Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Sourdough (Discard) Biscuits

I feed my sourdough starter once a week on Sundays. Every Sunday. That means I spend the latter part of the week fixated on what I might make over the weekend with the discards. After all, you have to discard part of your starter to feed it with new flour and water--or else you have an ever-expanding container of bubbling goop.

Admittedly, I don't do this every weekend. I'm only one person, after all. So if I'm not going to bake and I can't share the discards with anyone, yeah, I will toss some.

Last weekend it was cool and breezy so I thought I'd take advantage of that and bake. I scanned the web for ideas before settling on biscuits. Buttery sourdough biscuits.

Now some of my favorite biscuits are made by Matt Gordon of Urban Solace. And I'm so glad he taught me how to make his. They are divine. The biscuits I made substitute the buttermilk or cream in his with the discarded starter. That's the liquid.

This recipe isn't original to me. I found it on the King Arthur Flour website. If you love to bake and haven't been on it you should visit. Yeah, they sell great products but the site has a very rich section filled with recipes. What a resource!

One of the things you'll notice if you go to the recipe on their site is that it has measuring options: volume, ounces, or grams. Usually I like to go with ounces or grams--in other words weigh ingredients instead of measuring them. It tends to be more accurate. But when I did that with this recipe I found there wasn't enough starter because it was so heavy. So I switched to volume and that made a difference.

You can add herbs, chives, or cheese to these biscuits. I made them plain and they were perfectly flavorful. The other nice thing about biscuits is that they're freezable. I ate a couple and packaged the rest up for the freezer. Something to look forward to the next time I make a chili or stew.

Buttery Sourdough Sandwich Biscuits
Yield: 6 large (3-inch) biscuits
(printable recipe)

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
1 cup sourdough starter, unfed/discard*

Preheat the oven to 425°F, with a rack in the upper third. Grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Work the butter into the flour until the mixture is unevenly crumbly.

Add the starter, mixing gently until the dough is cohesive.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (a piece of parchment works well), and gently pat it into a 1"-thick round.

Use a sharp 2 3/8" biscuit cutter to cut rounds, cutting them as close to one another as possible. Pat any scraps together, and cut additional biscuits.

Place the biscuits onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2" between them; they'll spread as they bake.

Bake the biscuits in the upper third of your oven for 20 to 23 minutes, until they're golden brown.

Remove the biscuits from the oven, and serve warm. Or cool completely, wrap in plastic, and store at room temperature for several days. Freeze, well-wrapped, for longer storage.

*Sourdough starters can vary in how liquid they are. If your biscuit dough seems very dry, dribble in a bit of milk or buttermilk until it comes together.

Note: You can make smaller biscuits. Just remember they won't need as much time in the oven.

Print Page

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Gravlax for Brunch

When you're raised on bagels, lox, and cream cheese as the ideal brunch dish it's not a huge leap to gravlax. But there are some essential distinctions between lox, smoked salmon, and gravlax.

First let's tackle the difference between lox and smoked salmon. Lox is cured salmon, preserved with salt. But back in the day in places where salt was a scarce resource, the fish was smoked. According to Jewish food historian Gil Marks in his "Encyclopedia of Jewish Food," during early 1930s America cured salmon fillet became known to Eastern European Jewish transplants as lox. This is the Americanized spelling of the Yiddish word laks, or salmon, itself from the German lachs--and the Swedish gravlax. See where I'm going with this?

Skip ahead past the ways shipping and refrigeration technologies evolved and made intense brining to preserve the fish unnecessary and you have a lightly salted preservation method, which resulted in a smoother, milder tasting fish. What evolved for lox was a method that could include light brining or dry curing in salt and perhaps brown sugar before then cold-smoking it. This method doesn't cook the fish the way warm-smoking does. The result is a delicate slice instead of flaky flesh.

While we're here, let's also address the difference between lox and Nova. Lox became known as the curing style that was wet-brined with no additional smoking or cooking. Nova, with its origins in salmon from Nova Scotia, became known as the method discussed above: mild brining in salt, water, and perhaps brown sugar, then lightly cold-smoked for up to 24 hours. Lox, as anyone who tastes it knows, is the saltier of the two. And, as Marks notes, it's less expensive because it's easier to prepare. Today, the terms are largely interchangeable since most of the lox sold today is actually prepared Nova style with cold smoking.

Now to gravlax. Here's a brined salmon dish that anyone can make with just a few key ingredients. This Scandinavian cured salmon is primarily different from Eastern European lox thanks to the inclusion of dill. Look up recipes for gravlax and you'll find all sorts of intriguing variations. But what doesn't change is the salmon belly, salt, and dill. Lots and lots of dill. And time--48 hours in the refrigerator.

You can sweeten it a bit with sugar. You can add vodka to the brine. You can add pepper. You can also add complementary spices. I add fennel seeds and grains of paradise, a cool variation on peppercorns, with a floral scent and flavor.

Here's how making gravlax works:

Buy the freshest 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of salmon belly you can. Most recipes will call for it to be skin on. I accidentally found myself with a big piece that was supposed to be skin on but wasn't. It turned out fine.

Make sure you or your fishmonger pulls out all the pin bones in the fish. Then in a bowl mix up your cure: salt, sugar, spices. Mine is a mixture of lightly toasted, then crushed fennel seeds and grains of paradise along with sea salt, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. And have on hand bunches of dill. I also had Absolute Citron vodka to add a distinctly citrusy Scandinavian flavor.

Place half of the dill fronds in a baking dish just large enough to hold the fish. Then sprinkle half of the cure on the dill and place the fish on top and press down gently. Sprinkle the vodka over the top of the fish and then the rest of the cure and the rest of the dill. Cover the fish with plastic wrap.

Now you have to weight it down so the curing mixture will penetrate into the fish. So place another, slightly smaller, baking dish on top of the wrapped fish and a couple of cans into that dish. Refrigerate overnight. After 24 hours, remove the weights and flip the fish over so the cure will penetrate the fish evenly. Put the weights back on the fish and everything back into the refrigerator.

Once the 48 hours has passed you can remove the fish from the refrigerator, remove the weights and unwrap the fish from the plastic. Don't worry about any liquid that's accumulated. That's exactly what you want. Discard the dill and rinse the fish with cold water, removing the salt, sugar, and spices. Pat dry.

Now comes the fun part. You'll need a knife with as sharp an edge as possible because you're going to slice the gravlax very thinly at a sharp diagonal. If you have skin on the fish, slice away and off the skin. You can plate the slices in straight lines or as rings. Sliced lemon goes nicely with it, as does diced red onion and capers.

And then we return to our initial conversation. Bagels and cream cheese? Sure, it's grav"lax" after all. But, how about some marscarpone cheese and black bread for a change?

Serves 8 or more, depending on how many other dishes are served
(printable recipe)

1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon grains of paradise (you can substitute with black peppercorns)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup sea salt
2 bunches of dill
2 tablespoons Absolut Citron vodka (or regular vodka)
1 1/2 to 2 pounds salmon belly, pin bones removed

Lightly toast fennel seeds and grains of paradise. When cool, crush them together in a mortar and pestle.

In a bowl mix together the fennel seeds, grains of paradise, both sugars and salt.

Place half of the dill fronds in a pile the size of the salmon in a baking dish just large enough to hold the salmon. Sprinkle half of the curing mixture on the dill. Then set the fish on top. Sprinkle the vodka over the salmon and then press in the rest of the cure. Top with the remaining dill fronds to cover the fish.

Cover the fish with plastic wrap. Place another, smaller baking dish on the fish and put a brick or two cans into that dish.

Refrigerate for 24 hours, then remove the weights and turn the fish. Put the weights back on the fish and refrigerate another 24 hours.

When you're ready to serve, remove the fish from the refrigerator, remove the weights, and remove the plastic wrap. Discard the dill and rinse the fish under cold water, then pat dry.

Using a very sharp knife, slice the gravlax as thinly as you can at a diagonal. If the salmon still has skin on it, slice away from the skin and discard the skin once the salmon is sliced.

Serve with lemon, diced red onion, capers--and a whipped cheese--on brown bread, pumpernickel, crackers, or a bagel.

Print Page

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Summer Tomato Tarte Tatin

It's tomato time!!! I plant cherry tomatoes in my garden and already am harvesting them, little by little. Most of the time I can't even wait to take them back into my kitchen. Instead I tend to munch on them  them while watering my garden. There's really nothing like eating a sweet, sun-warmed, perfectly ripe tomato with one hand while holding a hose in the other.

There's no point in even mentioning the many ways to enjoy tomatoes. I assume you have your favorites. But if you've never tried making a tomato tarte tatin, you're missing out.

I made my first one years ago at the home of a friend. She has an abundance of tomatoes on her home's grounds (yes, it's that kind of home; it has "grounds."). One year when she had a bumper crop, she invited a bunch of friends over to make sauce. And I made a tart. It all went well until I took the masterpiece out of the oven and placed it on the stove to cool. I got involved in something else--I can't remember what exactly--but I needed to move the tart out of the way and unthinking just wrapped my hand around the skillet's handle. And screamed.

It was a stainless steel pan that had just come out of a 425-degree oven. And so I ended up with a painful second-degree burn. Yikes.

I learned after that to pay special attention to the pan since then.

This past weekend when I made the tart I pulled out the only 9-inch skillet I had, a flameware skillet. If you haven't heard of or used flameware, you're missing out on a great cooking experience. This is a clay cookware that is specially created to be totally heat resistant, that cooks evenly even at high temperatures, and doesn't get killer hot the way metal does. I bought mine online at a Minnesota shop cookbook author Paula Wolfert introduced me to, Clay Coyote.

I hadn't made a tomato tarte tatin in a flameware skillet before but it worked out perfectly. And, significantly, the pan is so light it makes flipping it over onto a plate a breeze, much easier than stainless steel or cast iron, and with almost no sticking--certainly no more than any other metal skillet I've used.

The tart itself is a marvel of sweet and savory. There are several ways to make it in terms of ingredients. Sugar instead of honey, sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. Whole tomatoes, cherry tomatoes. Whole or sliced tomatoes. Onions. No onions. Whatever. The fundamentals are tomatoes, some kind of caramelizing ingredients, and puff pastry. For me, I enjoy a lot of red onions, cooked down and caramelized in butter and a large pinch of brown sugar. Honey and vinegar. Kalamata olives. And, the star of the dish, whole organic multi-colored cherry tomatoes.

You'll start by cooking down and caramelizing the onions in a large skillet. Put them aside and in the oven-safe, 9-inch skillet you're going to make the tart in cook up the honey and water to a point at which it thickens, then add vinegar and swirl to combine the two. Remove the pan from the heat.

You'll sprinkle the olives over the honey vinegar mixture and start building the tart. The tomatoes go in--whole--over the olives, along with finely minced fresh thyme. (Want to use basil instead? Go for it.) They should cover the entire bottom of the skillet. Then you'll spoon the onions over the tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper.

The last step is rolling out the puff pastry sheet and creating a 10-inch round. Place it over the onions and tuck the excess around the tomato onion mixture. Cut some long vents into the pastry.

Before you put the tart into the oven, be sure to place it on a baking sheet covered with foil to catch the tomato juices so they don't hit the bottom of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes until the crust is nice and puffy and golden brown. Then remove it from the oven and let it cool briefly before running a knife around the edges.

Photo by Tina Luu
Now comes the moment of truth: Select a plate/platter larger than 9 inches. Place it upside down over the pastry. Be sure to use oven mitts or a thick towel and carefully flip the skillet and plate over, place it on the counter and gently lift the skillet. If all goes well--and why wouldn't it--you'll have a beautiful, rainbow of glossy tomatoes staring back at you, encased in a crunchy crust. That's perfectly good enough as it is, but you can also decorate it with a scattering of basil leaves.

Tomato Tarte Tatin
(printable recipe)
4 to 6 servings

1, 14-ounce package all-butter puff pastry
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 red onions, halved and thinly sliced
Pinch of brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
 Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of brown sugar and sauté until onions are caramelized. If you’re using a pan in which there’s some sticking, at the end of sautéing add a couple of tablespoons water and let it cook off, scraping brown bits from bottom of pan.

Transfer onions and brown bits to a bowl.

Combine honey and 3 tablespoons water in an ovenproof 9-inch skillet. Cook over medium heat, swirling pan gently until honey bubbles and thickens, 5 to 6 minutes. Add vinegar and swirl gently for another 2 to 3 minutes until combined. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle olives over honey mixture. Scatter tomatoes and thyme over olives, then spoon onions on top.  Season with salt and pepper.

Unfold puff pastry sheet and roll out into a 10-inch round. Place on top of onions  and tuck edges around the mixture. Cut several long vents on the pastry.

Place tart on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until crust is puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around pastry to loosen it from pan, place a large plate upside down over the skillet, and, using oven mitts, flip the skillet upside down, place the plate on the counter, then carefully remove the skillet.

Print Page

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Radish, Scallion, and Sugar Snap Pea Salad

May Gray finally gave way to sunny skies the first weekend of June. I'm sure June Gloom is imminent so I took advantage of the balmy weather last Saturday to visit the Little Italy Mercato. I'm so tickled that it's back on Date St. where it originated. On that clear day at the corner of Date and State looking down the street the Bay was sparkling. It was just what the Chamber of Commerce ordered.

The vendors didn't disappoint either. Everywhere I looked--between the packed crowds of shoppers--was a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors of spring/summer produce. I couldn't help myself. I bought cherries and apricots from Smit Farms. I bought my favorite eggs, as well as green garlic and a huge Reed avocado from the Schaners. I indulged in breads and pastry from the Prager Brothers.

And then I stopped dead in my tracks at Maciel Family Farms' stall. I love this Bonsall farm run by Anthony and Adam Maciel and their siblings. Everything is always pristine and fresh and inviting. This week there were fava beans and beets. Stunning summer squash. Silky looking dill and a rainbow of chard.

But the radishes! This was no radish I could remember having seen before. Alongside bunches of flawless conventional and French breakfast radishes were long, vibrant magenta radishes that looked more like carrots.

And, Anthony Maciel told me, they are actually called carrot radishes--as well as Chinese and Dragon radishes. The radishes, which Maciel explained he first saw at a farmers market in Santa Barbara and then decided to grow, are crisp and mild. He suggested adding them to a salad or soup.

I bought a large bunch of these carrot radishes, along with the French breakfast radishes, and a container of gorgeous sugar snap peas--my favorites. Then I set about making a perky vinaigrette with the leaves that also featured the green garlic from Schaner Farms. It's so totally spring! I enjoyed it that night with a steamed artichoke.

The next day I made a simple crunchy salad with the radishes, sugar snap peas, and scallions. And tossed in some more radish leaves. Really--don't throw these away. If they're fresh and not slimy (as grocery store radish leaves tend to be), rinse them off and use them in salads, with sautéed vegetables, and even as the base (instead of basil) of pesto.

Green Garlic Radish Leaf Vinaigrette
(printable recipe)
Yield: 1 cup

1 stalk green garlic, trimmed and sliced
2 to 3 radish leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
pinch of sea salt
pinch of red pepper flakes
3/4 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in the bowl of a mini prep food processor. Blend until pureed. Add olive oil and blend until emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve on Radish, Scallion, and Sugar Snap Pea Salad--or other salad. Use as a dip for steamed artichokes.

Print Page