Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cookie Dough Bars

These days, I mostly try to avoid refined sugar. Mostly. Of course, it can’t be avoided if I’m inspired to bake an exciting, new cake recipe or if ice cream making is on the agenda. But, most days, I opt for savory over sweet or treats lightly sweetened with dates or a little maple syrup. This approach to sweets has been made very easy by the recipes from Good Clean Food: Super Simple Plant-Based Recipes for Every Day. After writing about this book in April, I’ve tried two more recipes that I have to mention. One of the handy things I’ve noticed about the recipes from this book is that they don’t make too, too much. You end up with a tasty treat made from great ingredients that lasts just long enough for two people to enjoy without overdoing it on sweets for days. First, I tried the Cookie Dough Bars, and they really taste like delicious cookie dough. They’re topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce that you can either make with raw cacao powder or by melting dark chocolate. The other recipe I tried was the Salted Caramel Bonbons. The date- and almond butter-filled bonbons were dipped in chocolate and were surprisingly filling. I didn’t get quite the same sweet, bitter, salty flavors I know from salted caramel, so I might start calling them by another name, but they were great, little treats in their own right. 

The processes for making both of these treats are similar. For the cookie dough bars, dates were pitted and covered with hot water. In the food processor, raw cashews, oats, coconut flakes, salt, and vanilla were pulsed until fine. The dates were added with some of the water they’d been soaking in along with cacao nibs. The mixture was pulsed again until it formed a dough. This was pressed into a pan, and you can decide how thick or thin you’d like the bars to be. I pressed the dough into an eight-inch square pan, but only filled half the pan. The pan was placed in the freezer for a few minutes. The chocolate drizzle was made by stirring together cacao powder, coconut oil, maple syrup, and a little salt in a double boiler. The sauce was drizzled over the chilled bars, and the pan went back into the freezer for 20 minutes before cutting into pieces. The bars do need to be stored in the refrigerator. 

For the bonbons, dates, almond butter, a little almond meal, coconut oil, and a little salt were pulsed until smooth in the food processor. This mixture was placed in the freezer to firm up for about 10 minutes. Then, the mixture was scooped into balls that were placed back in the freezer while chocolate was melted. Each bonbon was dipped into the melted chocolate and topped with flaked sea salt. These are also stored in the refrigerator. 

Both of these quickly-made treats come in handy when you need a boost of afternoon energy. And, both have great flavor from dates, coconut, and nuts. I know I’ll be making them again soon, and I’m especially thrilled to have learned a way of making a pure chocolate topping that’s sweetened only with maple syrup. Although, there’s probably a decadent, sugar-filled recipe in my near future too. 

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Squash Ribbons with Tomatoes, Peanuts, Basil, Mint, and Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce

Now that I’ve officially lived in Austin longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, I’m getting used to the growing seasons here. And, I get excited every time a vegetable comes into season. It’s like I’ve never eaten a tomato before when I walk into a farm stand and find heirloom beauties for the first time this year. I get just as excited when the first broccoli shows up in the late fall and for every other vegetable too. The start of each season is special, and the flavor of those first-of-season, freshly harvested vegetables is unmatched. So, I felt like I was reading the thoughts of a kindred spirit when I dove into my review copy of Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden. He clearly has true respect for vegetables, their seasons, and the subtle differences among early-season, mid-season, and late-season versions. After presenting some building block recipes for flavored butters, sauces, vinaigrettes, breads, grains, and pickles, the book is divided into Spring, Early Summer, Midsummer, Late Summer, Fall, and Winter. When each vegetable actually appears will, of course, depend on where you live, but you’ll find delicious ways to use the vegetables from the first harvest through the last. A lot of the recipes incorporate breadcrumbs or croutons or nuts for added texture and flavor. And, the Brined and Roasted Almonds recipe is one that’s already become a favorite for me. It works with any nut, and it’s a simple matter of soaking raw nuts in a salty brine, draining them after 30 minutes, and then roasting them in the oven. I can’t stop making and eating these nuts and telling everyone to do this. Also, a lot of the recipes are perfectly paired with toasted bread slices or flatbread to be used as vehicles for the combinations. Some examples are the Fava Beans, Cilantro, New Potatoes, and Baked Eggs; Potato and Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Olives, Feta, and Arugula; and Israeli-Spiced Tomatoes, Yogurt Sauce, and Chickpeas. Another one on my short-list of things to try is the Carta di Musica paper-thin flatbreads with Roasted Eggplant Spread, Herbs, and Ricotta Salad. This isn’t an entirely meat-free book, but the focus stays squarely on the vegetables. Since our “summer” vegetables arrive early, I’ve already been enjoying summer squash and tomatoes, and I loved the idea of using them in a salad with Asian flavors and lots of herbs. 

I did make one little change to the suggested process. The recipe was intended to make use of thinly-sliced, raw ribbons of summer squash and zucchini. But, I was using the grill that day anyway and liked the idea of adding a slightly smoky flavor to the dish. I gave the ribbons just a minute on each side over the coals before proceeding with the salad. The sauce was a mix of minced hot chiles, minced garlic cloves, fish sauce, water, and white wine vinegar, and it will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. The rest of the salad components included havled cherry tomatoes, I added some larger tomatoes cut into wedges, thinly sliced green onions, basil leaves, mint leaves, chopped peanuts, and olive oil. Everything was tossed with the Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce and olive oil and placed on a platter. 

The fresh herbs and crunchy nuts mixed well with the vegetables and the spicy sauce, and the salad was great alongside grilled shrimp. This book was a welcome read thanks to the care with and interest in vegetables at their very best, and the layers of flavor worked into each dish will keep me coming back to try more things. 

Squash Ribbons with Tomatoes, Peanuts, Basil, Mint, and Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce  
Excerpted from Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2017. Photographs by Laura Dart and A.J. Meeker. 

Serves 4 

4 firm medium zucchini or a mix of zucchini and yellow summer squash 
Kosher salt 
1 pint cherry tomatoes (a mix of colors is nice), halved
1/2 cup salted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped 
1 bunch scallions, trimmed (including 1/2 inch off the green tops), sliced on a sharp angle, soaked in ice water for 20 minutes, and drained well 
1 small handful basil leaves 
1 small handful mint leaves 
1/4 cup Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce (see below) 
Extra-virgin olive oil 

Using a mandoline, carefully slice the zucchini from the bottom to the top to create very thin ribbons of squash. (If you don’t have a mandoline, just cut the zucchini into very thin crosswise slices, to create rounds.) Toss the squash with 1 teaspoon salt and put in a colander so the salt can draw out excess moisture. Let them sit for 30 minutes. Blot the squash on paper towels to remove the moisture and excess salt. Pile into a large bowl. 

Add the tomatoes, peanuts, scallions, basil, and mint. Pour in the spicy fish-sauce sauce and toss again. Taste and decide whether the salad needs more salt. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and toss again. Do a final taste and toss, arrange on plates, and serve right away. 

Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce
Makes about 1 1/4 cups 

1/4 cup seeded, deribbed, and minced fresh hot chiles (use a mix of colors) 
4 large garlic cloves, minced 
1/2 cup fish sauce 
1/4 cup water 
1/4 white wine vinegar 
2 tablespoons sugar 

Stir everything together in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves. Taste and adjust so you have an intense sweet-salty-sour-hot balance. Ideally, make this a day ahead, then taste and readjust the seasonings on the second day. The chile heat is likely to get stronger. The sauce will keep for a month or two in the fridge. 

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Seafood Salad with Lemon-Garlic-Herb Dressing

As soon as we have a hint of summery weather, seafood salad is on my mind. I really believe it’s an ideal meal when it’s hot outside. In fact, if I could spend every day of summer sitting poolside with a supply of such a salad in a nearby refrigerator, I’d be extremely happy. Sadly, there’s no pool in my backyard, but whipping up more seafood salad every few days is definitely doable. I had just read about a lovely-sounding version in Tartine All Day: Modern Recipes for the Home Cook, and the time was right. During this late spring-not-quite-summer yet season, the local farms have fennel, celery, onion, and new potatoes. And, all of those things happen to be perfect elements of a seafood salad. For the main attraction, the seafood, you can pick and choose whatever combination you prefer. This time, I kept it simple with just shrimp and squid, but chunks of halibut, some scallops, and clams would have been great mixed in as well. What I really liked was the preparation method of the recipe in the book. 

You begin my making a quick and easy court bouillon with water, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, sliced lemon, chopped shallot, a few peppercorns, and some salt. The seafood was cooked in batches in the simmering stock. By cooking the shrimp by itself before cooking the squid by itself, you have better control of the timing and can pull everything out of the stock with a slotted spoon at just the right moment. As the seafood drained and cooled a bit, new potatoes were then cooked in the same court bouillon. This was a great idea for adding flavor to the potatoes and for making the process efficient by only using one pot. After the potatoes were tender but not mushy, they were drained and allowed to cool. The dressing was a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, chopped oregano, minced shallot, and salt and pepper. I wanted to give it just a bit of thickness, and so I added some mayonnaise. In the book, the salad is just those items: the seafood, potatoes, and dressing. I added thinly sliced raw fennel and chopped celery and served it with dressed arugula on the side. 

Two lessons I learned from this were: always cook some potatoes in a court bouillon after poaching seafood; and, when you have fresh, local celery, potatoes, and fennel, put them in a seafood salad. I just need to work on getting a pool into my backyard, and I’ll be set. 

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