Monday, April 21, 2014

Flan



I have been reading The Luminaries, this year's Man Booker prize winner, this year's present from my secret santa, who happened to be my dear friend who lives in North Carolina, and this month's book club selection. At first, this epic seems a 19th-century detective novel that will reveal itself as you go further into the story; however, six hundred pages in, and the detective story seems less compelling than the sheer artistry of Elizabeth Catton's narrative. Certainly the artifice of astrology plays heavily into her construction of the narrative, as each section wanes into half of the one before it.  Opposing characters face off (just as they would in their astrological signs) and keep the luminaries orbiting, leading me to wish that I had taken notes from the get-go with this book; however, by the time all is said and done, the revelations and betrayals of the narrative aren't what keep this book going; it's not even the characters themselves.  Instead, Catton's fine writing just makes me want to spend a few more hours in her deft hands. Lucky indeed, for the book does go on, clocking in at over 800 pages. A pleasant way to spend a few, spring-break sponsored, afternoons.  I found that as the end careened to its conclusion, I did not want the book to end--an unusual feeling, given that 300 pages prior I had thought I would never make it to the end.

I loved Catton's characterizations.  My favorites, all of which seem to fall around the 400 page mark--perhaps when it seemed as if we were most thoroughly in the thick of it:

"Ah Sook was very fond of Anna, and he believed that she was fond of him also. He knew, however, that the intimacy that they enjoyed together was less a togetherness than it was a shared isolation--for there is no relationship as private as that between the addict and his drug, and they both felt that isolation very keenly. Ah Sook loathed his own enslavement to opium, and the more he loathed it, the more his craving for the drug strengthened, taking a disgusted shape in his heart and mind."  (408)

"He conceded in panic--for it crushed Nilssen's spirit to be held in low esteem by other men. He could not bear to know that he was disliked, for to him there was no real difference between being disliked, and being dislikeable; every injury he sustained was an injury to his selfhood. It was for reasons of self-protection that Nilssen dressed int he latest fashions and spoke with affectation, and placed himself as the central character of every tale: he built his persona as a shield around his person, because he knew very well how little his person could withstand." (426)

"Walter Moody did not chastise himself for intrusions upon other people's privacy, and nor did he see any reason to confess them. His mind was of a most phlegmatic sort, cool in its private applications, quick, and excessively rational; he possessed a fault common to those of high intelligence; however, which was that he tended to regard the gift of his intellect as a license of a king, by whose rarefied authority he was protected, in all circumstances, from ever behaving ill. He considered his moral obligations to be of an altogether different class than those of lesser men, and so rarely felt shame or compunction, except in very general terms" (467)
(Here are two interesting book reviews, one from The Guardian and the other The New York Times: both of which will do a far better job than my own little discussion).



So beyond the book, I have a new cookbook, gifted this past Christmas by one of the fathers-in-law (I have two of those and four mothers-in-law; it took a village to raise that husband), who just so happens to also be a member of the book club. This cookbook comes in part because we have been salivating over his cookbooks. Written by Teresa Barrenechea, this cookbook is delightful. Meant to open the doors for the non-native Spaniard into the homes of Spain and with discrete cultural dishes and established culinary nationalism, the recipes in this book boast of the diversity of Spanish cooking, from Navarra to Andalusia, the Balearic Islands to Murcia. Opening with a gorgeous essay on the culinary history of Spain, this cookbook moves through tapas, soups, pies, stews, fish, meat, poultry and into dessert. She covers it all with some attractive photographs, easy to follow recipes, and little head notes that ground each dish in its region.

This flan, which is so ubiquitous that it does not boast a singular region, is the classic creme caramel of Spain. Barrenechea advises that it is the basis for a multitude of different flavored flans, where you can substitute another liquid for all or part of the milk--she recommends freshly squeezed orange juice to get that Valencian feel. Perhaps some coffee or chocolate to kick this flan up a notch or two. Or even a splash of vanilla.

Do make this flan early in the day, so that you can allow it to cool completely before serving.  And believe in the syrup.  I was convinced that it would not be runny after the fast hardening of the caramel to the ramekin before baking and the subsequent cool down of a few hours after baking. However, as you can see, it turned out just as one would hope flan would do.

In sum, it is glorious indeed to have two new books--one a Booker prize winner and the other a fabulous cookbook.  I do recommend The Luminaries, should you have the time to devote to it.  Perhaps you can get a chunk of it read as you wait for the flan to cool.

Now if only summer would come soon so I could spend even more time reading and cooking.





-------------

Flan
Adapted from The Cuisines of Spain: Exploring Regional Home Cooking

Yield:
12 servings

Ingredients:  
1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 cups whole milk
2 strips lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar

Instructions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Gather 12 ramekins or custard molds.

2.  Spread the 1/2 cup granulated sugar evenly in the bottom of a heavy saucepan and place over medium-low heat.  It may take several minutes before the sugar begins to melt. Without stirring, watch the sugar closely as it begins to liquefy at the edges. When the liquefied sugar begins to turn from golden to brown, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat. Working swiftly, pour the liquid caramel into the ramekins and tilt to cover the bottom and sides evenly. The caramel will harden swiftly when it hits the cold ramekin, so work as quickly as possible.  Don't worry too much if you can't spread it prettily or as evenly as you would like.

3.  In a saucepan, combine the milk, lemon zest and cinnamon stick over high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately decrease the heat to low and simmer 10 minutes to infuse the milk with the flavor of the seasonings.  Remove from the heat and let cool.

4.  In a bowl, combine the whole eggs, egg yolks, and granulated sugar, and whisk until foamy. Pour the cooled milk through a fine-mesh sieve held over the egg mixture and whisk until well blended.  pour the mixture into the coated custard cups.

5.  Arrange the ramekins, not touching, in a large, deep baking pan. Pour water to the dept of about 1 inch in the pan to create a water bath. Carefully put the pan in the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until set when tested with a thin-bladed knife in the center. Carefully remove the custards from the water bath and set aside to cool completely.

6.  One at a time, run a knife around the inside of each ramekin to loosen the edges of the custard and then invert the custard onto a dessert plate.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ottolenghi's Semolina, Coconut and Marmalade Cake



"When I stepped out into the bright sunlight, from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman, and a ride home." 

This week I did two very important things: I made Ottolenghi's Semolina, Coconut and Orange Blossom Cake and I rewatched The Outsiders. These two events are not related; however, they were both delightful.




Let's start with the cake, shall we? This cake is a light in texture but heavy in flavor take on the ubiquitous Eastern Mediterranean semolina cake. From Greece to Syria, Egypt to Turkey, this cake, well, takes the cake. Call it revani, basbousa, shamali, harisi, mix in yogurt coconut, rose water instead of orange blossom water--no matter what, you're going to do all right.  
Ottolenghi's version adds coconut and marmalade to a large dose of sunflower oil and semolina. He also serves it with a dallop of Greek yogurt freshened with orange blossom water. However, this is the kind of recipe where you get to put your own stamp on it and it will still be amazing. Mix in some coconut with the yogurt at the end? Perhaps. Use ground pistachios instead of almonds? Sounds tempting to me. Use olive oil instead of sunflower oil? Tell me what time to be over for dessert.  Me, I made one into a bundt cake (which stuck to the edges of the pan), for it did make for a festive finish to our meal.

Also, it is important to note that this cake is ah-may-zing the next day, toasted, for breakfast.




Now onto The Outsiders, which has no bearing whatsoever on this cake. That movie was my absolute favorite thing when I was in about 5th grade (well, maybe after Wham! or jelly shoes). We rented it from the local video store; I swear, I watched that thing 15 times before we returned it (properly rewound, I am sure). Oh, Francis Ford Coppola, this was clearly an early work for you--what, with the schlocky music and the hilarious sound stage sunsets. However, your casting of Patrick Swayze as Darry and Ralph Macchio as Johnny was a choice that inspired many an imaginative fancy for the mind of a boy-crazy pre-teen (yes, I realize they were a decade or two older than I). Thank you. I do have some questions, however. Why would an elementary school take its field trip to an abandoned church? Why doesn't Johnny also dye his hair? 

Perhaps one should contemplate these important, unanswered questions over a piece of cake? Do it for Johnny.








-------------
Ottolenghi's Semolina, Coconut, and Marmalade Cake
Adapted from  Jerusalem: A Cookbook


Yield:
2 loaves (or in our case, 1 loaf, and 1 mini-bundt cake)

Ingredients:  


For the cake:
3/4 cup sunflower oil (a light olive oil will also work)
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup orange marmalade
4 eggs, at room temperature
Zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup (all purpose) flour
1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons semolina (fine or coarse, depending on your desired texture)
2 tbsp ground almonds (also known as almond meal or almond flour; I substituted 2 tablespoons of very finely chopped sliced almonds)
2 tsp baking powder

For the syrup:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp orange blossom water 

Yogurt topping:
Greek Yogurt
1-2 drops orange blossom water

Instructions:
1.  Preheat oven to 350F.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk the oil, orange juice, marmalade, eggs and orange zest until the marmalade is smooth and well incorporated.

3.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, coconut, flour, semolina, almonds and baking powder. 

4.  Add to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined into a (quite) runny batter.

5.  Grease 2 standard bread loaf tins. Pour half of the batter into each tin, and bake for 45-60 minutes or until the top is a golden, orangey brown.  (I found 45 minutes was enough.)

6.  While the cake is baking, bring the sugar, water and orange blossom water to the boil in a small saucepan. Let boil until all of the sugar has been dissolved in the water, then remove from the heat.

7.  Remove the cakes from the oven and immediately brush each with half of the syrup, letting the syrup soak into the holes.  It will seem like a lot of syrup; however, it needs to permeate the whole of the cake, and it's what makes this cake moist and flavorful.  Allow the syrup to soak into the cake and then brush on more.  This will take a few goes.

8.  Mix a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt with sugar and orange blossom flower, to sweeten. Serve with slices of the cake.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Mushroom Risotto



It has been raining north of here, which means many, many mushrooms.  Of course, we are not eating personally harvested mushrooms.  No, no.  Without our transplanted back to the Mid-West mycologist-cum-farmer to guide us through a forest foraging, the husband trusts himself to gather one mushroom and one mushroom only--the chanterelle. I applaud his restraint.  However, that doesn't mean that we don't delight in finding (and photographing) mushrooms of all sorts.  And lucky for us, the redwoods up in Fort Bragg provide plenty of opportunity:









While I recognize that all of those mushrooms are probably poisonous, I once had a friend who owned a mushroom farm in Pennsylvania.  I met him while I was in Ireland, and upon my return to the states, he invited me to his mushroom farm in, I kid you not, the Mushroom Capital of the World (or so the Wikipedia page proclaims).  Sure, I was fascinated by all of the growing rooms, the sheer amount of button mushrooms in a a row, the proper way to pick mushrooms (on which I was summarily instructed), and the loamy smell of the compost.  However, it was the thrill of driving a backhoe that has remained with me.  Oh, pshaw, you say--you who drive backhoes all the time.  Let me tell you, for this woman, driving that contraption was a blast.  I was not very good at it, and I sure as rain could not pick up the compost with the digger arm thing (see, I am very technical), but I had a blast making a mess of it all.  Making a mess is serious business.  





In honor of all these mushrooms and mushroom-related memories, I made this mushroom risotto from Fields of Greens.  As you may know from previous entries, I am a huge fan of Greens Restaurant and their subsequent cookbooks.  While all of these recipes take ample time, if you have it, you will not find it wasted.  Further, go the extra step of making the stock.  Not only will the house smell amazing while the stock simmers on the stove, it makes the risotto rich and a little acidic, which is needed to counterbalance the earthiness of the mushrooms.  




Finally, we had great intentions of making these into risotto cakes the next day.  However, a reheated bowl of risotto with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese is just as good.  Why mess with a good thing?  Unless it involves a backhoe.  Then mess all you want.








-------------
Mushroom Risotto with Leeks and Fennel
Adapted from Fields of Greens

Yield:
Serves 4-6 

Ingredients:  
Tomato-Mushroom Stock (see recipe below)

1/4 ounce dried porcini, soaked in 1/2 cup warm water for 10 minutes
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb white mushrooms, washed and sliced
salt and pepper
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbs unsalted butter
1 medium-sized leek, white part only, cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced, and washed
1 medium-sized fennel bulb, quartered lengthwise, cored, and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbs coarsely chopped Italian parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese


Instructions:
1.   Pour the stock into a saucepan, bring it to a boil, and reduce it to 6 cups. Keep the stock warm over low heat.

2.  Drain the porcini and save the soaking liquid to add to the risotto later.  (If the liquid is sandy, let the sand settle and then carefully pour off the liquid.)  Finely chop the porcini.  Set them aside.

3.  Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet; add the white mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few pinches of pepper. Sauté over medium-high heat until the mushrooms are golden and crisp on the edges; add half the garlic. Sauté for another minute or two more and then transfer the mushrooms to a bowl.

4.  Heat the butter and remaining oil in the pan and add the leeks, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few pinches of pepper. Sauté over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until the leeks are wilted. Add the fennel and remaining garlic; sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the rice and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Begin adding the stock a cup at a time, allowing the rice to absorb each cup of stock completely before adding more. Keep the pan on medium heat and continue to stir.

5.  When the rice has absorbed 3 cups of the stock, add the sautéed mushrooms and wine. 6.  Continue to add the stock, stirring constantly, until you have used 5 cups. . As you stir in the last cup of stock, add 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few pinches of pepper. At this point the grains of rice will be a little toothy and the risotto quite saucy; it's ready to serve. Stir in half of the parsley. 

6.  Serve immediately in warm bowls. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and the remaining parsley.

Tomato- Mushroom Stock for Risotto 
Yield:

7 cups

Ingredients:  
2 quarts cold water
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 leek top, chopped

8 garlic cloves, crushed with the side of a knife blade
1 tsp salt
1 oz dried shiitake mushrooms

2 medium-sized carrots
1 large unpeeled potato, chopped
1/4 lb white mushrooms, sliced
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 28-oz can tomatoes with juice
6 parsley springs, chopped
6 fresh thyme sprigs
3 fresh sage leaves
2 fresh oregano sprigs
1/2 tsp peppercorns

Instructions:
1.   Pour 1/2 cup water into a stockpot and add the onion, leek top, garlic, and salt. Give them a stir, then cover the pot and cook vegetables gently over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and cover with remaining water.

2.  Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. Pour the stock through a strainer, press as much liquid as you can from the vegetables, and discard them (or save the potatoes and eat them with salt as a snack, because the risotto is a long ways off). Use immediately or cool and refrigerate or freeze. The stock will keep in the refrigerator for 2 days and indefinitely in the freezer.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Chicken Potpie from Ad Hoc


Fair warning:  tonight's entry will read more like a journal entry than a recipe reminder--you have been warned.  
  
It's simple.  Really, it's just chicken pot pie.  However, it's a pot pie from Thomas Keller via Ad Hoc.  So, while it is simple, it does take many steps.

Simple seems nice these days.  I just finished teaching a two-week course on yoga and stress relief for teenagers.  Wonderfully, we talked about mindfulness, growth mindset, and reducing judgments and negative self talk.  We went to a zendo and sat for a meditation and drank tea. We practiced yoga outside in Briones Regional Park (where two cows ambled into our field after we were finished with our practice).  We brought in someone who studied Sanskrit, another who gave us an overview of the nervous system and its connections to restorative yoga, a counselor who talked students through some basic dialectical behavioral techniques regarding Wise Mind, and a dear friend of mine who led a yoga class in heart openings.  It was a sweet two weeks filled with reminding myself and students to simplify, something that I sometimes struggle to do.  Who am I kidding--sometimes?  Let's rephrase, something I often struggle to do.


Today, I went to yoga at my studio with another good friend--it was a beginner's class.  Keeping in the theme of simplification, we entered into Warrior I and stayed there a while.  Usually I come in and out of this pose so quickly through a sun salutation that I don't often have time to readjust my back thigh or to square my hips properly or to drop my tailbone toward the floor.  It only got better. Late in class, my Marichyasana was elongated, my outer hip released to the floor.  Oh, it was a sweet class, and the final Supta Baddha Konasana was delightful.  Something simple to take with me to the next yoga class.



The weather has been wonderful here this past week.  After the yoga class (it was still morning, mind you), the husband and I walked through the farmer's market, gathering victuals for tomorrow's corned beef and cabbage dinner, followed by a mulching of the garden (which we spruced up yesterday with a thorough weeding and watering).  A summer dress and brunch came next.  Then I read student journals, graded papers, and then off to the store for salad fixings for the week.  Nothing was complicated today.  Everything was simple, but it had many steps.  



The husband and I have been cooking for the past couple of hours--he makes the pie crusts in this family and I ignore the recipes for the fillings (okay, not ignore, but I did put more chicken, less carrots, and no pearl onions (none found around these here parts) with the substitution of shallots).  Now the pie is finishing as I write this, we are listening to some Trampled By Turtles (best band name in a while), and George Saunders' The Tenth of December calling me to finish the last two stories.  I think that can be arranged.



As for the recipe, some further simplifications are in order:  Keller requests that you cook the potatoes, carrots, and onions in separate saucepans.  Bah.  I cooked them all in one pot and added the celery during the last few minutes of cooking.  Also, put the bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorns in a sachet.  I did not, and I was not pleased to pick out the peppercorns-especially since I threw all of them in the pot.  That was a lot of peppercorns, people.  I also did not strain the bechamel sauce.  Everything turned out just fine.  I kept it simple even if I had many steps.  Not a bad adage for the weekend.



Edited to add:  Okay, the potpie is finished and we just cut into it.  Whoo boy.  This is comfort food at its best.  The crust is perfectly flaky, the filling is herby and just right, and the veggies (particularly the celery) are just the right crisp-tender texture.  (There was a part of me that pooh-poohed the vegetable parboiling.  However, that step is the most important step of all.)  Finally, we just may have to think about this as a homey family dinner.  Add mushrooms?  Perhaps...

One Year Ago: Paparot--Spinach and Polenta Soup
Two Years Ago: Seared Lamb in Swarthy Pasilla Honey
Three Years Ago: Carrot Cake (Joy of Cooking)
Four Years Ago: German Apple Pancake


-------------
Chicken Potpie
Adapted from Ad Hoc

Yield:
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:  
Pie Crust
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 sticks of butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
About 5 tablespoons of ice water



Chicken Filling:
1 1/4 cup 1/2-inch pieces Yukon Gold potatoes
1 cup 1/2-inch pieces carrots (cut on the diagonal)
3 shallots, sliced in chunks (Keller calls for 12 pearl onions)
1 1/4 cups 1/2-inch pieces of celery (cut on the diagonal)
3 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs
24 black peppercorns

2 cups shredded cooked chicken


Bechamel:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
Pinch of cayenne


1 egg, beaten

Instructions:

Pie Crust:
1.  Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Then add the butter and toss to coat with flour. With your hands, work the butter into the flour, tossing and incorporating any pieces of butter that have settled at the bottom of the bowl, until the butter pieces are no larger than a pea. 
2.  Drizzle 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of ice water over the top and, using a fork, mix the dough until it holds together when pinched: add the remaining tablespoon of water if the dough is very dry. Knead the dough until it is completely smooth and the butter is incorporated. 

3.  Divide the dough in half, with one piece slightly larger (for the bottom crust of the pie). Shape each half in a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to a day. (If the dough does not rest, it will shrink as it bakes.)

4.  Remove the dough from the fridge.  Lightly flour the work surface and rolling pin. Lightly dust the top of the large disk with flour and roll it out to a 13 to 14 inch round about 1/8 inch thick: roll outward from the center, rotating the dough frequently and adding a little flour to the work surface or dough as needed to prevent sticking. Transfer dough to a 9- to 10-inch pie plate, gently molding  the dough into the corners and up the sides.

5. Roll out the second piece of dough in the same manner, to a 12 inch round, about 1/8 inch thick. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate both doughs for 15 minutes.
 
Makes one 9 to 10 inch double crust pie.

Pot Pie:
1.  Put the potatoes, carrots, and onions in a saucepan with water to cover and add bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and peppercorns to the pan (a sachet is nice). Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and simmer until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes.  Add celery for the last 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. 


2.  Drain the vegetables, discard the bay, thyme, and peppercorns.


3.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 2 to 3 minutes; adjust the heat as needed so that the mixture does not brown. Whisk in the milk, lower the heat to keep the bechamel at a gentle simmer, and cook, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened and reduced to about 2 cups, 40 minutes; move the whisk over the bottom and into the corners of the pan to be sure the bechamel doesn't burn.


4.  Position the oven racks in the lower third and center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.


5.  Season the bechamel with salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, and cayenne.


7.  Remove both doughs from the refrigerator.


8.  Scatter the vegetables and chicken into the pie shell. Pour the bechamel over them. At this point, if the top crust is too hard to shape, let it rest at room temperature for a few minutes. Moisten the rim of pie shell with some of the beaten egg. Cover the filling with the top crust and press the edges of the dough together to seal. Trim away the excess dough that overhangs the rim. Brush the top crust with the egg. Cut a small vent in the center of the dough with a small cutter or the tip of a paring knife to allow steam to escape.


9.  Bake on the lower oven rack until the crust is a rich golden brown, 50 minutes to 1 hour. If necessary, move the pie to the center rack during the last 10 minutes of baking to brown the crust. On the other hand, if crust is browning too quickly, cover with aluminum foil. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 10 minutes.


10.  Cut the potpie into 6 wedges and serve warm.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Celeriac and Lentils with Hazelnut and Mint


I have a habit I cannot kick, and it is Ottolenghi's cookbooks.  This is the sixth recipe I have cooked from either Plenty (2011) or Jerusalem (2012), and for Valentine's Day, the husband bought me Ottolenghi (2013).  In the past three years, Ottolenghi's prolific cookbook writing has only fueled the fire. Now if only Ten Speed Press or Chronicle Books would recognize how much I love Ottolenghi and send me advance copies of the cookbooks gratis.  I wait patiently and without expectation.

Here's what I have made from his cookbooks (and I'll have this one and even one more after this entry to add.  Clearly I have a serious problem.): 

I love these cookbooks mostly for their vegetarian fare.  In fact, the only recipe that I have made that includes an animal is the salmon, which was divine.  Perhaps someday I'll branch out to his lamb or poultry recipes.  I wait patiently and without expectation.

Part of the reason for the vegetarian focus is that from time to time I like to eliminate meat from my diet.  It's a throwback, yes, to the decade I was a vegetarian, but it also just makes me feel if not a little lighter, at least a little more aware of my food choices.  Further, many of Ottolenghi's recipes are gluten-free: again, a choice I make not because I am intolerant of gluten (indeed, far from it.  I love sourdough bread, and should I ever truly or seriously think about leaving the Bay Area, I would probably have to rethink such a relocation for I would miss the bread).  It is a choice I make again just to be a little more aware from time to time about how much bread I can consume if given free rein.  Which turns out to be a lot.  And what I don't consume, I take over valuable real estate in the freezer with frozen slices of bread to be popped into the toaster when need be.  This is a point of contention with the husband. He believes such real estate be reserved for the best bacon on earth.

The husband is wrong.


Nonetheless, I carry on with my love of all food Ottolenghi with this little recipe for a lentil and celeriac salad.  Celeriac is one of my favorite vegetables--it has all of the glorious pungent taste of celery (a taste I really do enjoy) without all the fussiness of the celery strings and an added earthy, nutty taste.  While the root isn't pretty--what, with all its knobby ugliness--it is really quite a solid vegetable to take you through the winter, especially when it appears spring will never spring (even I am getting antsy for spring, and I haven't been buried in snow or been forced to withstand sub-zero temperatures).  

Bonus, this recipe is just as good the next day as a satisfying cold lunch.  (Ah, an at-work lunch.  A lazy weekend repast.  Picnics, anyone?)


Finally, I have returned from my week in the cabin.  I have one more Ottolenghi recipe to report back on that I made while I was up there.  Next entry, I will tell you all a little about what I learned will alone for a week.  Mostly, it's that I like to talk.

My mother will tell you that she knew that already and didn't need me to go away for a week to find that out. 

 
One Year Ago: Blood Orange, Goat Cheese and Beet Salad
Two Years Ago: Chicken with Cauliflower and Red Peppers
Three Years Ago: Celery Root and Wild Rice Chowder
Four Years Ago: Swiss Chard Flan

-------------
Celeriac and Lentils with Hazelnut and Mint
Adapted from  Plenty
You can also find the recipe straight from Ottolenghi's website.  

Yield:
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1/3 cup hazelnuts, skin on
1 cup puy* lentils
3 cups water
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
1 small celeriac, about 1.5lbs, peeled and cut in to 1/2 inch cubes
3 tbsp olive oil**
2 tbsp hazelnut oil**
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp mint, chopped
Salt and pepper
4 tbsp chopped fresh mint

*I used red, and they were very tasty but mushy.  If you care about appearances puy or any other firm lentil; if you don't care, use whatever lentil you have on hand.

**I find that Ottolenghi uses a lot of oil for my taste.  I reduced the olive oil to 3 tbsp from 4 and the hazelnut oil from 3 tbsp to 2.  Feel free to add it back.

Instructions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Scatter the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let them cool before roughly chopping.

2.  Place the lentils, water, bay leaves and thyme in to a small saucepan and bring to the boil.  Let them simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

3.  Meanwhile in another saucepan cook the celeriac in boiling, well-salted water for 8-12 minutes, or until just tender.  Drain and set aside.

4.  Place the hot lentils in a large bowl (hot lentils will absorb more of the dressing).  Mix them together with the olive oil, 2 tbsp of hazelnut oil, the vinegar, salt and pepper.  Add the celeriac and toss it all gently together.  Taste and adjust seasoning.


5.  To serve, stir in hazelnuts and mint (and save a little of each for garnish).

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Roasted Cauliflower with Hazelnuts Salad




No one told me that allspice could do this to cauliflower.  Well, nobody until now.  And let me, via the wisdom of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, be the one to tell you that allspice can do this to cauliflower:  not only is it a surprisingly sharp burst of flavor, especially when paired with  said cauliflower, it is a remarkably good one, particularly when added to little vinegar and maple syrup.


As detailed in my previous entry, I am spending my days holed up in a cabin in the woods, where I am reading, grading, running, gathering wood, doing yoga, grading, cooking, making fires, grading.  Thus far, I have graded 20 papers, which given that I average 3 an hour (I do wish I were a faster grader—I thought when I first entered teaching that the grading would somehow become quicker. It has not.), well, let’s not do the math.  Good news:  only 44 more to go.   


When I am not reading about who is to blame for the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, I am taking care of business with another of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks.  (Seriously, I have an Ottolenghi habit.  More on that next entry.)  I put together this wonderful cauliflower and hazelnut salad—enough for a solo dinner and lunch to boot.  It's sweet, savory, crunchy, and soft.  Consider it texture and flavor heaven.  It is a paradoxically light but robust meal.  It’s light in that there’s not a lot going on: we’re talking cauliflower, nuts, celery.  But satisfying because of this spice combination and the roasted cauliflower, a veggie I always find more pleasing in its roasted state.  Ottolenghi recommends this be served with chicken or fish, but I found it to be delightful all on its own. 

 

Actually, scratch that—not entirely on its own.  I had been aching to reread Island of the Blue Dolphins.  This comes inspired by a long walk I took about a month ago along the headlands of Mendocino.  Posted along most of the cliffs around here are signs decrying the poaching of abalone.  I remember my first introduction to abalone through Scott O’Dell’s little book, where Karana and Ramo hunt them.  As I walked in the wind and fog, I longed to return to this little book, which I have distinct memories of checking out from the local library.  Thus, I trekked from the headlands to the delightful Mendocino bookstore (the Gallery Bookshop), where they did not have Island, neither then nor the time I returned last week.  Thanks to the modern miracle that is Amazon Prime, I had a dinner companion last evening. 

 

Now go mix some allspice with your cauliflower, pronto!



One Year Ago: Cioppino
Two Years Ago: Chicken with Cauliflower and Red Peppers
Three Years Ago: Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto
Four Years Ago: Frakh Ma'amra (Mediterranean Pigeons or Squabs Stuffed with Couscous)

-------------
Roasted Cauliflower and Hazelnuts Salad
Adapted from  Jerusalem
Yield:
Serves 1-2 (main dish), 3-4 (side salad)

Ingredients:  
1 head cauliflower, broken into small florets 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
5 tablespoons hazelnuts/filberts 
2 medium to large celery stalks, sliced 
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley leaves 
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds (I didn’t have any, so I substituted blueberries) 
generous ¼ teaspoon cinnamon 
generous ¼ teaspoon allspice 
1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar 
1 teaspoon hazelnut oil 
1 ½ teaspoon maple syrup 
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 
2.  Mix the cauliflower with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and some black pepper.  Spread out in a roasting pan, and roast for 25-35 minutes, until the cauliflower is crisp and parts of it have turned brown.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool down. 
3.  Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees.  Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast for 10-15 minutes, until they smell nutty.  Be careful not the burn them. 
4.  Allow the nuts to cool a little, then coarsely chop them and add them to the cauliflower, along with the rest of the ingredients.  Stir, taste, and season with salt and pepper.