages, depending on the size of the casings
(Printable recipe)

Ingredients
4 pounds pork shoulder
1 pound pork fatback
25 grams roasted garlic
45 grams salt
7 grams finely ground black pepper
125 milliliters dry white wine
75 milliliters ice water

Directions
1. Clean the pork should of any silver skin and sinew and dice with the fatback into 1-inch pieces or what will fit into your grinder top.
2. Place the trimmed, diced meat and fatback on a tray and put in the freezer until the pieces are firm but not frozen.
3. Grind with the roasted garlic into the bowl of your Kitchen Aid.
4. Add the salt and pepper and mix using the paddle attachment on medium speed. While it's whipping, slowly add the white wine and ice water.
5. Whip for about 2 minutes or until the meat starts to have a sticky or tacky texture. When it's ready you can case the pork. If you're not going to case it, don't whip it as long after the wine is added and omit the water.

Note: If you are going to case the sausage, hog casings (scrubbed, salted pig intestines) are the best. You can find them at Sisel's or Iowa Meat Farms or ask a butcher like Heart and Trotter if they carry them. If you are in the market for a stuffer, you can buy a 5-pound sausage stuffer from Northern Tool for about $100. There are lots of videos online that demonstrate sausage stuffing technique.



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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Spicy Pork and Vegetable Stew




I spent Monday morning with executive chef Joe Magnanelli at Cucina Urbana and the little pig he and Newport Beach's Cucina Enoteca chef de cuisine Cesar Sarmiento broke down in anticipation of April's Pig Beast Feast. Joe taught me how he makes his saucisson sec--and I'll show you how with his recipe for a fresh sausage version next week.

But I left craving pork. So I stopped off at the market before the rain started and picked up the makings of a pork stew. I had just written about Sabor Imports for my Close to the Source blog on Edible San Diego and had bought a jar of their Chintestle (smoked mole) Paste at Specialty Produce. Owner Sara Polczynski had suggested a little teaspoon of it could be added to flavor stews, soups, and sautéed vegetables. So I was interested in trying it out.

So on a chilly blustery day, I put together a spicy pork stew that will last me for several meals. It's a little time consuming at the beginning but once you've prepped all the ingredients, it goes smoothly without your presence and the kitchen smells so warm and comforting. Even better, you wind up with a veggie-filled pot of porkilicious comfort food. It's a little spicy and smoky from the Chintestle but every bite is speaks to the flavors of the vegetables. You could add cut up potatoes to it, but I decided to leave them out and have the option of ladling it over a grain like brown rice or scooping it up with warm corn tortillas.


Spicy Pork and Vegetable Stew
(printable recipe)
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients
1 ½ pounds pork shoulder (often called butt), cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons ground masa or AP flour
Salt and ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 medium white onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored, and diced
1 poblano pepper, charred, peeled, and diced
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon smoked mole paste (I use Seasons of my Heart Chintestle paste)
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas
1 bunch cilantro, minced
Salt and ground pepper to taste

Directions
Place pork in a large bowl. Add masa, salt, and pepper. Using your hands, toss the ingredients to coat the pork pieces.


Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven. Add just enough of the pork to cover the bottom of the pot, but don’t crowd the pieces. Let brown on one side. When they can easily be turned, brown them on the other and remove to a medium bowl. Add more pork and repeat with remaining pork. It may take three times.


Add the remaining oil to the pot, heat, and then add the garlic and onion. Saute for 2 minutes, then add the peppers. Saute another 2 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen the brown bits. Add the chicken broth, bay leaves, tomato paste, and smoked mole paste. Stir well and bring to boil. Reduced heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer for 50 minutes.

Add the peas and ¾ of the cilantro. Simmer uncovered until the peas are tender and the stew sauce thickens—about 5 minutes. Remove and toss the bay leaves. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Serve over grains like brown rice or with warm corn tortillas. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro.