Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lentil and Pickled Shallot Salad with Berbere Croutons

I was drawn to the latest Ottolenghi cookbook like a moth to flame. NOPI, a restaurant concept from the Ottolenghi group, opened in London’s Soho in early 2011, and the book of the same name was released last fall. The intent was for this to be a “grown-up restaurant” with a different feel from the Ottolenghi delis but still without any “stuffiness or formality.” The menu at NOPI is a mix of the flavors Ottolenghi has come to be known for with more Asian influences from chef Ramael Scully. In creating NOPI: The Cookbook, the goal was to revise the dishes from the restaurant to be more easily prepared in a home kitchen, and those changes from the menu are described in head notes. There are also several suggestions for serving parts of recipes in different ways like using sauces for a different type of meat or serving part of the dish on its own. For instance, I probably won’t attempt the complete recipe for White Pepper-Crusted Lamb Sweetbreads with Pea Puree and Miso, but the suggestion to try the pea puree with miso as a dip in place of guacamole sounds fantastic. The Burrata with Blood Orange, Coriander Seeds, and Lavender Oil recipe comes with delicious options like using white peaches, pink grapefruit, roasted red grapes, pickled pears, or kohlrabi in place of the oranges. The Pistachio and Pine Nut-Crusted Halibut with Wild Arugula and Parsley Vichyssoise looks like the picture of spring, and I can’t wait for eggplant season to try the Urad Dal Puree with Hot and Sour Eggplant. Among the desserts, the Caramel Peanut Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce and Peanut Brittle is extremely tempting. And, there are also brunch dishes and cocktails in the book. The page where I landed first, though, was the one with the Lentil and Pickled Shallot Salad with Berbere Croutons. With colorful sliced beets and radishes, it was a perfect late winter salad. 

This is the time of year when I find the prettiest radishes in all shapes, sizes, and colors at our farmers’ markets and farm stands. I brought home some pale, purple, not-too-big daikon radishes from Boggy Creek Farm along with their dainty arugula leaves for this salad. First, the Puy lentils needed to be cooked, rinsed, and drained. Meanwhile, shallots were thinly sliced and tossed with olive oil and salt. They were spread into an even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roasted for just a few minutes to bring out the sweetness but not add much color. While still warm, they were sprinkled with sherry vinegar and set aside to cool. Sourdough bread was torn into small pieces and tossed with olive oil and berbere spice which is an Ethiopian chile powder with a little cinnamon among other spices. The croutons were baked until golden. The dressing was a mix of sherry vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and olive oil. Raw golden beets and round red radishes along with the purple daikons were thinly sliced with a mandolin. Those were added with the cooled lentils, shallots, cilantro leaves, arugula, and some of the croutons to a bowl to be tossed with the dressing. The salad was served on a platter and topped with the remaining croutons. 

The raw, sharp radishes and earthy beet slices combined well with the lentils in the dressing. The vinegar-soaked shallots added a nice punch of flavor, and crunchy croutons are always welcome especially when they come with the added flavor of spicy chile powder. Seared salmon was a great pairing with this salad and a bit of a twist on the classic salmon and lentils combo. Whether it’s full recipes or borrowed parts and pieces, I’m excited to try more things from this book. 

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Embittered Negroni

I’ve come to appreciate ice more than ever. I fully realize it’s very much a first-world problem that I just spent a year and four months at a rental property with a refrigerator that didn’t have an ice maker. I didn’t even think to check the refrigerator for one when we first looked at the place. But, it’s made me value my new ice maker all the more. My brand new refrigerator makes cute, little cubes, and it even came with a handy scoop to transfer those cubes to glasses or cocktail shakers. I learned the hard way that cocktail making is a completely different game when you don’t have ice being made automatically in your refrigerator. When I received a review copy of Bitterman's Field Guide to Bitters and Amari, I was excited both to learn about the topic and to get back into the swing of making cocktails. The book does a very good job of explaining what bitters are and their history. Bitters are classified as “non-potable” flavoring agents which means that although they are made with and contain alcohol, they’re not sold as an alcoholic beverage. It’s assumed they won’t be consumed in quantity. Amari are similar in flavor but are considered “potable” and might be served as drinks. The primary flavor of both is bitterness of course, but beyond that there’s a wide spectrum of aromas and flavors to explore. There’s a description of how different commercial bitters are made and recipes for making your own. I was interested to learn that the infusing step when flavoring agents are left in the solvent, or tincturing, only requires about four or five days. Next, there are cocktail recipes for using both homemade and commercial bitters, and many flavors and brands are suggested. Following the drinks, there are recipes for cooking with bitters and ideas for balancing flavors in interesting ways. Last, you’ll find a comprehensive list of specific brands and flavors with tasting notes to get an idea of the intensity of aromas and flavors of what’s available. It was Valentine’s weekend, so I started with a red cocktail, the Embittered Negroni. 

For this version, rather than mixing equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, there’s more gin than sweet ingredients and some added bitters. I took the book with me when I headed off in search of bitters since it is a “field guide.” Fee Brothers bitters are easy to locate and they’re reasonably priced. However, that info in the book about how bitters are made revealed that this brand relies on a glycerin base and artificial flavors and colors. Something to keep in mind when cooking with bitters is that the alcohol base will quickly evaporate and take some aromas and flavors with it. Flavors from bitters with a glycerin base will remain even when exposed to heat. But, either way, it’s best to add them at the end of cooking. With all of that in mind, I chose The Bitter Truth brand grapefruit bitters which is made with an alcohol base and is highly aromatic. It was added with gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, and ice in a cocktail shaker and stirred. I poured the cocktails into chilled martini glasses and garnished with orange twists. 

I liked this less-sweet Negroni, and I really liked the world of flavors to discover in these bottles of bitters. I also tried the recipe in the book for a vinaigrette with grapefruit bitters. It pointed up the flavors and sharpened it like nothing else could have. There are endless new possibilities with cooking and cocktail making now. With a selection of bitters and ice at the ready, who knows what I could mix up next. 

Embittered Negroni 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Bitterman's Field Guide to Bitters and Amari by Mark Bitterman/Andrews McMeel Publishing. 

Mythology has it that the Negroni sprung like Athena from the head of Count Camillo Negroni in 1919. The no-nonsense count, who found himself in need of something stiffer than an Americano (Campari, sweet red vermouth, and seltzer) asked the kind bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to swap gin for the seltzer, and this gave birth to a cocktail so freakishly delicious it must surely have rumbled Mount Olympus. Tradition has us mix equal parts gin, sweet red vermouth, and Campari. Begging the count’s permission, I lengthen the gin and crop the sweeter ingredients, then throw a bitter bolt of lightning through it to really light things up. The result would have made dear Camillo a god, or at least a marquis. 

2 ounces London dry gin (Plymouth, Beefeater, or Tanqueray) 
3/4 ounce Campari 
3/4 ounce sweet (red) vermouth (Dolin Rouge or Carpano Antica) 
6 dashes grapefruit bitters 
1 orange twist, for garnish 

1. Pour all the ingredients except the orange twist over ice in a chilled mixing glass. 
2. Stir and strain into a martini glass. 
3. Garnish with the orange twist. 

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

I might have been repeating myself with the New Year’s resolution I made last month. But, I meant it this time. I resolved to pull all those books off the shelf that have several pages marked with colorful sticky flags and cook the things I’ve been meaning to try for ages. With a new kitchen ready to be put to work, it’s time to cook even more new and different things than ever. So, off to the bookshelves I went, and the first book I grabbed was The Slanted Door which currently has no fewer than nine sticky flags poking up from the tops of pages. Every time I look through this book I find more pages to mark. Last weekend, I decided to try the Vietnamese Chicken Salad. This book doesn’t ask too much of the reader as far as hunting down specific ingredients is concerned, but there is an occasional item called for that’s not so easy to find. In this recipe, that ingredient was rau ram leaves which are also called Vietnamese coriander. I used cilantro leaves instead. The salad was primarily poached chicken, fresh green cabbage, and rice noodles. With lots of pretty heads of cabbage to be found at the farmers’ markets right now, this was a great time to make this salad. 

In the book, a whole chicken is suggested for this recipe, but I used a couple of bone-in breasts instead. The chicken was salted, rinsed, and set aside while a pot of water was brought to a boil. The chicken, some sliced ginger, and four green onions were added to the boiling water and left to cook for 15 minutes. The heat was turned off, the pot was covered, and the chicken was left to sit in the hot water for another 15 minutes. Then, the chicken was removed from the water, allowed to cool, and the meat was pulled from the bones and shredded. Meanwhile, a half head of cabbage was sliced into thin ribbons. The cabbage ribbons were salted and left in a colander for a few minutes before being rinsed and drained. Rice noodles were cooked, drained, and set aside, and I tossed them with a little oil to prevent them from sticking together. The sauce for this salad was a flavored fish sauce made by adding white vinegar, water, minced garlic, and minced Thai chiles to plain fish sauce. Sugar was also to be added, but I’m preferring less sugar in food lately and used a smaller amount of agave syrup instead. To complete the salad, the cabbage, cilantro leaves, and rice noodles were tossed with the flavored fish sauce. The chicken was added and tossed with the other ingredients. Each plate was garnished with fried shallots and chopped peanuts. 

I should have known better than to wing it with the number of chiles in this. I was sure I would want one more minced Thai chile in the sauce. Next time, I’ll stick to the recommended amount. So, yes, this was a spicy dish, and luckily I do like spicy. It’s also light and refreshing with the vinegar and cilantro. The flavors got even better after the salad had sat in the refrigerator for a bit. Now, I’m off to find more pages marked in other books and more new dishes to try. 

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Macaron Infiniment Cafe

I always think of macarons as little jewels of the cookie world. They’re a delicate, complicated cookie that’s a bit fiddly to make but so very pretty. I had made them exactly once before. After reading my review copy of the new Pierre Herme Macaron, I was inspired to try again. At the beginning of the book, there’s a story about how macarons were made at Lenotre pastry shop in Paris in 1976 when Pierre Herme worked there. Two vanilla shells were pressed together with no filling. The shells were baked on paper-lined baking sheets, and after baking a small amount of water was run under the paper to slightly moisten each shell bottom. That’s what made them stick together as a sandwich cookie. But, the most shocking part of making these early macarons was that they were baked on a hearth, and the baking sheets had to be placed in such a way to control the heat. Herme eventually moved on and perfected his own technique for making macarons including crafting inventive flavor combinations. This new book includes reinterpreted recipes from Herme’s early career as well as more recent flavors. Each recipe has its own instructions, and there’s also a separate kitchen guide for the basic steps involved that are the same for all macarons. For the most part, the shells are always made the same way but for many, different food coloring is added. The fillings, however, are all delightfully unique. For instance, for the Macaron Infiniment Mandarine, a mandarin cream is made with an orange and lemon curd mixed with melted cocoa butter. Chopped bits of candied orange are nestled into that mandarin cream inside each macaron. The Macaron Creme Brulee involves a vanilla ganache with salted-butter caramel shards, and the shells are vanilla on one side and coffee-caramel on the other. There are fillings with green tea cream and black sesame crunch, mint cream with sugared peas, strawberry compote and wasabi cream, lovage cream with green apples, and many more. I kept making mental notes of all the buttercream and ganache flavors I want to try. For my first attempt from the book, I went with the Infiniment Cafe because the shells have coffee flavor from extract and no food coloring, and the filling is a white chocolate-coffee ganache. 

Each recipe includes “liquefied” egg whites which are egg whites left to age in the refrigerator for five days or a week. The whites were placed in a bowl, the bowl was covered with plastic wrap, holes were poked in the plastic with a knife, and the bowl was refrigerated. The next step is to prepare the baking sheets. Circles were drawn on a piece of parchment paper. A second sheet of parchment was set on top of that template. When ready, the cookie disks were piped to the size of the circles. Then, the template piece was pulled from below and reused with new parchment on top for each baking sheet. Ground almonds and confectioner’s sugar were sifted together, and half the egg whites with added coffee extract were added to the ground almond mixture. The other half of the egg whites were whisked in a stand mixer while sugar syrup was brought to temperature in a small saucepan. The syrup was slowly streamed into the mixer while running to create the meringue. The meringue was folded into the ground almond mixture, and the batter was ready for piping. A piping pro I am not, and therefore my cookies were not all perfectly the exact same size. But, they were close. They were to be baked at 350 degrees F in a convection oven which I thought seemed a little hot for macarons. Also, I'm still getting to know my new oven and the convection bake option. Some of mine browned a bit, and I turned the heat down for the next pans that went into the oven. Next, the coffee ganache was made. White chocolate was melted, cream was steeped with ground coffee beans and strained, and the two were combined. The ganache was to chill for six hours before using. After leaving it to chill overnight, it still seemed very runny. I whisked it to thicken the consistency before filling the macarons. 

I felt like I had better success with these macarons that I did that first time just over five years ago. It almost seemed too easy. All of the little cookies had feet just as they should, and none of them stuck to the parchment or broke when I removed them from the baking sheets. The coffee flavor, the crunchy surfaces giving way to chewy middles, and that white chocolate-coffee ganache combined for dreamy cookies. I’m definitely less afraid of making macarons now and look forward to many more flavor combinations.

Macaron Infiniment Cafe
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Pierre Herme Macaron.
Infiniment cafe is the expression of my work with coffee with Hippolyte Courty, founder of l’Arbre a Cafe in Paris. The Iapar rouge du Bresil coffee is both potent and soft, with aromatic notes of chocolate, cinnamon, spice, and a sharp touch of eucalyptus. It’s an exceptional coffee! 


3 cups (300 g) confectioners’ sugar 
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (300 g) ground almonds 
2 tablespoons (30 g) coffee extract, preferably Trablit 
7 large (220 g) “liquefied” egg whites, divided (separate eggs, place whites in a bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, poke holes in plastic with a knife, refrigerate for five days)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (75 g) still mineral water 
1 1/2 cups (300 g) superfine granulated sugar 

PREPARE THE COFFEE MACARON SHELLS. The day before, sift together the confectioners’ sugar and almonds. Combine the coffee extract with half of the “liquefied” egg whites. Pour this into the confectioners’ sugar–almond mixture without mixing. Add the remaining “liquefied” egg whites to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the wire whisk. In a saucepan, boil the mineral water and granulated sugar to 244°F. (118°C). As soon as the syrup reaches 239°F (115°C), begin beating the egg whites on high speed. When the syrup reaches 244°F (118°C), reduce the mixer speed to medium-high and pour the syrup in a steady stream down the inside edge of the bowl into the beaten egg whites. Beat the meringue until it cools to 122°F (50°C). Fold it with a silicone spatula into the confectioners’ sugar–almond mixture until the mixture loses volume. Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a plain #11, ½-inch (11-mm to 12-mm) pastry tip. 

15 3/4 ounces (450 g) Valrhona Ivoire 35% white chocolate 
1/2 cup (30 g) Iapar rouge du Bresil coffee beans, preferably from l’Arbre a Cafe 
2 1/4 cups (520 g) light whipping cream (32%–35% fat) 

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Pipe disks about 1 1/2 inches (3.5 cm) in diameter and ¾ inch (2 cm) apart on the lined baking sheets. Rap the baking sheets on a work surface covered with a clean kitchen towel to gently smooth out the disks. Set aside for at least 30 minutes at room temperature to allow a skin to form. Preheat a convection oven to 350°F (180°C). Place the baking sheets in the oven. Bake for 12 minutes, quickly opening and closing the oven door twice during baking to release moisture. Remove the shells from the oven and slide them still on the parchment paper onto a work surface. 

Chop the white chocolate using a serrated knife then melt it to between 113°F (45°C) and 122°F (50°C) set over a bain-marie or in a microwave. Grind the coffee beans. In a saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Add the ground coffee and stir. Cover and let infuse for 3 minutes. Strain the hot cream through a fine-mesh sieve then pour it in thirds into the melted white chocolate, stirring after each addition starting in the center then in increasingly wider concentric circles toward the sides of the bowl. Pour the ganache into a baking dish. Cover it by gently pressing plastic wrap onto its surface. Refrigerate for 6 hours, just until the ganache has developed a creamy consistency. Transfer the ganache to a pastry bag fitted with a plain #11, ½-inch (11-mm to 12-mm) pastry tip. 

Turn half of the shells over with the flat sides up onto a new piece of parchment paper. Fill them with the ganache. Close them with the rest of the shells, pressing down lightly. Refrigerate the macarons for 24 hours. Remove them from the refrigerator 2 hours before eating them. 

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