Sunday, August 24, 2014

gone 'til november

These Egg-Stuffed Soft Pretzels may be my greatest accomplishment yet. Sadly, they were for a very bittersweet brunch - meeting up with my best bud Paul to hand over the USC football season tickets I won't be able to use this fall.

It all started with a Huffington Post article. Paul is our soft pretzel guru for game watches, and I asked him sweetly to make me everything on that list if I ever saw him again. Turns out we were able to get together for brunch today, so I volunteered to host just to get a little cooking fix. Pretzels were the obvious answer, but since nothing breakfast-savory made the list, I had to go on a little Pinterest/Tastespotting/Google spree.

I'm thankful I didn't overachieve by also trying to make breakfast dessert (I'm sorry, but did you say Caramel Apple Soft Pretzels?) because these turned out to be quite time-consuming. Luckily, that was an excuse to chat and hang with Paul longer, but between rolling out the dough, assembling the filling, rolling it back up (neatly), giving them a baking soda bath, etc., it's not something you want to be making a lot of in one go.

All the effort was 100% worth it. I mean, I love soft pretzels, so I'm not a hard sell, but these were pretty spectacular. Think breakfast burrito, but with more carbs. How can you go wrong? I'm looking at you, breakfast tailgates (for other people).

Egg-Stuffed Soft Pretzels
slightly adapted from Yes to Yolks
serves 6

For the dough:
3/4 c. warm water
2 T. sugar
1 rounded t. active dry yeast
1 t. salt
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. butter, melted
1 egg yolk, for brushing on formed pretzels
salt for sprinkling on top

For the soaking liquid:
2 c. boiling water
1/4 c. baking soda

For the filling:
6 eggs scrambled with your choice of add-ons

1. Combine the yeast, sugar, and water in a small mixing cup. Allow to sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, make the soaking liquid by adding the baking soda to the boiling water in a 9x9 pan, mix well, and allow to cool.

2. Combine the remaining dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Slowly stream in the yeast mixture and the melted butter. Mix with the dough hook attachment until a smooth ball forms, about 1 minute. Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Knead for 5 minutes. Return to bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest for 45-60 minutes. The dough should double in size.

3. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Scramble the eggs with your choice of add-ons (I used peppers and bacon once, and just kale another time - with bacon on the side for the non-vegetarians). Form an assembly line with your fillings.

5. Divide the risen dough into 6 equal pieces. Flatten each piece of dough into an oval a little under 1/4-inch thick. On each dough piece, place a few tablespoons of scrambled eggs. Fold the edges over the fillings, pinching to seal. Gently roll the filled pretzel on the counter to seal the closure. Continue forming the pretzels.

6. Add the formed pretzels to the pan of cooled baking soda water. Allow them to sit in the water for 2 minutes, flipping them once. Remove from liquid and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with the egg wash, and sprinkle with salt.

7. Bake the pretzels for 7-10 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy on the outside. Enjoy warm.

Friday, August 15, 2014

keep chuggin' along

Operation: Bell Pepper continues for tonight's dinner. I only got rid of two more - not every dinner can take up a dozen. I'm really starting to worry about what happens when I leave. He might have to open up a stand at the farmers market.

One pepper went into this Coconut Shrimp Ceviche - a dish that almost didn't happen. For some reason, it took forever for the shrimp to "cook" - my guess is that mixing the lime juice and coconut milk together lowered the acidity, thereby leaving the shrimp still a little more raw than I would have liked. Luckily, it was really great quality shrimp, and we like sashimi. In future, though, I would definitely just marinate the shrimp in pure lime juice until it was cooked, and then toss in everything else afterwards.

Coconut Shrimp Ceviche
slightly adapted from My Columbian Recipes
serves 4

1 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp, cut into thirds
1/4 c. fresh lime juice
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2 green onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 c. coconut milk
1/2 c. cilantro, minced
salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a large bowl, mix together the shrimp and lime juice. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until shrimp is pink and opaque all the way through.

2. Add the remaining ingredients and toss thoroughly to combine. Serve cold.

I served it on top of this delightful Mango Slaw with Cashews + Mint. If I were a little less afraid of slicing my digits off whenever I peel/slice a mango, I would make this all the time. I'd go way heavier on both the cashews and the mint, but that's your call.

Mango Slaw with Cashews + Mint
slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen
serves 8

2 mangoes, peeled, pitted and julienned
1 lb. Napa cabbage, sliced very thinly
1 bell pepper, julienned
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 c. fresh lime juice, from about two limes
2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
Sriracha, to taste
1/4 c. thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
1/4 c. toasted cashews, coarsely chopped

1. Toss mangoes, cabbage, bell pepper, and onion in a large bowl. Add the lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and Sriracha, and toss to thoroughly combine.

2. Before serving, toss with mint leaves and sprinkle with cashews. Garnish with additional Sriracha, if desired.

And finally, for dessert - no, not bell peppers - an Apricot Buttermilk Pie that makes me exceedingly happy. It takes dried apricots, so you can have it year-round. Wonderful news for the traveler who will never be in the kitchen when her favorite stone fruits are in season.

I do wish the texture was a bit smoother. Perhaps, this is a job for the blender rather than the food processor. Will try again and report back.

Apricot Buttermilk Pie
slightly adapted from Joy the Baker
makes one 9-inch pie

For the filling:
8 oz. dried apricots
1/2 c. hot water
2 T. Maker's Mark
3/4 c. sugar
1 t. lemon zest
3 large eggs
2 T. all-purpose flour
1/4 t. salt
8 T. butter, melted until browned
1 c. buttermilk
2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 t. pure vanilla extract

For the crust:
8 sheets phyllo dough
baking spray

1. Place the dried apricots in a small bowl. Pour hot water and bourbon over the apricots, and let sit for 5 minutes. Place the apricots (water and bourbon included) into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Process for about 3 minutes until smooth. Set aside.

2. Combine the sugar and lemon zest in a medium bowl. Add the eggs, and whisk until thick and well combined. Add flour and salt, and whisk to combine. Add butter, and stir to incorporate. Add buttermilk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract, and whisk until smooth. Fold the apricots into the pie filling. Set aside.

3. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

4. Working quickly to prevent the phyllo sheets from drying out, alternate 8 sheets with a spritz of cooking spray, turning each sheet 45 degrees to make a fairly even border. Pour the filling into the pie shell. Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the pie is puffed up and the center no longer jiggles in waves. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

doin' my job

My assignment for my week home was to help get through the bell peppers that are threatening to overtake our tiny garden. To be fair, the kale, now about as tall as I am, are definitely laying stake in their corner, but the sneaky thing about these peppers are that they're green, and just as you start thinking you've made a dent by collecting the dozen you need for dinner, your eyes adjust, and you realize your boyfriend is shit out of luck while you're on the road.

The original recipe only called for 4 peppers, but I don't know what kind of crazy GMO peppers you'd need to have to put all of that filling in only 4 peppers, but it took 12 homegrown ones to make it work.

While there's cheese on the pepper in the photo, I'm still trying to maintain a dairy-free life (except in Chicago - all the cheese gets eaten in Chicago), so I didn't use any cheese or sour cream in the filling. Instead, I used Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream, which was wonderfully creamy, and (I like to think) better for you with the less fat and more protein elements.

This was so hearty and wonderful, with some of the heaviness offset by the cool kale salad. Trying to kill two garden-pruning birds with one stone.

Beef- and Rice-Stuffed Peppers
slightly adapted from Serious Eats
makes 12 peppers

For the sauce:
1 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1 t. dried oregano
1 T. chili powder
1 1/2 t. dark cocoa powder
1/4 t. ground cumin
1 c. pale ale
1 1/2 c. canned crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper, to taste

For the peppers:
1 T. olive oil
1 lb.  ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 jalapeños, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. ground cumin
1 t. chili powder
2 c. cooked white rice
1 c. canned crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 t. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 c. Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream
salt and pepper, to taste
12 small (about 4 oz. each) bell peppers - tops sliced off, seeds and white membranes scooped out

1. Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and sauté until starting to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add oregano, chili powder, cocoa powder, cumin, and beer. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Continue to simmer until sauce has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

2. Make the filling: Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add beef and cook, breaking it up into little bits, until cooked through. Add onion and jalapeños, stir to combine, and continue cooking until vegetables are slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add cumin, chili powder, rice, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, Tofutti, and mix well. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking until filling is creamy, about 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat.

3. Arrange peppers in a baking dish standing upright like cups. Generously mound filling inside peppers and ladle sauce all over. Cover with foil and bake until peppers are tender, about 1 hour, removing foil during the last 15 minutes of cooking. Let peppers rest to 10 minutes, then serve.

Dessert, though, was a little disappointing. This is a delicious pound cake, but I was hoping for more bay flavor, especially since I promised this for my bay-loving friend Greg for his birthday. 

I was planning on making this cake last night, but quickly fell into my old habit of falling asleep on the couch watching Perry Mason, so the bay leaves steeped in the brown butter all night rather than just the required hour. Even then, I didn't feel the cake carried any of the flavor. It smelled lovely, but the taste just wasn't there. I'd make the cake again, but take out the descriptor to not lead anyone astray.

Bay Leaf Pound Cake
slightly adapt from 101 Cookbooks
makes one 9-inch cake

6 T. butter
10 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
3 large eggs
1/2 c. Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream
finely grated zest of one orange
1/2 t. vanilla extract

1. Brown the butter in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and add 3 of the bay leaves. Let steep for 1 hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan. Dab one side of the remaining 7 bay leaves with a little bit of butter and place the leaves, evenly spaced, on the bottom of the prepared pan, buttered side down.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, Tofutti, orange zest, and vanilla until combined. Whisk the bay leaf butter into the egg mixture.

4. With a spatula, gently stir the egg mixture into the dry mixture, just until the batter is smooth. Do not over mix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, being careful not to disturb the leaves. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Monday, August 11, 2014

but now i'm back

Home again, home again. Time for the overachieving to kick in.

Cauliflower, prepared two ways. Seared salmon. Impromptu, but very seasonal, fruit crumble for dessert. A la mode, clearly.

Cauliflower - basically, if you see a crudite platter missing all of the pretty white florets, it means I've been there and cleared them out. Other than a sugar snap pea, there are few raw vegetables that make me quite as happy.

I'll take cauliflower roasted, too. But like a lot of vegetarian/vegan food, I've never been into it pretending to be something it's not. So I was a little skeptical at the idea of making both "couscous" and puree, which of course, the no- to low-carb folks call "mashed potatoes," out of cauliflower. I was also afraid it would taste like too much of the same thing, but was I ever wrong.

First of all, the cauliflower puree was shockingly good, and tasted exactly like potatoes. Think of how much richer they would be if I had used whole milk rather than almond milk. Shocking.

And then the cauliflower "couscous," which I could eat for the rest of my life. Some of it was the addition of pistachios and mint - this was almost more a coarse cauliflower pesto, but so light and fresh from the minimal olive oil and abundance of lemon juice.

Salmon with Cauliflower Puree + Minted Pistachio Cauliflower Couscous
slightly adapted from Leite's Culinaria
serves 6

For the couscous:
12 oz. cauliflower florets
1 c. roasted and salted shelled pistachios
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
4 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. pistachio oil
salt, to taste

For the cauliflower puree:
12 oz. cauliflower florets
1 c. almond milk
2 T. butter
1 T. fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste

For the salmon:
6 3-oz. salmon fillets
olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Place the cauliflower florets in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until they’re a couscous-like texture. Remove to a large bowl.

2. Place the pistachios and mint in the food processor and pulse to a bread crumb-like texture. Add to the cauliflower. Clean out the food processor and set aside.

3. Add the lemon juice and olive oil to the cauliflower-pistachio mixture, and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

3. In a small saucepan, bring the cauliflower and almond milk to a boil. Simmer until the cauliflower is very tender. Drain the cauliflower, reserving the milk. Place the cauliflower in the food processor, add the butter and lemon juice, and process until smooth, adding a little reserved milk if necessary to attain a purée. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm while you cook the fish.

4. Pat the fish dry and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat enough olive oil to coat the surface of a large skillet. Place the fish in the skillet, skin side down, and cook until crisp and golden, about 2 minutes. Flip the fish and continue to cook until the fish is opaque throughout, another 2 to 3 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.

5. To assemble, place a dollop cauliflower purée on each plate, top with cauliflower couscous, and place a fish fillet, skin side up, alongside.

And for dessert, Aprium Crumble, served with French vanilla ice cream, only because I forgot I stopped eating dairy. 

You see, I cut dairy a few weeks ago in an effort to a) manage my slight lactose intolerance, and b) help myself avoid the evils that usually come with a cream sauce or any dairy dessert. I've actually been pretty good about it. I didn't even cheat with a cheesesteak in Philly. But I hit Chicago, and consciously un-quit dairy - life is too short to not eat Garrett cheese popcorn and deep dish pizza. 

I got so used to my Chicago rules that I didn't even think twice topping my crumble with ice cream, and then proceeding to eat the fire out the whole thing. 

But even without ice cream, this will definitely be a seasonal party trick - just equal parts oats, flour and brown sugar, mixed together with some butter, all packed over whatever is delicious at the moment. I'm bummed I wasn't home for cherry season, but I think I'm going to check the farmers' market every time I'm home to pick the best fruit going, and hurry home to make this.

Aprium Crumble
serves 4

1/3 c. oats
1/3 c. flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
4 T. butter, diced
4 c. diced apriums

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, and brown sugar, and stir to combine. Add the diced butter, and process with your hands until the butter is mostly incorporated.

3. Fill your ramekins about half way full with fruit. Add a small dollop of crumble, and fill the ramekins the rest of the way with the remaining fruit. Divide the crumble evenly between the ramekins.

4. Set the ramekins on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the tops are browned. Let cool slightly, and serve warm.