Friday, June 21, 2019

Shaya at Lawrence Family JCC June 28

Do you read cookbooks? I don't mean simply dipping into them for recipes. I mean really reading them. Because if your idea of a perfect evening or weekend is settling in with a cup of tea or glass of wine and a good cookbook--and you're curious about how Israeli and American Southern food interconnect--then you'll enjoy "Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel" by Alon Shaya.

Shaya has won two James Beard awards for his restaurants Shaya, Domenica, and Pizza Domenica in New Orleans. He was born in Tel Aviv to parents originally from Bulgaria (mom) and Romania (dad). But at age four his mother moved his older sister Anit and him to Philadelphia to reunite with his father, who had moved to the U.S. years before. The marriage broke up and Shaya was left to mostly fend for himself.

"Shaya" is a memoir/cookbook that traces his life through food. The sense of family he gained from his maternal grandparents--and the food his safta (grandmother) made for him when they visited from Israel, starting with Lutenitsa (a dish of roasted red peppers and eggplant). The first dish he made (hamantashen). Finding himself in a home ec class with the teacher of every student's dreams and making Linguine and Clams "Carbonara." Landing at the CIA, then going out to Vegas to work in a casino, and eventually New Orleans, where he would settle. The recipes in each chapter are connected to these memories that eventually take us through the trauma of Hurricane Katrina, when he worked for chef John Besh, to Italy and Israel, and then back to New Orleans.

Because, once upon a time, I worked in publishing in New York I have a habit of reading the acknowledgments first in books. And I knew I'd be smitten by this book with the story he tells there in praise of his collaborator Tina Antolini. He initially showed her some stories he'd written and she sent him off to read one of her favorite cookbooks, "Home Cooking" by Laurie Colwin because his writing reminded her of the narrative form Laurie used in her book. Then, he worked with editor Vicky Wilson, a legendary Knopf editor, whose sister I worked with back in the day at The William Morris Agency. And she told Shaya that the only cookbook she'd ever published was "Home Cooking." That was kismet for him but why would that matter to me? Because back then I was friends with Laurie, who was the godmother to my boss's daughter. Laurie passed away quite young, but "Home Cooking" and "Home Cooking II" as well as novels and tons of fabulous short stories are some of my favorite reading dating back to my early 20s.

So, there's that connection. But even if that weren't there, I'd still encourage you to get this book. Shaya is a terrific storyteller and his story is unusual. So are the recipes, and that's part of their charm. Are they Jewish? (His Kugel in Crisis features bacon.) Are they Southern? Or Italian? Or Israeli? You'll have to read the book to learn how he pulls together all these traditions and flavors. All I can say is that I'm looking forward not only to trying his recipes but meeting him.

Yes, meeting him. Shaya will be appearing Friday, June 28 at the Lawrence Family JCC for Shabbat dinner. And I'll be conducting the interview. Dinner will be dishes from "Shaya," including Chilled Yogurt Soup with Crushed Walnuts, Mom's Leek Patties with Lutenitsa, Pan-Seared Yellowfin Tuna with Harissa, and Malai with Strawberries (trust me, these are dishes you're going to want to make).

Tickets are available online. I'm already working on my interview questions. Hope to see you there!

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Urban Solace's Biscuits Live On

Last week San Diego lost two of its favorite restaurants. I say this with remorse because if all of us who loved both Urban Solace and Solace and the Moonlight Lounge had eaten there more frequently we wouldn't be mourning them. And chef/owner Matt Gordon would still be working way too hard feeding us.

It's all our fault.

Years ago I used to say that if you discover a great restaurant in New York or L.A., you keep it to yourself so you can continue to get in. But in San Diego you have to tell everyone you know and even strangers so it'll stay in business. Sadly, that still appears to be true.

It's all our fault.

I met up with friends for Urban Solace's final service and it was, ironically, packed. And it seemed that everyone was eating Matt's Cheese and Chive biscuits. For years we've all loved the biscuits. They were perfection. Flaky, just thick enough and with a texture that didn't stick in your throat like Bisquick biscuits, but glided down--lubricated with Matt's sweet and creamy Orange Honey Butter.

So, here's the good news if you missed the meal or are missing Urban Solace. I have the recipes for both. In fact, I also have the Basil Cream Biscuit recipe from Matt's late Sea & Smoke restaurant in Del Mar.

You may already have them yourself. You see, I wrote about Matt and his biscuits, along with his tips for making them, back in 2015 for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Want a laugh? Even Matt's wife Young Mi was thrilled to know they exist because Matt's restaurant version that was posted in the kitchen is scaled for like 100. These recipes call for a much more reasonable 15.

So, if you're in mourning for Urban Solace and Solace and the Moonlight Lounge, here's my contribution to the shiva.

And, fair warning: Don't neglect your favorite restaurants! Support them so you can continue to enjoy them.

Matt, thank you for so many years of so many delicious, creative meals! I can't wait to see what you do next!

The Rise of the Biscuit

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Truffles for Your Chakras

Love chocolate but trying to avoid refined sugar? Love truffles but can't eat dairy?

If all goes well, there's going to be a local alternative chocolate truffle that is total indulgence but far healthier than your conventional sweet.

Kathryn Rogers, founder and CEO of Vivacious Dish, is now making Maya Moon Chakra Chocolate Truffles. The truffles are made with honey, coconut milk, and coconut butter, instead of sugar, cream, and butter. The fair trade cocoa is organic and sourced from Peruvian farmers. The coconut milk and butter is also is organic and from a community collaborative in Sri Lanka. The raw clover blossom honey is local, from Mikolich Family Honey.

Rogers is making her truffles out of a 2,400 square-foot bakery in Bay Park. The idea, she said, came from a collaboration a couple of years back at a yoga studio. The owner wanted healthy chocolates without refined sugar and with energy-activating ingredients. Rogers had been experimenting with herbal flavors and from there the idea was born to have truffles that connected with energy centers in the body. She spent the following two years refining the recipe to get the consistency right and perfection in the flavor profiles.

"It took a long time to get ther recipe and consistency down," she said.

So a box of seven truffles will include:

  • Clarifying Coconut (for cosmic consciousness)
  • Third Eye Triple Berry (for tuning into your intuition)
  • Throat Opening Peppermint (for speaking your truth)
  • Heart Warming Cinnamon (for opening to give and receive love)
  • Energizing Bee Pollen (for igniting your inner fire)
  • Luscious Lemon Mango Berry (for activating pleasure sensors)
  • Rooted Raspberry Ginger (for grounding)
Each of the truffles is dusted in one of these ingredients. The flavors are subtle. You'll take a bite and get a lovely hit of coconut or peppermint or berry and then sink into a luscious chocolate. I didn't miss the dairy and loved the depth of flavor the honey provides.

Right now Rogers is in the midst of a Kickstarter to raise $25,000 to launch the project. She's raised just over $13,000 so far and the fundraiser ends on March 6 at midnight. With this fundraiser she hopes to:

1. Order packaging and source organic ingredients to ship the first run of gift boxes to backers.

2. Launch monthly chocolate truffle subscription program, including monthly meditations.

3. Expand into retail locations and natural markets throughout California.

I can't tell you to put money into the Kickstarter. I can tell you that these truffles are sublime and it would be so cool to have a local chocolate that is something you can "indulge in and feel good," as Rogers said.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Air Fryer Shishito Peppers with Togarashi

I remember a time not all that long ago when shishito peppers--those crinkly mild green Japanese chiles--were hard to find in markets and just a little less so as a bar app at hip restaurants. It was a big score back when Susie's Farms was in farmers markets and had them in season.

I now regularly see them--no surprise here--at Japanese markets--but last week I found shishito peppers in a produce display at Sprouts. And bought a bag.

It coincided with my recent purchase of my second air fryer. Air fryer number one was big--too big for my countertop so I had to use it on my stove--and the one time I used it, the house stank from burning plastic. So back it went. Then I read about a much smaller, much less expensive air fryer that would be perfect for my single-person household. The brand is Dash and they have the fryers in multiple cool coolers with a small compact footprint, and both manual and digital displays.

Here's mine (and no, I don't get any payment from either Dash or Amazon):

I used it for the first time over the weekend on, what else, the shishito peppers. Normally, I would toss them in a little oil and let them blister in a hot cast iron skillet. It's not a big undertaking, unless the temperature is soaring in the summer. But cooking them up in the air fryer--essentially using convection heat--was even better because I didn't have to hover over the skillet and deal with peppers so twisted they wouldn't stay where you turned them.

With the air fryer all I had to do was toss them in a little vegetable oil and place them in a single layer in the crisper  basket, which rests in the crisper drawer. The downside? Because it's a small unit I had to do two batches, but it wasn't a big deal since the cooking time is a mere five minutes. This particular air fryer is very intuitive so you press the power button and it immediately shows the temperature, which I turned up from its default 360° to 390° with the + button.

Then you press the timer/temperature button, which displays the default time of 10 minutes and move it to 5 minutes using the - button. Press the start arrow button and it takes care of the rest. In fact, the temperature and timer alternate on the display so you know exactly what is going on as it counts down. And once it hits the one-minute mark, it counts down in seconds.

Midway, pull out the basket and shake, then put it back into the machine. When the timer beeper goes off, check and make sure your shishitos are sufficiently blistered. If so, pull out the basket and use tongs to pull out the shishitos (excess oil may have collected in the bottom of the crisper drawer below the basket so you don't want to risk burning yourself by flipping it over).

Now how do you season your shishitos? If you're like most people you salt the shishitos, then squeeze lemon juice over them. And that's perfectly wonderful. I'm fond of ponzu sauce on them as well. But with this batch I sprinkled coarse sea salt and shichimi togarashi, which is a traditional Japanese seasoning mix.

It has a bite, thanks to chili pepper and szechuan pepper. But it also contains black and white sesame seeds, orange peel, and dried basil. So it offers plenty of zesty flavor, too, and pairs beautifully with the blistered shishitos.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Kitchens for Good Launching "Dinners for Good"

I've been a fan of Kitchens for Good since, well, before it even launched just a couple of years ago.

Never heard of the organization? Well, top of line, it's a San Diego culinary school designed for people 18 and older with barriers to employment—youths aging out of foster care, veterans or people who were formerly incarcerated, for example. The program, which is free to the students, uses curriculum developed by LA Kitchen and DC Central Kitchen, which together have graduated more than 1,500 students over 25 years and have a 90 percent success rate of full-time employment within three months of graduation. Kitchens for Good teaches both fundamental culinary skills, including knife skills, baking, fish fabrication and plating, and what founder and president Chuck Samuelson called “soft skills,” like anger management, résumé writing and professional social interaction. Students graduate the program with ServSafe certification and job placement assistance.

And it's graduated hundreds of students so far. But Kitchens for Good is more than just a culinary school. It's an advocate and example of reducing food waste. It provides nutritious meals for families in need. And it funds jobs and supports local farmers.

Any nonprofit that is juggling this many projects needs financial support. And Kitchens for Good used the collective smart noggins and came up with a new fundraising program: Dinners for Good.

Dinners for Good is a combination chef demo and tasting series sponsored by Catalina Offshore Products and Specialty Produce (yes, the same folks who have brought us Collaboration Kitchen). It  will be hosted by Catalina Offshore Products' Tommy Gomes. Each event will consist of a five-course tasting menu with paired drinks--all prepared by some of San Diego's best chefs during a live cooking demonstration.

Tommy Gomes

The kickoff event will be held on March 24 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Kitchens for Good. It will feature Gomes, with Hanis Cavin of Carnitas Snack Shack and "Sam the Cooking Guy" Zien of Not Not Tacos.

Hanis Cavin

Here's the menu:
1st course:
Shaved squash / roasted cherry tomato / almond
tapenade / manchego / sherry vinaigrette

2nd course:
Smoked pork stuffed sweet-pepper / corn puree / corn-
pork belly sauté / chive oil

3rd course:
Roasted black cod / mussels / sweet garlic / toasted
focaccia / mirepoix / black pepper butter

4th course:
Seared NY strip / crisp potato cake /
mushroom-onion-lardon hash / port reduction

5th course:
Mini ice cream cookie sandwiches /
white chocolate dipped

Sam "the Cooking Guy" Zien
On April 28, the next Dinners for Good program will feature Gomes with Matt Gordon of Urban Solace and Solace & the Moonlight Lounge and Sam Zien.

On June 30, the program will feature Karen Barnett of Small Bar, Logan Mitchell of Cellar Door, and Coral Fodor of Garden Kitchen.

Tickets for Dinners for Good are $115--remember, the proceeds from the events support Kitchens for Good and their culinary job training program!

Kitchens for Good is located at 404 Euclid Avenue Suite 102, San Diego 92114.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Miso Butter Turkey Thigh

Long before I knew the term "compound butter"--and I mean really long before--I was enjoying a version of compound butter at my summer camp. At breakfast some of us got into the habit of mixing soft butter with brown sugar, both of which were in bowls on the long dining hall tables for pancakes or French toast or oatmeal, and eating this mixture with a spoon. Yeah, it was as weirdly wonderful as it sounds, especially to a preteen away from home whose parents weren't around to put a stop to it.

So imagine how happy my taste buds were when I discovered years later that you could blend soft butter with all kinds of ingredients and spread it on really great bread or toast.

Or cook with it.

Compound butters are truly a gift to a home cook with some vegetables, or chicken, or fish--and odds and ends of ingredients. The other night I decided to make myself a roasted turkey thigh but I'd also just cleaned my refrigerator and realized I had a container of miso hidden in the back of a shelf. My usual go to with miso is to make a marinade or glaze for an oily fish like salmon or black cod. But I thought miso could work with turkey and decided to pair it with butter.

And several other ingredients.

I riffled around my pantry and pulled out honey and rice vinegar. Back in the fridge I got out soy sauce. Garlic and ginger made sense--and I remembered my ginger garlic bombs in the freezer (a great hack from Bon Appétit) and got one out to defrost.

After I let the butter soften and the ginger garlic bomb defrost, I mashed the butter and miso and started adding the rest: a teaspoon each of honey and rice vinegar, half a teaspoon of soy sauce, and the ginger garlic bomb. I wanted to relive my youth and just eat the creamy mixture with a spoon; it was salty and sweet with a kick from the vinegar and a little spice from the garlic and ginger.

Instead I smeared it over the large turkey thigh, but once I did that I still had some left over. I pulled out an eggplant from the refrigerator and cut some slices, then smeared the slices with the miso butter. They all went into the oven to roast and within about 10 minutes my entire house already smelled dreamy.

Within 45 minutes I had a beautifully browned turkey thigh and perhaps the most delicious slices of eggplant I'd ever eaten. The miso butter had infused the eggplant with all those flavors and made each slice melt in my mouth.

This is one of those concoctions I'd make again in a heartbeat not just for the turkey and the eggplant, but to smear on fish or chicken or winter squash slices. I'd toss it in pasta or hot whole grains.

Or just use a spoon and eat it.

Miso Butter Turkey Thigh
Serves 1 or 2, depending on the size of the turkey thigh
(printable recipe)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons miso
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon plain rice vinegar
1 ginger garlic bomb
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 large turkey thigh

Mash together all the ingredients except the turkey to make the compound butter.

Spread as much of the compound butter as you need all over the turkey thigh. If you have any left over, refrigerate it or spread over vegetables.

Preheat oven to 375°. Place the turkey thigh and any vegetables you plan to roast in a roasting pan and cook for 45 minutes or until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 170° and 175°. Remove from oven. Let rest about 10 minutes, then slice the turkey.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sourdough Oats and Nuts Granola

Every Sunday morning, once I get back from the dog park, I take out my ceramic canister of sourdough starter and let it come to room temperature. Then I empty out about two ounces and feed it equal parts flour and water--two ounces each (which is call 100 percent hydration). It's my weekend  ritual--and no surprise to anyone who reads San Diego Foodstuff.

Today, instead of tossing or giving away the discards I used them--actually a little more than usual--to make granola. Weird, huh? Usually, I include my starter in some kind of baking project. But it was an intriguing idea I had found online and since I enjoy granola and had the main ingredients in my pantry and freezer I thought I'd try it out.

What does the sourdough starter add to granola? Think of it as a tangy binder. Once it's added and then baked you can't see it. But, thanks to its subtle flavor, you'll know it's there.

Now while you can use the spent starter you will want to refresh it a bit. So the first thing to do is mix it with a little water, a little flour, and some brown sugar. Then, let it sit on the counter for three or four hours. It'll get a little bubbly. This releases more flavor than it would straight out of the fridge and the flavor is what you're after here.

Once your starter is ready, preheat your oven and start mixing the other ingredients. The dry ones obviously go together first. And you can be flexible with the type, amount,  and proportion of nuts and seeds you use.

Add your honey or maple syrup to the starter mixture, along with vanilla and oil, then whisk it together and pour over the dry ingredients. Stir it all up and spread it onto a half sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Off into the oven it goes. After it's baked, let it cool before breaking it up into little pieces and adding dried fruit, cocoa nibs, or whatever strikes your fancy. I had lots of different packages of dried fruit, some chocolate-covered cocoa nibs, and dried coconut flakes that I added.

The result is a great mix for cocktail parties--or in a bowl with milk. It's sweet and savory and very crunchy. And it's a versatile foundation for creating a snack based on your specific tastes or needs. You can add more brown sugar or honey/maple syrup for a sweeter flavor--or add mini chocolate chips or other sweets as well as cinnamon or cardamom. Alternately, you can minimize the sweetness and create a savory granola with more seeds and the addition of dried herbs. Even as is I sprinkled a handful into a bowl of my Roasted Red Kuri Squash Soup and the sweetness really complemented the sweet spicy soup and gave that thick texture some crunch.

Sourdough Oats and Nuts Granola
(printable recipe)

4 ounces sourdough starter (100 percent hydration--meaning equal parts flour and water)
1 ounce room temperature water
2 ounces brown sugar (light or dark)
1 ounce flour (AP, white whole wheat, or whole wheat)
½ teaspoon sea salt
5 ½ ounces rolled oats
2 ½ ounces lightly toasted nuts
2 ounces mixed seeds
2 ounces honey or maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ ounces neutral oil, like grapeseed
Dried fruit, cacao nibs, crystallized ginger, coconut flakes, or other add ins

Mix first 4 ingredients and let sit at room temperature to ferment  for 4 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 300 F.

Combine salt, rolled oats, nuts, and seeds in a large bowl.

Whisk honey/maple syrup, vanilla, and oil into the starter mixture, then pour wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir to combine.

Spread in a thin layer on a silicone- or parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for about 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Check in between to make sure your granola isn't getting too brown. Remove from oven and let cool for about 15 minutes. Then break the granola into pieces and add dried fruit, etc. once completely cool. Store in airtight container.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Crisp-Stuffed Baked Apples

Last year I wrote about my childhood making custard for my mom. The ancillary to this was making baked apples for my dad--really, the whole family, but my dad was the driver; he loved them. In fact, years later when I had "graduated" to making apple pies he always said as he got older that he wasn't a crust guy. He just loved the apples. So I started making him apple crisps--and always kept a bag of crisp mixture in my freezer so I could make them for him at a moment's notice.

I wish it had occurred to me while he was still with us to make him a baked apple stuffed with the crisp mixture. He would have loved it! But it didn't, until now.

I got a craving for baked apples in December when the weather was so bizarrely stormy. When I made them for my family back in the day, my memory is we used either granulated sugar or brown sugar and cinnamon, along with butter, with water in the baking dish. Very straightforward. I think we also sliced off the top before hollowing out the apple--and added the top to bake, too. My dad's cousin Debbie told me her mom used to use diet soda as the liquid. Chef Matt Gordon of Urban Solace and Solace and the Moonlight Lounge said he used Dr. Brown's Black Cherry Soda.

But as I got to thinking about how to flavor them, I realized that all the ingredients I wanted--brown sugar, cinnamon, toasted nuts, and butter--were in my latest batch of crumble in my freezer, accompanied, of course, by oats. So why not just use the crumble?

And I did.

The bigger question, of course, was what kind of apple to use. Back in the day, my mom, who initiated me into making baked apples, used Pippins. But, here's the problem. Pippins, a wonderful tart/sweet green apple variety, are no longer around. There are fads in apple varieties, too, it seems. When I posted my baked apples on Facebook, I heard from friends that they have also seen their favorite baked apple varieties leave the markets: Braeburns, Roman Beauties, Gravensteins. (Although, I think I have seen Braeburns around.)

I did some research and found Fujis highly recommended. That's what I used but while they certainly kept their shape, I don't think they softened enough. My bet next time will be on McIntosh. The risk is, though, that if you aren't observant enough, the McIntosh apples will collapse. So, my search will likely go on. (Tip: my mom used to serve collapsed apples in custard cups to hold them together)

But don't let that deter you. Your favorite apples, baked with spices, sugar, and a little crunch, are the perfect winter dessert. Add a drizzle of cream and you'll be swooning.

Crisp-Stuffed Baked Apples
Yield: 2 servings
(printable recipe)

2 apples
4 tablespoons crisp mixture below
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other liqueur or apple juice/cider (optional)
Water to fill up 1-inch of the baking dish

Caron's Crisp Mix
Yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings, depending on how much you use per serving

Mix together:

2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1 ½ cups lightly packed brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon fennel pollen
1 cup unsalted butter, melted

Store in the freezer until you’re ready to bake.

Pre-heat oven to 350°.

Peel about an inch around the top of the apple.

Rotate a paring knife into the core of the apple to begin hollowing out the middle. Don't go all the way down, just about three quarters to leave the bottom intact. Take out what you can and use a melon baller to dig deeper and remove the seeds and tough core.

Fill the hollow with 2 tablespoons of crisp mixture in each apple. Place in a baking dish with high sides that just fit the apples. Top the apples with butter. Mix water with liqueur or cider and pour  around the apples.

Cover with foil, place in oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. If the apples have still not softened to your desired texture, continue baking for another 10 minutes or so.

Try to serve immediately--but, you can also refrigerate them and warm them up later in the microwave.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Moro Beans with Lacinato Kale and Shiitake Mushrooms

With this chill in the air it feels like bean time. The last time I wrote about beans was to rave about Alubia Blancas, which are still my favorite. But I recently tried Moro beans, which are a project of Rancho Gordo with XOXOC. Moros are black beans indigenous to Mexico and grown by small farmers.

Uncooked, the beans are like little gems. You would hardly be surprised to see them along a sea shore like little pebbles you'd want to collect. They appear to be a cross between pintos and black beans and when cooked, release a delicious broth. The website notes that they should be cooked as simply as possible, which is fine. I, of course, played around with them a bit and came up with a very basic first batch, which was delicious, then turned them from there into an even more flavorful, nutritious soup. It was perfect for our recent chilly, rainy weather.

First things first--actually cooking the beans. You can do this in all sorts of ways: in your basic pot on the stove, in a slow cooker, or in a pressure cooker. You can soak them. Or not. You can add all sorts of flavorings to the cooking water. Or not. It all depends on what you want the results to be and how you want to use them.

Here's what I did: First, I picked the beans over to remove any non-bean debris (little stones can inadvertently get into batches of packaged beans so always do this). Then I rinsed them and soaked them in a bowl of water covering them by about two inches. I did this in the morning and let them soak for about six hours. I did not toss the soaking liquid because that's where the flavor and some of the nutrition of the beans can leach out.

For the flavorings I diced and gently sautéed a couple of slices of bacon, not to crisp them but to render the fat, and then added diced onions and smashed garlic cloves. Once they turned opaque I added a couple of bay leaves along with the beans and soaking water. I brought the bean mixture to a boil, then lowered the heat after 10 minutes and partially covered the post with its lid (oooh, new brilliant red Staub 4 quart Dutch oven!). I simmered the beans for a little over two hours until they were al dente, adding more boiling water (to maintain the temperature in the pot) as needed. Then I added salt and enjoyed them as a side dish.

After a couple of days I revisited my leftover beans and decided they'd make a nice soup. I'm growing lacinato kale in my garden--a wonderful variety that I think is much more tender than standard kale). I lopped off half a dozen leaves, clipped a couple of Serrano chilies from their plant, and opened a bag of shiitake mushrooms, pulling out half a dozen or so to hydrate for several hours until nice and chewy.

As you'd expect, I kept the mushroom's soaking liquid and sliced the mushrooms. I roughly chopped the kale, and minced the chilies, along with a few cloves of garlic. The garlic started the sauté process. Then I added the chilies, then the mushrooms. The trick to getting the most beautiful and flavorful mushrooms is to place them in a single layer in your pan and just let them brown. Then flip and repeat. At that point I added the kale and sautéed them briefly--just until they began to wilt.

At this point I was ready to put the soup together. The beans went into my go-to little white Le Creuset pot with the remaining bean liquid and the sautéed vegetables. Then I added the mushroom liquid, stirred it all together, and brought it to the boil. Now it was ready to simmer gentle for about an hour. During that hour, when it started to look a little less soupy, I added a little more water to get it to the consistency I wanted. If you don't want it to be soup, let the liquid cook down. After an hour I salted it and dug in. I ate about half and when I had the leftovers the next day, it was even better.

Moro Beans with Lacinato Kale and Shiitake Mushrooms
Serves 4
(printable recipe)

1 cup Moro beans
2 slices bacon, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 bay leaves
Sea salt to taste

6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 red Serrano chilies, minced
6 large leaves lacinato kale, chopped
Sea salt to taste

Pick through beans and remove any debris. Rinse well, then place in a bowl and cover with water. Soak for several hours.

Sauté the bacon just enough to render the fat, then add the onions and garlic. The goal is for them to soften and become opaque, not brown.

Add bay leaves, the beans and the soaking water. Add more water if necessary so that it is about two inches higher than the beans. Bring to the boil and continue boiling for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to as low a simmer as possible and partially cover the pot to allow for evaporation. Cook until the beans are al dente. If necessary add more boiling water (to keep the temperature up). Remove and discard the bay leaves.

At this point they are ready to enjoy. However you can add additional ingredients to create more flavor and even turn the mixture into a hearty soup.

Soak the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of water until they are soft. Remove the mushrooms and set aside the liquid. Slice the mushrooms.

Heat olive oil in a skillet and add minced garlic. Sauté until fragrant then add the chilies and sauté another minute. Add the sliced mushrooms, spread them into a single layer and let them slightly brown. Turn them and repeat. Add the kale and sauté until slightly wilted.

Place the prepared beans and any bean liquid in a pot with the sautéed vegetables. Add the mushroom liquid. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Simmer for an hour, adding a little water if necessary. Add sea salt to taste and serve. It’s even better the next day.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Roasted Red Kuri Squash Soup

You can keep your butternut and spaghetti squashes. Your acorns and calabasas. When I see a red kuri squash, I kind of melt a little. Actually, I do love the others, too, but there's something about the magnificent red orange coloring and slight teardrop shape that makes me feel I'm not just going to eat something special, but that until I do, I've got a beautiful piece of nature's art to admire in my kitchen.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is the flavor of this Japanese squash. If you love chestnuts, you'll fall for the red kuri squash's rich chestnutty flavor. You can bake with this squash, but you more than likely will enjoy it in a stew, casserole, or soup.

And soup is just what I made with the one I recently bought. A thick, rich soup with chicken stock and coconut milk, ginger and dried peppers, roasted carrots and both roasted and sautéed garlic.

Because winter squash soups can be a little one note--the squash can dominate even the freshest spices--my goal with this soup was to create the now clichéd but truly relevant "layers of flavor." So I roasted the squash with carrots and garlic. I added fresh ginger and fresh garlic--and shallots. I broke up dried serranos from my garden. In went garam masala and its fragrant spices. But I also added tomato paste. And lots of fresh lime juice from limes in my garden.

All these ingredients together were able to hold up and match the squash and together they created soup magic.

Roasting the squash, carrots, and garlic took about an hour and once it had cooled enough to handle and I removed the meat of the squash from its skin and sliced the carrots I had decided I had done enough cooking for the day. So I wrapped the squash meat and carrots in the  parchment paper it roasted on and bagged it, making it easy to remove the following day. I also wrapped up the garlic paste I had squeezed from the roasted head.

So, the next day making the soup was a breeze. In a four-quart Dutch oven I heated up a combination of vegetable oil and butter to sauté the fresh garlic, shallots, and ginger. Once they softened, I added the tomato paste, roasted garlic, and garam masala, and crumbled in the dried serranos and continued sautéing. Then, in went the squash meat and carrots. After about five minutes I souped it up, pouring in both the chicken broth and coconut milk. Once it was all stirred together well and come to just a simmer, I lowered the heat, covered the pot and let it cook for half an hour. At that point, I used my immersion blender to puree it into a smooth, creamy texture. Finally, I added salt and the lime juice.

I loved the kick the lime juice and serranos gave the soup. All that mellow chestnut flavor needed a little something to give the soup a little spark. And it was all built up by the many spices and aromatics that were its foundation.

You can serve the soup with toppings--perhaps those cool coconut chips or fried onions (or both) that Trader Joe's sells. Then you get a little crunch with your creamy soup. Or, you can do what I've been doing. Add a few dollops of chili oil with crunchy garlic. I found this made by S&B on Amazon by chance and it really appealed to me, being a garlic lover. It has a slight kick to it but it's not especially spicy hot. What it has is great flavor and texture. The perfect condiment for all sorts of dishes--roasted vegetables, dumplings, noodles--and this soup.

Roasted Red Kuri Squash Soup
Serves 6
(printable recipe)

3 to 4 pounds red Kuri squash
4 or 5 medium-size carrots, peeled and trimmed
1 large head of garlic
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 large shallots, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger, from a 3-inch long piece
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons garam masala (or curry powder)
2 dried red serrano chilis
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
Juice of 2 limes (about 4 tablespoons)

Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Cut the squash into quarters, remove the seeds and fibrous material, and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Add the carrots. Slice the top off of the garlic head, drizzle with a teaspoon of vegetable oil and wrap in foil. Place that on the sheet pan as well. Roast for 1 hour.

Let the squash cool for 15 minutes until it can be easily handled. Then peel the skin away from the squash flesh.

In a 4-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. When the oil is hot and the butter melted, add the garlic, shallots, and ginger. Sauté for about a minute. Add the tomato paste, roasted garlic, and the garam masala and crumble in the dried serranos. Sauté for another minute, then add the squash and carrots. Turn the heat back up to medium to cook the squash and carrots with the aromatics for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the coconut milk and chicken broth, stir well to mix, and bring to a light simmer. Lower the heat and cover the pot. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Turn off the heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender. Alternately you can puree it in a blender in batches, holding the top down with a towel. Add the salt a little at a time, tasting until it reaches the right balance with the soup, and stir in the lime juice. Serve immediately.

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