Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Zesty Cranberry Relish

Not just for holiday dinners, enjoy this cranberry relish any time.

Cranberry Relish a la Martha Stewart adds colorful zest to the traditional brown Thanksgiving dinner. Think about how many tables feature a browned beige bird surrounded by pale mashed potatoes, brown stuffing, brown gravy and pale beige rolls. Cranberries look festive, but can disappoint flavorwise. There is no disappointment with this recipe - Martha got it right! The bold flavors of onion, ginger, mint, jalapeno and citrus create an engaging fiesta for the tastebuds.

The dish is somewhere between a condiment and a side dish, tasty however you use it. Serve it as an accompaniment to roast turkey or chicken, or pair it with pork, lamb or beef. It's a winner on turkey sandwiches or inside panini with turkey and havarti. 

Leftover relish is rarely a problem in my kitchen, it disappears quickly. (I nibble on spoonful after spoonful whenever I think about it.) Hmmmm, I could tweak the recipe and try canning a chutney-like version of the cranberry relish. No, this month I'll make batch after batch of the fresh recipe.

Martha Stewart’s Cranberry-Orange Relish

Martha Stewart’s Living, November 1995
makes 2+ cups

2 cups fresh or defrosted frozen cranberries
1/4 cup diced red onion (half a medium onion)
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped (or substitute 1 medium poblano)
2 TB fresh lime juice
2 blood oranges* or navel oranges, peeled and sectioned, juices reserved
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup sugar
2 stalks celery, peeled to remove strings, cut in 1/4-inch dice
1/4 cup pecans, toasted, broken in pieces
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsley chopped**

1. Place cranberries in food processor and pulse to chop coarsely, about 5 pulses. Transfer to a medium bowl. Do the same with half a red onion.
2. Add onion, jalapeno, lime juice, orange sections and juice, ginger, sugar, and celery. Mix gently. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days. Just before serving, add mint and pecans and toss to combine.
*  Blood oranges give the relish GREAT color, but the flavor is the same with navel.
**You can substitute fresh basil or cilantro, or even use bottled mint sauce, but fresh mint leaves work best.

Friday, November 18, 2011

When a Recipe Doesn't Work... Make Hash

Sweet & Savory Chicken Hash

An online recipe for Maple-Mustard Baked Chicken Thighs with Potato Wedges tempted me, but it didn't meet expectations. I can't blame the BGSK recipe for last night's dinner disappointment. No, it was more a recipe selection error by this cook, trying a chicken preparation not well-suited to our taste preferences. What's not to like about baked chicken and potatoes? The dish looked so good coming out of the oven. How could it not work when RL really loves mustard and maple syrup. Somehow the combined ingredients were too sweet a mix to work for us in this entree. (Flash of insight: the dish reminded me of Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, a restaurant whose appeal I never understood when living in Southern California.) 

A small tasting plate apiece took care of any hunger pangs, but left a lot of chicken, potatoes and sauce in the pan to deal with. Reheating and re-serving was not a popular option. For one brief moment I even considered reheating and serving the leftovers over crispy waffles - wow, how's that for desperate?!

Hash - aha! there's a solution that has worked before. Hash proved a winner with the remaining Maple-Mustard Chicken and Potatoes. Added sauteed onion chunks, julienned kale and a few squirts of lemon juice provided a welcome balance to the cloying sweetness of the original dish. In the future I might tweak the BGSK recipe to suit our palate, or I might just move on. Whatever. It's guaranteed that I will add add a touch of mustard, vinegar and maple syrup to chicken hash again soon.

Here's a link to the original recipe for Maple-Mustard Baked Chicken Thighs with Potato Wedges as posted by BGSK on Serious Eats. Give it a try and see what you think.

Sweet & Savory Chicken Hash

1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, in medium dice
2 fat garlic cloves, minced 
Cooked Maple-Mustard chicken*, meat from 2 large thighs, in medium dice
Cooked Yukon Gold potato chunks, in medium dice (a generous cupful)
2 cups kale, in medium shreds or coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
any leftover sauce from the BGSK chicken plus enough water to thin it a bit
Optional garnishes: Italian parsley and shredded Parmesan

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the diced onion and cook for a few minutes until softened, but not browned. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute or two until fragrant. 
Add the diced chicken, potatoes, and kale. Stir gently to mix, then add the water and vinegar to the pan plus any leftover sauce* from the BGSK chicken. Cover the pan, lower the heat to medium low and cook until warmed throughout. Stir occasionally.
When warmed throughout, remove the lid and cook until the hash begins to crisp up a bit. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with parsley and a sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

*If you don't have any cooked BGSK chicken, substitute deli chicken or any other cooked chicken and add a 1/8 cup of mixed cider, mustard, maple syrup and olive oil (proportioned to taste).

Note: Diced poblano and red peppers would be tasty additions to this hash.

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Daring Cooks: Chinese Tea Eggs

    Daring Cooks' November Challenge: Cooking with Tea

    Hard-boiled eggs are so basic, so ordinary, so taken for granted. Ditto for tea, that ubiquitous drink. But not so much in November as the Daring Cooks worked with tea. Sarah from Simply Cooked was our November Daring Cooks’ hostess and she challenged us to create something truly unique in both taste and technique! We learned how to cook using tea with recipes from Tea Cookbook by Tonia George and The New Tea Book by Sara Perry. I was intrigued by the weblike, marblized appearance of Chinese Tea Eggs and decided to focus on this classic Asian dish.

    Most of the tea egg recipes I found called for Chinese five spice powder, an ingredient not currently stocked in my spice pantry. While I could have run to an Asian market to buy some, it was more fun to research the ingredients for this seasoning. Five spice powder is traditionally composed of cinnamon, fennel seed, cloves, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns. Bingo! I had all five items on hand, each one contributing to the traditional flavor mix of bitter, sweet, sour, salty, and savory. I toasted them, then decided to use them whole rather than grinding them into powder.

    The technique was both simple and familiar, reminiscent of coloring hard-boiled Easter eggs. I had used this procedure before: boil several eggs, crack their shells and then submerge them in beet juice or water tinted with onion skins or food coloring for an interesting effect. The resulting eggs were always quirky and unpredictable, but still tasted like ordinary hard boiled eggs. 

    The Chinese Tea Eggs surprised me with their subtle, yet distinct flavor. Anise and ginger were the stronger notes, sweetly softened by muted hints of the cinnamon, soy and citrus. The tea did not come through as a flavor, or perhaps it was too subtle for me to pick up. The faintly Asian flavor seemed a good match to the unusual, antiqued appearance of these eggs. (OMG, did that begin to sound like a pretentious wine review?!)

    We each sampled a chilled egg, accompanied by seaweed salad and flavored rice balls -- tasty, but one tea egg apiece was sufficient. I would make them again, but RL isn't in a rush to eat another one.

    I used the remaining eggs to make deviled eggs, adding a few drops of Ponzu to my usual mayonnaise/mustard mixture. Mmmmmmm, these disappeared quickly, almost before I could grab a photo. Once again, I enjoyed them, but RL was not a fan. I'll have to stop asking his opinion, or just prepare Chinese Tea Eggs for myself next time.

    Gently simmering in water  
    Cracked and steeped in flavored tea 
    The eggshells looked pretty cool after peeling
    Sprinkled with sesame seeds and served with seaweed salad and rice balls
    Deviled Tea Eggs, a savory snack

    Five Spice Powder
    3 tablespoons cinnamon
    6 star anise
    1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
    1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
    1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves

    1. Roast the whole spices in a dry frying pan until fragrant. Be careful not to scorch them!
    2. Combine all ingredients in a coffee grinder and blend until finely ground.
    3. Store in an airtight container.
    4. The mix will keep for 6 to 8 weeks.

    Chinese Tea Eggs

    6 eggs (any size)
    2 tablespoons  black tea leaves, or 4 tea bags
    2 tablespoons Chinese five spice powder
    1/4 cup soy sauce
    2 tablespoons sugar
    1/2 tablespoon dried orange zest, or two strips of Mandarin orange peel
    a small knob of fresh ginger, unpeeled and smashed slightly 
    1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
    toasted sesame seeds, to garnish

    1. Gently place eggs in a medium-sized pot and add enough cold water to cover the eggs by at least one inch. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower the heat and simmer for five minutes. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and keep the cooking water.
    2. Cool the eggs under cold running water. Use a spoon to gently tap the eggs all over until they are covered with small cracks. This can also be done by tapping and rolling the eggs very gently on the counter.
    3. Return the eggs to the pan and add all of the remaining ingredients except the sesame seeds. Cover the pan. Heat gently and simmer, covered, for one hour.
    4. Remove the pan from the heat and let the eggs cool down in the liquid for at least 30 minutes.
    5. Remove the eggs from the liquid. Peel one egg to check how dark it is; the longer you steep the more flavorful the eggs and darker the web pattern will be. 
    6. Eat warm or allow the eggs to cool fully before serving.
    7. To serve, peel and slice the eggs in halves or quarters. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

    Note: Serve hot or cold, as a snack with rice or as a stand-alone side dish. 

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    A Hummus Update

    Peel the chickpeas? You must be kidding!!!

    Hummus with roasted red pepper - doesn't it look creamy?
    Joshua Bousel's Hummus post today on SeriousEats generated a lot of comments. Several readers addressed the issue of texture, and were quite persuasive about the magic of peeling the chickpeas (or garbanzo beans, if you prefer). Oh, sure! do you know how many of those little legumes are packed in a 14-ounce can?! Too many to peel, I thought. Then curiosity got the best of me and I set out to see if removing the slippery, parchment-like skins made a noticeable difference.

    It took roughly ten minutes to rub off the papery coverings by hand, one chickpea at a time. The suggested method of swirling the chickpeas in a colander didn't workl for me, so I used my fingers. 

    To make the hummus I pureed all of the usual ingredients except the chickpeas in a food processor, then added the chickpeas and whirled it all some more. Surprise! the texture was silky smooth with no hint of the usual coarse, almost gritty texture. Another added benefit was the lack of any bitter edge to the taste, something RL occasionally grumbles about. I'll stick to my usual hummus recipe, maybe tossing in a roasted red pepper or changing up the spices, but plan to add the ten minutes of chickpea peeling to the process. It's worth the little bit of annoying extra effort.

    The texture and taste are improved, but it's still hard to believe that I want to peel each little chickpea. 

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Best-ever Burger Buns

    Don't you hate it when your burger bun melts in your hand, leaving you to juggle a partially eaten patty and condiments while juice runs down your arm? Some restaurants provide sturdy buns, but often they are as wimpy as grocery store offerings. Kaiser rolls from local bakeries are more substantial, often too substantial and heavy. I really crave a soft interior to soak up the juices and a nice crust to hold it all together. 

    In the spirit of adventure - and to avoid a morning's scheduled activity of organizing drawers and closets - I set out to produce a really good burger bun. Effort #1 was so successful, I'm not sure I want to try any other recipes. This bun was everything I wanted, light yet sturdy and absolutely delicious. It held up nicely to the challenge of a really juicy lamburger.

    The recipe should be awesome, considering it's recent history. I found it via a Google link to Annie's Eats, and her post on The Perfect Bun. Annie credited Smitten Kitchen for the recipe. Deb of Smitten Kitchen considered 100+ bun recipes before settling on Light Brioche Burger Buns, a recipe published in a New York Times article on The Perfect Burger but credited to the kitchen at Comme Ca, a restaurant in Los Angeles. Doesn't that make your head spin?

    My breadmaking usually involves French baguettes and no-knead or sourdough boules, breads with texture and presence. Light and brioche were unfamiliar concepts but why would I argue with the brioche burger buns' stellar provenance? I did tweak the recipe a little by adding some of my sourdough starter to the mix, but it wasn't necessary. I love the tang of sourdough, but the slightly sweet flavor of the brioche was terrific without any tang. These burger buns are winners without changing the recipe one bit.

    Following the first rise the dough was shaped into small buns. 

    Covered with oiled plastic wrap, waiting for the second rise.

    Fresh from the oven - don't they look scrumptious!

    The glossy brown top crusts cover light and airy interiors.
    Light Brioche Burger Buns

    Recipe sourced from Annie's Eats
    Makes 8 small burger buns

    3 tbsp. warm milk
    1 cup warm water
    2 tsp. instant yeast
    1/4 cup sourdough starter (optional)
    2½ tbsp. sugar
    1½ tsp. salt
    1 large egg
    3 cups bread flour (I substituted AP flour here)
    1/3 cup all-purpose flour (more if sourdough starter is used)
    2½ tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

    For topping:
    1 large egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water, for egg wash
    Sesame seeds

    1. Use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; combine the milk, water, yeast, sourdough starter if using, sugar, salt and 1 egg.  Mix briefly to combine.  Add the flour to the bowl, and mix until incorporated.  Mix in the butter.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed for about 6-8 minutes.  The dough will be soft and tacky, but  adding too much extra flour will make the buns tough.  
    2. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1-2 hours. 
    3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Use a dough scraper to divide the dough into 8 equal parts.  Gently roll each portion of dough into a ball and place on the baking sheet, 2-3 inches apart.  Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise again, 1-2 hours, until puffed up and nearly doubled.  
    4. Set a large metal pan of water on the lowest rack of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 400˚ F with a rack in the center.  Brush the tops of the buns lightly with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Bake the buns about 15 minutes rotating halfway through baking, until the tops are golden brown.  Transfer to a rack to cool completely. 
    5. Slice and enjoy... you're going to love these burger buns!

    Saturday, November 5, 2011

    Crab Cakes with a Piquant Remoulade Sauce

    You've heard the cautionary warning, "Never try out a new recipe on guests." Well don't believe it. This week a new recipe and technique worked out just fine... even after the cook sipped a Vieux Carre' or two during the cooking. Several crab cakes topped each plate of fresh kale salad for a first course at our recent "Southern" dinner, and they were a hit.

    Crab cakes are nothing new in my galley, we enjoy them frequently during the five months we cruise in the Pacific Northwest. The piquant remoulade sauce did bring a new flavor via its homemade mayonnaise base, but I frequently incorporate a sauce into my crab mixture. The big difference? these cakes were oven-baked on a buttered cooking sheet instead of being pan-fried in butter. I know, I know, I've lectured away about the need to fry these little cuties (see this link), but I have changed my tune. Baking really worked. The crust was crispy, more evenly browned, and the cakes were less likely to crumble when turned. No more need to tend a pan and dodge the splatters, no worries about timing... so what's not to like?

    I'll continue to tweak my crab cake mixture, and I'll experiment with different sauces, but now I'm a convert to oven baking. 

    Greg Atkinson has become my latest culinary hero for inspiring this recipe with his 1997 book, In Season: Culinary Adventures of a San Juan Island Chef

    Fresh Crab Cakes with Piquant Remoulade Sauce

    1/4 cup remoulade (recipe below)

    1 bunch green onion, white and green portions, small dice
    1/4 cup celery, small dice
    1 egg white (from the coddled egg used in the Remoulade sauce)
    1 cup panko or a shredded parmesan/bread crumb blend
    1 pound fresh crabmeat, carefully picked over for shells and cartilidge
    Salt and pepper to taste

    1. Prepare remoulade.  
    2. Preheat oven to 425 F and butter a sheet pan. 
    3. Use a knife or a food processor to finely dice onion and celery. 
    4. Add the egg white and panko to the diced vegetables, and mix until well combined. 
    5. Carefully stir in 1/4 cup remoulade and crabmeat and mix gently. 
    6. Shape into small cakes, 6 to 8 luncheon-sized or 12-15 thin, appetizer-sized. Cover with plastic and chill for 30+ minutes to firm. 
    7. Bake on buttered pan for 10 minutes, turn over and cook for 3-4 additional minutes to crisp up the second side.
    Remoulade Sauce
    (makes about 1 1/2 cups)

    1 egg, separated
    1 tablespoon vinegar (I used white balsamic)
    1/4 cup onion, small dice
    1/4 cup celery, small dice
    1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
    1 tablespoon stone-ground mustard (I like Plochmans)
    1 teaspoon prepared creamy horseradish
    2 teaspoons sugar
    5 or 6 dashes of a hot pepper sauce (Cajun Sunshine is my favorite, Tabasco works too)
    Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
    1/8 teaspoon ground allspice (I added 1/8 teaspoon tarragon as well)
    1 cup vegetable oil

    1. Cover a whole, fresh egg with boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove, crack egg and separate the white and the yolk. Put the white aside to use in the crab cake mixture. 
    2. Whisk together the coddled egg yolk and vinegar and set aside. 
    3. Combine the onion, celery, garlic, mustard, horseradish, sugar, hot pepper sauce, salt, pepper, allspice and tarragon in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process until smooth. 
    4. Add the egg yolk/vinegar mixture and process again until smooth. 
    5. With the motor running, add a few drops of oil and, when oil is well incorporated, add another few drops. Slowly, very slowly add the remaining oil in a very thin stream, allowing oil to become gradually and thoroughly combined with other ingredients until a heavy mayonnaiselike sauce results. 
    6. Transfer to a clean jar and store, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks. Serve with seafood... or just eat it with a spoon, it's that good!

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    Vieux Carre'

    Hello November! I returned from two weeks in Southern California, RL had spent two weeks on the boat, and "whoosh!" suddenly October was gone, history, totally over. We celebrated being home by reconnecting with good friends and hosting a participation "Southern" dinner. Cathy S's opening cocktail, the Vieux Carre, was a tremendous success, richly boozy, decadent and oh-so-smooth. That first round disappeared so quickly that we all required another... not a good thing when the cook still needed to concentrate on Crab Cakes with Remoulade Sauce plated with a kale salad for the first course (my next post, I promise).

    The Vieux Carre (pronounced voh - care - eh) is a classic New Orleans cocktail, created in the 1930s by Walter Bergeron at the Hotel Monteleone. The name comes from the French, referring to the French Quarter as the "old square". The ingredient list sounds odd and heavy, but it sips much better than it reads. I'm not usually wild about cocktails, preferring to sip a smooth single malt instead. However I could make an exception for this drink.

    Vieux Carre'

    1 1/2 Tbs rye whiskey,(Wild Turkey)
    1 1/2 Tbs brandy
    1 1/2 Tbs sweet vermouth
    1 1/2 tsp Benedictine D.O.M.
    2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
    2 dashes Angostura bitters
    lemon twist for garnish

    Combine all ingredients (except lemon twist) in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir well to chill and strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a lemon twist (or a cherry if you'd rather).

    This is the recipe for one drink, doubling it in a shaker works just fine (as we found out). And yes, it could be a new favorite winter drink.

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