Friday, February 28, 2014

Food Blogger Cookbook Swap & a recipe to share

Guacamole Salad

Do you still use print cookbooks? Have we all converted to online sources exclusively? Can a cook have too many cookbooks? I'm not ready to abandon print on paper. Even though I own far too many cookbooks, I still long for more. January's cookbook swap announcement seemed the perfect invitation to set one of my treasures free, and welcome a new one to my overcrowded shelves. (link) A side benefit would be the introduction to two new-to-me food bloggers and their stories.

“Participating in the Food Blogger Cookbook Swap, hosted by Alyssa and Faith of , I sent a cookbook to a food blogger and received this cookbook in return!” That sounds easy enough, but it took more time than anticipated. I rediscovered cookbooks that I hadn't looked at in ages; books I read through once like a novel, perhaps tried a recipe or two, and then put aside for "another day". Well, another day is here and I've paged through w-a-a-a-y too many books, marking scads of recipes I really do want to try this time around. Sigh, too many cookbooks, too little time. 

What an interesting challenge to find "the" book, a book in near-new condition with no scrawled notes or food splatters decorating its pages, a book with an engaging story as well as recipes that might fit specific dietary preferences. I spent several days doing a little research, skimming through the recipe index on the assigned site and finally chose a cookbook for another blogger to enjoy. Book selected... book mailed... and then I waited. 

Anticipation grew as I waited to hear the "clunk" of a package hitting the mail slot. It didn't take long for my book swap package to arrive. Kristina of CucinaKristina shared Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa: at home as my cookbook swap treasure. Thank you, Kristina, for your friendly note and choice of cookbooks. 

The beautifully photographed book presents everyday recipes for family and friends, homecooking with great flavors and minimum fuss. It has been fun comparing some of my own tried and true recipes with Ina's versions of the same. I adapted Ina's Guacamole Salad to share here, a dish that mixes the flavors and ingredients of a great guacamole and a Southwest Corn Salad with Black Beans (without the corn).  

almost-Ina's Guacamole Salad
adapted from Barefoot Contessa: at home (my changes noted in red)
serves 6

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

1 cup mini sweet peppers, seeded and chopped
1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
1 can (10 oz) black beans; drained, rinsed and drained again
1/2 cup red onion, chopped 
2 Tablespoons jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced

For the Sauce:

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
1/4 up lime juice, freshly squeezed (2 limes)
1/4 cup good olive oil (I used 2 Tbs)
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or chipotle chili powder to taste)

2 ripe Hass avocados, seeded, peeled, 1/2-inch dice

Handful of fresh cilantro, rough chopped (optional)
Cajun Sunshine, Chipotle Tabasco and Salsa to suit individual tastes (optional)
  1. Place the first 7 ingredients in a large bowl, tomatoes through lime zest.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the sauce, lime juice through cayenne. Pour over the vegetables and toss well to coat.
  3. When you are ready to serve, fold the avocados gently into the salad with a wide rubber spatula. Taste and adjust seasonings. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve at room temperature with optional hot sauce and salsa on the side.
Note: Leftover salad worked well to fill Tostitos tortilla cups as an appetizer or snack.

Here are links to the other food bloggers participating in this cookbook swap:
A Baker's House
An Edible Mosaic
avocado bravado
Blue Kale Road
Blueberries And Blessings
Cheap Recipe Blog
Confessions of a Culinary Diva
Create Amazing Meals
Cucina Kristina
Culinary Adventures with Camilla
Cupcake Project
Dinner is Served 1972
Done With Corn
Eats Well With Others
Everyday Maven
Flour Me With Love 
From My Sweet Heart 
Great Food 360° 
Healthy. Delicious. 
I'm Gonna Cook That! 
Je Mange la Ville 
Karen's Kitchen Stories 
Kitchen Treaty 
Olive and Herb 
Our Best Bites 
Paleo Gone Sassy 
poet in the pantry 
Rhubarb and Honey 
Rocky Mountain Cooking
Shikha la mode 
Shockingly Delicious 
Sifting Focus 
Spoonful of Flavor 
Tara's Multicultural Table 
The Not So Exciting Adventures of a Dabbler 
The Suburban Soapbox 
The Whole Family's Food 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hidden Treasure Sourdough Pull Aparts

Sourdough Surprises' February baking challenge is Monkey Bread... Pull Apart Bread... typically a sweet dough item drenched with a sticky, ooey, gooey, buttery caramelized sugar syrup. Uh, no, thank you, I don't think so, not my thing, far too sweet. I procrastinated for days, pondering how to handle the challenge, and initially decided not to bake with the group this month. No, that would be a poor choice, a lazy way around the issue.

Phase One:
I decided instead to be ornery and ignore the whole uber sweet focus. I would bake a savory version of pull apart bread, a sourdough filled with slices of swiss cheese and ham and slathered with grainy honey mustard. Well, it was... interesting, perfectly adequate yet disappointing. The cheese melted away into the dough and the mustard flavoring underwhelmed my taste buds. I salvaged a few slabs of the not-so-cheesy bread and ham, added some greens and sliced tomatoes fillings, and called it a pull apart/put together sandwich. Meh, this was not working, certainly not worth sharing, and not in the spirit of this month's challenge. Sigh.  

Phase Two:
I veered back toward sweet, aiming for a modified, slightly less sweet version of the theme "sourdough monkey bread/pull apart bread". My plan was to add a distinctive flavor or two, subtract a ton of butter and sugar, and bake small bites in muffin tins instead of packing the dough balls into one large loaf pan or cake pan.

Each dough ball contained a few fresh blueberries - the "hidden treasure" of the title. A pinch of freshly-grated orange zest offered a pleasant tangy, citrusy balance to the sweet coating of sprinkled cinnamon, apple pie spice and sugar. I tried one straight from the oven... and broke into giggles. The sourdough pull apart rolls were just fine, really, but they did need a drizzle of oozy, gooey sweetness to round out the taste. So much for my "I prefer savory" stance! 

A quick microwaved cream cheese, orange marmalade and powdered sugar frosting drizzled over the top did the trick. These little frosted cuties turned out to be quite good, sweet but not cloyingly sweet. The orange zest contributed a pleasant back note, and the blueberries added some fun.   

The muffin tin version were the perfect size for a mid-morning snack, much neater and easier to share than a larger loaf pan or bundt pan product. Note: despite the fork pictured above, I ate my share with my hands, pulling the dough balls apart and licking my fingers at the end. Now I have to eat my words - who said sweets weren't my thing?!

Hidden Treasure Sourdough Pull Aparts

Yield depends on the size and number of dough balls in each cup.

For the dough:
     1 cup sourdough starter, well-fed and proofed 
     1 1/2 tablespoon butter, melted
     1/4 cup milk, warmed
     1/2 cup AP flour
     1 egg, beaten
     1/4 teaspoon salt
     1/2 Tablespoon sugar   
     1 1/2 cups additional AP flour

For the coating:
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon apple pie spice
1 cup granulated sugar

Hidden Treasure:
Fresh blueberries
Grated zest of 1 large orange

2 tablespoons cream cheese
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
2/3 cup powdered sugar

For the dough:
Stir together the first 7 ingredients, starter through sugar. Add the additional 1 1/2 cups AP flour and knead until evenly combined (use more or less as needed to form a sticky dough that comes together and no longer clings to the side of the mixing bowl).
First Rise: Cover the bowl and let rise overnight (or at least for several hours until it doubles in size).
Use cooking spray or butter to grease Texas size muffin tins.
Punch down the dough, let rest 15-20 minutes, then roll out approximately 1/2-inch thick on a lightly floured surface. 
Scatter the orange zest over the top of the dough. Use a pizza cutter to slice the dough into squares. Top a dough square with a few blueberries, gather the corners to form a purse and shape into a ball. Roll in your hand to round the shape. 
Roll the dough ball in the sugar mix to coat lightly and place in the muffin tin. Repeat for three more dough balls, arranging all four loosely in the cup. Repeat  with the remaining squares. 
Second Rise:
Cover and let rise until doubled in size, approximately 2 1/2 hours in my kitchen.
Place the filled muffin tins in a preheated 350 degree F oven and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove, drizzle with the frosting and serve warm.
Heat the cream cheese, marmalade and sifted powdered sugar in a microwave, stirring often, until melted and loose. This took 2 bursts  of 30-seconds each in my micro.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sushi Rice and Sushi 101

How long has it been since you made sushi? Myself, I can't remember when. I used to roll sushi occasionally with friend Laci, fun times that were as much about socializing as they were about dining. RL was enthusiastic about sushi when we had it for dinner, but it's been a while, a long while, since we've enjoyed it at home. For no particular reason sushi has just dropped off the kitchen rotation. It was time to get back in practice. The week's dreary winter weather made it a perfect time to hang out in the kitchen and revisit Sushi 101. Hilary came by to join in the fun. 

People fret about learning the techniques for rolling sushi, but the important activity really begins with the seasoned rice. There is no good sushi without good sushi rice. Really. It's not difficult to prepare, but here are some rice cooking tips to follow.
  • Use medium-grain Calrose or sushi rice, NOT short-grain glutinous or sticky rice.
  • Rinse the rice well to remove the dusty starch coating on each grain, rubbing gently with your hands. Drain. Repeat rinsing and draining 4 or 5 times until the water runs fairly clear. Drain well (and some cooks suggest you let the rice sit draining in a strainer for 14+ minutes).
  • Use a rice cooker for consistently good rice. Add the rice and a roughly equivalent amount of water to the cooker. (OR use the knuckle approach: use your index finger to touch the TOP of the rice and add water until it reaches the knuckle.) Turn the machine ON.
  • When the rice cooker switches from COOK to WARM, it's time to transfer the rice to a wooden or other non-metallic bowl or tray. Sprinkle the seasoned rice vinegar* on top of the rice; use a wooden paddle to slice the mass of rice diagonally in several places and turn it over, all the while fanning to help it to cool and achieve a somewhat glossy surface. Continue cutting, folding and fanning until cooled to room temperature.
  • Cover the cooked rice with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap until you are ready to use it. Do NOT store it in the fridge as that will change the texture, and not in a good way.
  • Use prepared seasoned rice vinegar or mix your own using a 2:1 ratio of plain rice vinegar to sugar, plus salt to taste. Some recipes call for adding a splash of sake or mirin as well. (3 cups cooked rice uses roughly 1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar)
It's also important to prepare and organize the filling ingredients ahead of time. 

Have plastic wrap handy to enclose the bamboo rolling mats and to wrap each sushi roll as you go. 

Here's a quick overview of our efforts this week.

Inside/Out California Rolls (uramaki) with Dungeness crab, sesame seeds, cream cheese batons, cucumber strips and sliced avocado. The first roll might not have been perfectly formed, but it tasted just fine.

Rice Cubes, using a clever Australian-designed gadget, with assorted fillings and topped with Sriracha sauce and tobiko (flying fish roe). This was a fast, fun way to turn out single bites.

Spicy Tuna Hand Rolls (temaki) with rainbow-colored crunchy vegetables. They were gorgeous, but a bit challenging to eat.

Inside/Out Spicy Tuna Rolls (uramaki) with mango, mint, avocado, Sriracha sauce and tobiko. These were awesome, our very favorite taste treat of the afternoon. The fresh mango and mint enhanced the flavor of the Sriracha-flavored diced ahi tuna for an amazing sweet/hot/tangy/smooth/crunchy combination. 

Just when we thought we couldn't sample one more bite, we formed Nigiri-style sushi, a hand-formed pillow of rice topped with a butterflied shrimp and a wasabi-flavored sauce... yum! We made room for several of these beauties. 

Uwajimaya's Renton store provided the absolutely fresh seafood and several YouTube videos answered a few how-to questions, like "how do you get the rice to stick to the nori on an inside/out roll?" You can tell, we had hours of fun playing with sushi

Friday, February 14, 2014

Chicken and Waffles... really!

You read that right, it is chicken and waffles... on the same plate... and served with hot maple syrup. Three items I love separately, but never eat in combination. On a recent SoCal trip I drove past the Pasadena location of Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles at  least a dozen times, noting the colorful sign but never stopping. I can't count the times I've driven that same route for decades and never even considered stopping. Well that funky neon sign finally stamped some subliminal chicken and waffle thought into my brain, because I found myself trying an adapted version in my home kitchen. After years of turning my back on this Southern California classic, I finally gave in. What can I say? 

Shock!, a standard sourdough waffle topped with a piece of chicken (spatchcocked and roasted, not breaded-and-fried like Roscoe's) and served with hot maple syrup worked as a satisfying, late-night entree. Each bite was a perfect mix of tender, flavorful chicken contrasting with the crispy, crunch of the waffle shell; every forkful enhanced with a drizzle of warm maple syrup. Sweet and savory bliss in one bite. I might not dine on chicken and waffles ever again, but now I understand the appeal. This dish must be one of the reasons that Roscoe's has been popular for decades. 

Sweet chicken anything isn't often an appealing choice, I prefer my chicken with a savory, tangy sauce. I remember carrying on about that in another post years ago, but chicken and waffles did prove to be weirdly tasty. I wonder if any restaurants in the Pacific NorthWest offers an irresistible chicken and waffle dish on their menu. I really should try the original at Roscoe's on my next Pasadena trip. Or not. Maybe some time after I score a great fish taco or an In'n'Out burger. 

Meanwhile here at home, my favorite waffle-combo dish remains Dynamite Chili with Chili Cheese Waffleswonderful and weirdly tasty in its own way. 

Basic Sourdough Waffles
3 large 4-section waffles in my old, traditional waffle iron
4-6 smaller round waffles in the Belgian waffle iron

1 cup sourdough starter, fed and proofed 
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in a tablespoon or two of warm water

1.  Put the starter in mixing bowl; add egg, sugar, salt, and oil. and almond extract. Mix well with wood or plastic spoon. Thin with water as needed to get consistency of loose pancake batter.
2.  Dilute the soda in a tablespoon of warm water. Add the baking soda at the last minute, when you’re almost ready for the batter to hit the iron. Fold the soda water gently into the sourdough batter. Do not beat it in heavily, you want to encourage the bubble formation, not defeat it. The batter will fill with bubbles and increase in bulk. It's ready when it is fluffier.
3.  Ladle batter onto a preheated, well-oiled (Belgian) waffle iron; cover quickly and bake until done. For me that means crispy brown on the outside and soft in the middle.
Note: a Belgian style waffle iron isn’t essential, you can use another style, but we love the deep holes that hold extra butter and syrup.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jam-Filled Orange Cookies

This recipe caught my eye as I paged through an old 2002 cookbook, KCTS Cooks: Desserts. Citrus zest always gets my vote as a flavor high note, providing a welcome balance to the heavy, overly-sweet punch of some baked goods. I'm not a big dessert fan, but the occasional cookie is always a welcome treat.

The cookies do resemble traditional thumbprint cookies but adding cream cheese and orange flavoring creates a very different dough. Better? not really, just different. It might take a side-by-side taste test to determine which version is the favorite. The original recipe specified raspberry jam, but instead I filled half of today's batch with blackberry preserves and the remaining half with fig jam. Both were tasty, though I'm ready to try some other choices. The drizzled glaze was both decorative and delicious so don't skip that finishing step. 

We practiced restraint and only sampled a few... and then a few more. No need to freeze part of this batch, there won't be any left by the end of the week. I know the cookies are a hit when "you can't eat just one". 

Jam-Filled Orange Cookies
based on a recipe in KCTS Cooks: Desserts
Yields 3+ dozen

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 large egg
2 1/4 cups AP flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup seedless jam or preserves

1/2 cup white chocolate chips
2 teaspoons oil

Cream together the sugar, butter and cream cheese until well mixed. Add the orange extract, orange zest and egg: mix until creamy. Sift together the flour and baking powder; add to the bowl and mix well.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Press a thumbprint into the center of each cookie. Spoon 1/4 teaspoon jam into each hole.

Bake the cookies for 12-13 minutes at 350 degrees F. (Note: they won't brown or even turn golden so don't overcook them waiting for some color to show.) Let cool for several minutes on the cookie sheet, then use a spatula to transfer each cookie to a wire rack to cool completely.

Use a microwaveable bowl to hold the white chocolate chips and oil; heat and stir, repeat until smooth. Drizzle the warm glaze over the cookies; let cool before serving or storing.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Smoked Pork and Kimchi Soup with Vegetables

What an interesting, surprisingly delicious bowl of soup!

Surprising because I think, no I'm certain, I don't like kimchi. It is the smell that puts me off, that 
pungent, lingering odor of fermented, near-rotten something that permeates the atmosphere. Ugh

The taste of kimchi is a different thing entirely, a complex blend of sour, sweet, spicy, salty and some other indescribable flavor note. Tame the smell and I'll enjoy it, maybe even love it. Earlier this month I went bonkers over Marination Ma Kai's fish tacos with kimchi-flavored crema. Bonkers enough to ask for their crema recipe, then rush to the grocery to buy a jar of kimchi base. Surprise! my local Safeway stocked a Japanese product designed to provide this unique Korean flavor. That jar remained sealed for days while I fretted over the potential smell. Finally I opened it to use in this stew-like soup. No problem, there was no noxious odor.

Korean food packs a hefty flavor punch so I attacked that issue first. Building a tasty broth was all-important, but it should not kill any taste buds with over-spiced heat. Okay, forget the red pepper flakes, use a small amount of RL's favorite kimchi-in-a-jar, and hold back on the kimchi base. Smoked pork neck bones, pre-boiled to diminish their saltiness, plus a mix of beef broth and chicken broth combined with the vegetables and aromatics to build layers of flavor in the broth. This took several hours but the soup was off to a good start.

Finally, after a quick finish to cook newly-added fresh vegetables in the strained broth, we were ready to eat. The soup was delicious on day one, but doubled in flavor by day two. It went from a perfectly fine, sort-of Korean style bowl of soup to a "what did you do to this to make it so awesome?" bowl. Well, it must have been the kimchi. For the next batch I'll bravely add more prepared kimchi vegetables and juice plus an extra tablespoon or two of the kimchi base. Yes, I will make this soup again, though I may never learn to love the smell of kimchi fresh from a jar.

Kimchi Soup with Smoked Pork & Vegetables

5 smoked pork neck bones

For the broth:
Pork fat (from the cooked neck bones)

Cooking oil, enough to lightly coat skillet bottom
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups carrots, chopped
1 cup celery stalks & leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced or smashed
1" knob of ginger, sliced into coins & smashed
2 cups red cabbage, sliced
1/4 cup kimchi vegetables plus juice (Woori brand Sliced Kimchi)
cooked pork neck bones (minus the meat and fat) 
3 cups beef broth
2 cups chicken broth
3 cups water (more or less as needed to cover the bones)

To finish the soup:

1 medium baking potato, diced
1 onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup red cabbage, sliced
1/2 poblano chile, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped

Momoya Kimchee base, 2 tablespoons (more or less to taste)

Prepare the smoked pork neck bones:

Place the neck bones in a large kettle, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook at a low simmer until the meat is tender enough to pull from the bones, roughly 1 to 2 hours. Remove the meaty bones from the pot, rinse and set aside to cool. Discard the cooking water. Separate the meat from the bones and cut or fork apart into bite-size pieces. 5 neck bones yielded 2 cups of meat chunks. Retain the fat and the bones to use in the broth.

For the broth:

Add a thin coat of oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the chunks of fat pulled from the pork bones and cook until crisp to render out any remaining fat and flavor. Discard the crispy bits (and try to resist the temptation to nibble on them for snacks). 
Add onions, carrots and celery to the pork-flavored oil; sauté 2-3 minutes; cover and sweat the vegetable for 3-5 minutes. Uncover and add garlic and ginger; cook another minute or two until fragrant. 
Add cabbage, kimchi vegetables and juice, pork bones, broths and enough water to cover the bones. Bring to a boil, skim foam as necessary, then simmer uncovered for 1 hour. 

To finish the soup:

Strain the broth and discard all solids. Return the broth to the large kettle and return to a low boil. Add the chopped vegetables and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Sample the broth; stir in kimchi base and adjust flavoring until it suits your taste. Serve with Sriracha or Chili-flavored sesame oil for individual flavor adjustment.

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