Plan in Place, Dinner Party in Action

Dessert cakes were done the day before. Morning of dinner, butterscotch sauce was made. Corn soup with Indian spices finished before noon. Brioche pudding in oven.

By 1:00 PM we had a strong start on what would be five courses. Guests were due in five hours.

I am sorry to say actual pictures will be few since we got so caught up in cooking and greeting and serving that the camera was forgotten. So I will use some pictures from the cookbooks. Our food looked exactly the same (smile).

The appetizers are pretty self-explanatory. Suffice to say once we decided on the Chicken Livers with Sherry Glaze we found a ton of recipes on the web. It was more common than we thought. So just Google it. Once guests arrived we quick grilled them and the Pears and Prosciutto.

Dinner began with Corn Soup w/ Indian Spices from David Tanis Market Cooking. The spices included garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, black mustard seed and cayenne. It had a wonderful tang over the creamy corn flavor. It may be the first time we’ve done a soup puree but it turned out quite nice. A tablespoon of whole milk yogurt and some chives topped it off. The yogurt in the photo seems to have cayenne in it.

photo from David Tanis Market Cooking

The Fennel, Radish and Mushroom Salad was from the same book. The lemon/olive oil dressing had been made ahead and the vegetables were all cut so it was any easy job to combine, plate and serve. We used watermelon radishes which looked so nice with the pale fennel and mushrooms.The main course was from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Nopi. The original recipe was Chicken Supremes with Roasted Garlic and Tarragon Brioche Pudding. We substituted duck breast. Because the brioche pudding is so different from anything we have made before I am including the recipe here. If our guests read this I think the ingredients may surprise them. It is very rich.

Tarragon Brioche Pudding

2 heads garlic
1/4 C olive oil
4 eggs
1 1/4 C heavy cream
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp grd cinnamon
1/2 oz. finely chopped fresh tarragon
2 tsp unsalted butter, melted
14 oz. crustless brioche loaf, trimmed and cut into slices
Sea salt and Black pepper

Cut off the tops of the garlic cloves, place on a square of foil. Drizzle w/ 2 Tbls olive oil, sprinkle w/ salt, wrap up the bundle and roast for 35 minutes. Once done and cool to the touch, squeeze out the insides of the garlic and crush to a fine paste.

Place the eggs in a bowl and whisk. Add cream, nutmeg, cinnamon and tarragon with 1 tsp salt and a grind of pepper. Put aside.

Lightly grease a 9″ x 4″ loaf plan with butter and line with parchment paper. Brush a bit more butter on the paper then layer the bottom with brioche bread. Spread half of the garlic puree on top and pour over a third of the cream mixture. Another layer of bread, pushed down so it gets soaked in the cream. Then spread the rest of the garlic, pour another third of the cream and top with the last layer of bread. Finish with the remainder of the cream. Lightly press down and set aside for 30 minutes.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes at 425 degrees. Should be brown on top and a knife inserted should come out clean. Once it is cooled and removed from pan it looks like this.Cut off the end edges and slice into six pieces. Just before serving, fry the slices in a bit of olive oil over a medium heat. Here is what it looks like when served with the duck and the peas & tarragon au jus.

Brioche Pudding: photo from Nopi by Yotam Ottolenghi

It was yummy but alas the recipe serves six so there were no leftovers.

After some time of talk and laughter and wine we served dessert which was described as Sticky Toffee Puddings but in reality looked like little cupcakes with butterscotch sauce and whipped cream on top. They didn’t look great but tasted good.

So with thoughts of an early Spring I had daffodils and green napkins and a floral runner on the table. (My hopes were high but as I write this, two days later, rain turning to sleet and ice is carrying on outside.) It doesn’t matter the dinner was a success.

Afterward: It only took us till noon the next day to clean up. But being exhausted we did sleep in a bit. However it is always a high doing it and we hope your next gathering is as fun. Bon Appétit!

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Still Got the Sourdough Starter?…Revisited

In the post where I gave you the recipe for the Apple Cinnamon Flatbread I mentioned that this flatbread would also make a great savory dish. Well instead of just saying that I thought I’d try it. I followed the recipe for the bread exactly. But when it got to the part where the toppings go on I used raw chopped onion, cubed pancetta ( you can cut your own or buy it like I did; Volpi makes a great product) and chunks of fresh mozzarella. I just tore off pieces and placed them evenly on top. Then a sprinkle of dry oregano and basil and a light drizzle of olive oil.

Onion, pancetta and mozzarella topping, ready to go into the oven

I baked it at the same temperature (425) and time (25 minutes) and it came out great. I was a little nervous, thinking that a high heat and a long time (a normal pizza is about 15 minutes) the cheese would burn but not so. But depending on your oven, watch it.

Hot, out of the oven.

We served it with a side of marinara sauce for dipping. So yes! This bread is great savory or sweet. Now I want to try mushrooms and olives and red onions and garbonzos and…..

Sourdough: No longer a Mystery

I’ve never made bread, and I definitely have never made sourdough starter but that is exactly what I accomplished this past week. My husband is the bread maker in this house and he makes wonderful bread. He has even taught some friends how to make bread. So I really never had an incentive. Why take on such a task when I can just eat his beautiful creations? But then while browsing in a local bookstore I found a gorgeous magazine called Sift. The photographs were beautiful and it promised 65+ Fall Recipes, Prize-winning Breads and Baking with Cider. I was hooked and paid the $12.95 and happily took it home. However once I really started looking through it I found most of the recipes I was interested in called for sourdough starter.  Oh yeah, I should have noticed that other line on the cover, 10 Sourdough Recipes to Try Now. Sourdough starter? Where do I get that? Well the short answer is you can buy it but you still have to feed it and keep it going and you are out $9.00 plus postage so I researched making my own. Basically your biggest investment is time, and a bag of flour, so I thought ,”What can I lose?”  After consulting the internet for some recipes, I settled on the one from King Arthur Flour and dove in. And even though we live in a fairly cool house (one of the many warnings) I had success.

left: Day 1 right: Day 4

After numerous feedings of flour and water it was doing really well by Day 4. And since when you feed it you discard half of the mixture I decide to save a cup and try one of the recipes from the magazine. (A side note, by Day 6 my starter was all it could be and I refrigerated it for later recipes.) The bread I decided to try first was Nutty-Fruity Sourdough because it was a one day bread, that is, no overnight rising.

One cup sourdough starter, a real sticky blob

In a large bowl combine 1 cup sourdough starter, 1 cup lukewarm water, 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (or pumpernickel), 2.5 cups all-purpose flour, 1.5 tsp salt and 1 tsp active dry yeast. Mix until the dough comes together, adding more water or flour depending on if your mixture is too dry or too wet.

Knead by hand for 10 minutes. Halfway through the kneading add in the 1.5 cups of dry mixed fruit and 1 cup chopped nuts. I used currants, cherries, raisins, apricots and walnuts. This was pretty difficult since the dough is really firm. Next time I will mix them in during the first step. As it was I resorted to flattening out the dough, adding some of the fruit mixture and then rolling and kneading it in.

Flatten, add some fruit, knead, repeat.

I did this about 4 times till it was all incorporated. Put the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise about 1.5 hours. It gets puffy but doesn’t double in size.Once the first rise is complete shape the dough into a boule or a log and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. You can also divide it into two loaves. Cover with greased plastic and let rise another hour. After second rise, slash the top (dust with flour or brush with an egg wash) and bake for 45 minutes until the bread is golden brown. Note: recipe said 30-34 min. but 45 worked for me. (internal temp should be about 190° F.)

And then it came out. I was really excited and could hardly wait till it cooled so I could cut it. I am happy to say it was a success. It is a pale bread but that is what the recipe said. No sugar but the fruit lends a subtle sweetness. I think it is good just plain but Curt says toasted with butter is the way to go. So if you happen to have sourdough starter around or get ambitious to make some, this is a good first bread to try, especially if you are a beginner like me.

Getting Ready for Dog Days

August is almost upon us and the forecast for next week is hot, humid, hot and more humid. Last year we bought an ice cream maker, not the old-fashioned crank type but a spiffy electric Cuisinart machine. We made some ice cream when we first got it but then we put it away and you know, out of sight, out of mind. A friend of ours also has one and served us ice cream one evening. Well, that reminded me of our machine. Now the danger of having rich wonderful ice cream around is fat and calories and how good they taste and how I don’t want to stop eating. That’s when I started searching out frozen yogurt recipes. Here’s one I’ve adapted from a site called, Once Upon a Chef. This original recipe called for strawberries which I tried first. And Curt has used guava, which was just okay. But the other day I tried raspberries. I also had two really ripe plums which I added to the mix.

This recipe is super easy. The only tricky part is you have to remember to put the freezer bowl and the paddle in the freezer about 24 hours before you plan on making the ice cream. Or just leave the bowl in the freezer all the time, then you can be a little more spontaneous.

Fruit of your Choice Frozen Yogurt (4 servings)

1 pound strawberries or raspberries or blueberries or peaches or anything or mix and match
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 cups whole milk Greek Yogurt
(For the strawberry I used whole milk regular yogurt and it came out fine. For the raspberry one I used part regular/part Greek.)

Combine the fruit, sugar, and lemon juice in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for about an hour until it is nice and syrupy.berryTake the raspberry mixture and puree until smooth. Since I am not fond of raspberry seeds I then strained this puree through a sieve. For fruit without seeds you can skip this step.

Push the mixture through a sieve using circular motions

Push the mixture through a sieve using circular motions

Combine the fruit puree and the yogurt in a blender and blend until smooth. Put this mixture in a covered container and chill in the refrigerator until very cold.yogurtOnce everything is cold, put the bowl on the maker, add the paddle and the cover and turn it on. Immediately pour the yogurt/fruit mixture into the bowl. Then just let it work. It takes less than 20 minutes. You’ll be able to tell when it is getting thicker. I stick a spoon in and try it along the way. For this one I also threw some blueberries in at this point.

Turn it on, pour in the mixture.

Turn it on, pour in the mixture.

Getting thicker, almost ready to take out.

Getting thicker, almost ready to take out.

Once it has reached the desired consistency, take it out and put it in a container and pop it in the freezer for a couple more hours. When you are ready to beat the heat, take out and eat. Yum! Boy, those raspberries have a rich color.bowlSo if you have been thinking about an ice cream maker, I say, go for it!!

Ever Eat a Daylily, Bud?

Once again my husband tries something new from the garden. This time it is from the flower garden. We have some beautiful daylilies blooming right now. The perfect ingredient for a tasty appetizer?lily3

But for the ingredient in this recipe you have to look past the lily.lily2

You’re getting close but you have to go a little further past the flower.

budsAh there they are, right next to the flowers. The buds.budThe new buds are what you want to pick to make

Pickled Daylily Buds

2 1/2 cups water
4 Tbls salt
35 daylily buds ( the tastiest are those just about to open)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, halved

1. Place 2 cups of water and the salt in a bowl, stirring until the salt dissolves. Add the daylily buds and let stand overnight, covered.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar and garlic.

3. Put the drained daylily buds in a clean pint jar. Add the hot cider to almost the top, cover, and allow to cool on the counter. When cool, place in the refrigerator and leave for 2 weeks to pickle. We ate them in 24 hours and they were fine.

They taste like pickled beans and are a nice accompaniment to a sandwich or as an appetizer with a piece of cheese and a glass of wine. Fun Summer food!jar

Sometimes…3: It’s more than a cookbook

As I’ve noted before, we volunteer at our local library sorting books for the semi-annual Friends of the Library book sale. These are books that have been withdrawn from the library collection for various reasons or donated books that citizens have given to our Friends group for our book sale. As we sort the books into one of 46 different categories we occasionally come across something of note; something amusing, maybe shocking or possibly just puzzling.

This is the third in a series of occasional posts about those finds.

recipe.coverSometimes things are more than what they seem.

On its face, this is a composition book popularly used in schools around the country during the first half of the twentieth century.  We found this one interesting because it’s not a school child’s work book but a housewife’s recipe book that also served as a scrapbook and address book.

recipe.INcover

Inside front cover

It first caught my eye because one of the addresses inside bears a surname that we know from my wife’s side of the the family (but no apparent connection to her actual family).  It also held things that spoke to the times.  Meat and potatoes must have ruled the dinner table but sweets ruled the recipe book.  Of 87 hand-written recipes, 67 are for some sort of sweet thing.  Times must have been tough – one recipe is for milk-less, egg-less, butter-less cake.

milklesscake

Milk-less, egg-less and butter-less. Mmmmm-good.

Other recipes of note are one for a poultice made of onions and rye flour to be used for a chest cold, and one for Bug killer which starts with carbolic acid (crude) (black).

BugKiller

Cold remedy, bug killer and birthday notes.

Occasionally there are recipes or newspaper clippings pinned onto the pages with straight pins.

GrayHair

Other items include a remedy for high blood pressure, garden advice and a note of Minie’s birthday.

You might also like Sometimes… Demonic Control or Sometimes …2: South Beach Diet

Tater Salad Season

It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the US and the unofficial beginning of the Potato Salad Season. I love potato salad and I have eaten a lot of different kinds and summer just makes it taste better. My Aunt Kate made a great German potato salad, my mother-in-law Jane made a fabulous eggy potato salad. But I even think deli potato salad, though not always the greatest, has its place in the potato salad pantheon. I experimented with a lot of salads over the years hoping to create my own style. Sometimes I tried to copy Jane. Mine was not bad but never like hers. I eventually discovered James Beard’s Old-fashioned Oregon Potato Salad and made that for a while but now I think my salad has evolved into combination of Jane and Jim.

So what to make for this weekend? Mine, Jane’s, Jim’s or something new. Curt follows the New York Times food column and he handed me a printout of Melissa Clark’s Lemon Potato Salad with Mint. Looked interesting, looked easy. I tried it and it is good enough to share. Here goes.

I halved the recipe for the two of us but I am posting the full recipe in case you are having company.

Lemon Potato Salad with Mint

2 lbs potatoes
Juice of one lemon, more for serving
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 C extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions, more for serving
1/4 C torn mint leaves, more for serving
1/4 tsp Turkish pepper ( I used Aleppo)

All this plus potatoes

All this plus potatoes

Step 1: Boil potatoes in salted water until just tender. Drain and cut potatoes into 1 1/2 inch chunks as soon as you can handle them. Important note: Dressing is going on hot potatoes.

tatersStep 2: In a bowl whisk together lemon juice, salt and olive oil.

Step 3: Transfer hot potatoes to a large bowl and toss with dressing, scallions, mint and pepper. Let cool to room temperature or refrigerate. Just before serving, top with additional lemon juice, scallions, mint and pepper.

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

It was quick and tasted great. We paired it with burgers, done on the grill, and accompanied it with a nice Petit Syrah. burgerI think we have a new favorite but for tomorrow I think I’ll try Jane’s salad with our ribs.

Picadillo Alfredo

Warning! This is an experiment.

The NY Times recently published a recipe by Sam Sifton for Picadillo which he calls the ultimate Cuban comfort food.  Picadillo is a sort of sloppy-Joe kind of stew made from ground meat (picadillo means mince), tomatoes, raisins, olives and liberally seasoned with cinnamon, cumin and other warm spices.  To my taste, it sounds like a Persian inflected dish (who often combine meat, fruit and spices) via Spain (remember, that Arabs held sway in the Iberian peninsula for nearly 700 years).  Mr. Sifton suggests serving it with rice.  OK, but I couldn’t quite get my head around picadillo as a stew.

Recently Jeanne made spinach enchiladas which were quite tasty.  Her enchiladas prompted me to think of picadillo as a stand in for the filling of an enchilada-like presentation.  Of course, I couldn’t follow the typical enchilada routine by covering the filled tortillas with a tomato and chili sauce as the picadillo has plenty of tomatoes in it already.  So, why not invert the order of things?  Enchiladas often have cheese in the filling so why not put the cheese on the outside.  But I didn’t want to just bury the tortillas in shredded cheese.  How about something creamier?  I’ve got it – Alfredo sauce!  I know, it’s not Cuban.  It’s not even Latino.  But it creamy cheesy good.  And you can buy it in a jar, ready to go.

For the picadillo I followed the NY Times recipe to a “T”, just cutting it in half to accommodate our more limited table (and so as to not have too much left over in case my experiment was a bust).

Ingredients.1

Ingredients (see NY Times recipe for complete list)

Minced garlic, diced Chorizo and chopped onion

Minced garlic, diced chorizo and chopped onion

Beef, tomatoes, onions, chorizo, garlic and seasonings saute away

Beef, tomatoes, onions, chorizo, garlic, raisins, olives and seasonings saute away

Fill tortillas with a geneous 1/4 cup of picadillo mixture

Fill tortillas with a geneous 1/4 cup of picadillo mixture

Put rolled, filled tortillas in a baking dish with a thin layer of Alfredo sauce underneath and a generous layer over the top

Put rolled, filled tortillas in a baking dish with a thin layer of Alfredo sauce underneath and a generous layer over the top

Sprinkle a light layer of grated cheese (I used a Mexican blend but cheddar would be fine).  Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350˚ F. for about 30 minutes or untll the Alfredo sauce is bubbly and lightly browned.

Not pretty but pretty tasty. A little garnish would have been in order but I forgot to take this picture until I was on my second Picadillo Alfredo.

Not pretty but pretty tasty. A little garnish would have been in order but I forgot to take this picture until I was on my second Picadillo Alfredo.

Not much to look at but pretty yummy.  I think the picadillo mixture could serve other purposes – maybe an Cuban sloppy-joe?

Watermelon what?

Every once in a while some food idea crosses my mind that I file for future reference but quickly forget about. Later something will poke my memory and that idea will resurface.watermelon-1

We were in the grocery the other day and the store had a special on mini-watermelons. I know, what am I doing looking at watermelons in the middle of winter. I know they come from somewhere in Central America and their carbon footprint is heavy, but they looked pretty good and the price was good so I bought one …. so much for eating local.

Anyway, I saw those watermelons and into my head pops the idea of watermelon steak. Huh?  Somewhere I had heard of such a thing and I thought it would be worth trying. If it didn’t pan out I figured at the very least we could add some to a salad or eat it fresh for dessert.

But, when I got home that idea of watermelon steak kept floating around in my head but I didn’t really know where to start so I did an internet search and, lo and behold, there are lots of sites that feature watermelon steak. Most referenced a restaurant near Boston called 51 Lincoln that seemed to have originated or, at least, featured a pan-seared watermelon steak as an appetizer or small plate.

If you have read our blog before, you know I’m always up for something different.  This watermelon steak, as imagined by 51 Lincoln and repeated by many other blogs, certainly was a strange sounding dish and one I wanted to try.

I spent some time scanning the many variations. Some recipes called for marinating the trimmed blocks of watermelon in cream sherry overnight or at least for several hours.  Some cooked the “steaks” on a grill or directly in a saute pan.  But in many the “steaks” were roasted in the oven for 2-1/2 (yes, two and a half) hours at 350˚ F.  I settled on a shorter marinade, 2 hours in the oven and a finishing sear in the saute pan.  Here’s what it all looked like.

Watermelon "steaks" marinating in sherry

Watermelon “steaks” marinating in sherry for 3 hours

Watermelon "steaks" seasoned with salt and pepper and a pat of butter and ready for the oven

Watermelon “steaks” seasoned with salt and pepper and a pat of butter and ready for the oven

"Steaks" after 2 hours at 350˚. Note that the color is still quite bright, even redder than the raw watermelon

“Steaks” after 2 hours at 350˚. Note that the color is still quite bright, even redder than the raw watermelon but without any sear

"Steaks" searing briefly in a skillet

“Steaks” searing briefly in a skillet

Watermelon steak appetiser

Watermelon “steak” served with an avocado, blood orange, clementine and tomato salad with feta cheese

Now, most of you would probably think (I certainly did) that after that amount of time in the oven the watermelon would be cooked to a mush.  But not so.  Remarkably the melon held up quite well.  It shrinks a bit but the color remains bright and the texture is transformed.  The melon was no longer grainy the way fresh watermelon is.  Rather it takes on a decidedly firmer texture not unlike the linear grain of fresh beef or raw tuna.

A strange dish but one worth trying, if for no other reason than to say you did.

The Basic Batard

No, not bastard; batard.

detail of bread crust

A batard is basically a loaf of bread lacking the confidence to be a baguette, that classic bread of France. The classic baguette is around 24″ long and around 2-1/2″ in diameter. The batard is shorter – around 12″ but sometimes as little as 6″.

I like baguettes/batards for several reasons. The crust to crumb ratio is pretty high so you get lots of nice crispy/chewy crust (my favorite). You don’t need to slice it because its small diameter allows for the primal pleasure of just tearing a piece off to dip into your soup. And, lastly, the baguette/batard is the prefect bread for making pain perdu, French toast.

While I have made bread for many years, I’ve avoided trying to make batards.  When I have tried in the past, they came out pasty, with poor crust and just plain boring.  The problem was not enough temperature and humidity.

But, I have solved those issues.  I haven’t done anything that most good bread cookbooks don’t tell you.  It’s just that I actually followed directions this time and it worked.

Basically this is the same dough I use for my basic bread using the well-known recipe for no-knead bread from Jim Lahey and popularized by Mark Bittman in a video in the New York Times.  The difference for batards is in the final rise and baking.

Batards rising. Note generous coating of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the towel.

Batards rising. Note generous coating of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the towel.

Prepare the dough as directed in the recipe.  After the dough has fermented over night, divide it into 2 or 3 pieces, handling it carefully so as to not deflate it.  Shape (stretch) each piece into a 12″, or so, long form and place on a floured tea towel to rise.  You can bunch up the towel along the loaf to help keep it from spreading too much.  Use a separate towel for each loaf because you will use the towel to roll the loaf onto your baking sheet.

While the loaves are rising, pre-heat the oven to 500˚ F. Put a large roasting pan on the lower rack of the over with 1″ hot water in it.

Slashed loaves on baking sheet ready for the oven.

Slashed loaves on baking sheet ready for the oven.

Roll the risen loaves onto a dry baking sheet.  Using a very sharp knife or single edged razor blade, slash each loaf (classically with 3 long diagonals) about 1/4″ deep.  Put the sheet into the hot and humid oven and bake for 25 minutes.

Finished loaves fresh from the oven.

Finished loaves fresh from the oven.

Allow the batards to cook on a wire rack and store at room temperature. Bon appétit!

The "Taster" waiting for his sample of the fresh batards.

The “Taster” waiting for his sample of the fresh batards.

The “Taster” is a small sculpture that hangs on our kitchen wall.  It was made by Andrew Lonnquist of Olander Earthworks.  We bought ours at the Saturday Market in Portland, Oregon but is also available (along with a number of other characters) at his Etsy site.