Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Parsley & Vinegar

Cauliflower is the new kale. Could it be? Let’s discuss.

In previous posts, I’ve sung high praises regarding the versatility and chameleonic qualities of my fair-haired cruciferous friend.  Milder than its broccoli cousin, cauliflower flocks the entire texture spectrum, spanning from a prodigious, burly whole-headed steak to a delicate, fine grain of pulsed couscous.  These extremes are certainly fun, but I have to say that my favorite treatment lies in the equilibrium: regular oven-roasted florets. Because when they are good, they are soooo good. Cue Gjelina’s Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Parsley & Vinegar.



In the way that certain vegetables become hipsterishly fashionable (yes I’m talking about you Brussels sprouts, nestled smugly on the menu in between the hand-cut bacon cheeseburger and casual avocado toast), cauliflower is slowing rising up in the ranks of popular vegetable starters and sides that people can just NOT.GET.ENOUGH.OF. “OMG did you try the cauliflower at X?” someone will shout, eyes wide. “No, I can’t get a reservation until 2019 but I heard it’s AMAZING,” is the breathless reply. And so, cauliflower climbs the predictable curve of the HFV (hipsterish fashionable vegetable, that is), basking in Hollywood glory at its peak until it meets the inevitable fate of the kale Caesar salad and homemade brioche croutons. (I know it’s no longer a new phenomenon but is it really necessary to get angry when you see it on the menu? Let’s think about this rationally).
Sadly, this newfound stardom means that cauliflower will encounter dressings of questionable nature—in relation to health, that is. Swimming in oil or butter, or worse, dare I say bacon (please let this be the one vegetable that avoids the porcine food trend, please!) ensures that even the pickiest of eaters will enjoy the cool cruciferous. But this treatment is a cheat. Garbage bags would be tasty if roasted in copious quantities of various fats. We must let the cauliflower speak for itself!
 
Which is why you might be surprised that the it recipe I can’t stop raving about is unabashedly simple. Five additional ingredients. 13 minutes total cook time—aka speed of light in vegetable roasting years, where 45 minutes is considered quick. And still, it manages to emerge beautifully charred, slightly crunchy, and impossibly moist, with a touch of salt and oil that enhances instead of overpowers.
And then there’s the matter of the garlic confit. Slow-roasted whole garlic cloves swimming in a sea of olive oil and perfumed thyme sprigs and bay leaves, these tiny half-moons unapologetically burst with herbaceous flavor, immediately transcending your everyday garlic clove to an enchanted garden, riddled with flavor subtleties of grassy and botanical notes.  Make a whole batch, it will keep in your fridge for 2 months—and I dare you to go back to regular garlic ever again.

So, I think I answered it—yes, cauliflower is definitely the new kale. Enjoy it while it’s trendy, enjoy when its long forgotten. But if you stick to this recipe, I doubt that will ever be the case.

Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Parsley & Vinegar (from Gjelina)
Serves 4 as a side dish

Ingredients:
1 head cauliflower, trimmed and chopped into large florets
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil (use as little as 3 Tbsp if you prefer less oil)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves Garlic Confit (see recipe below), chopped finely
2 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar (white wine vinegar works too)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, toss the cauliflower with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
3. Heat a large cast-iron* frying pan over high heat.  Dump the cauliflower into the hot pan and cook until starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast the cauliflower, undisturbed until well seared, about 5 minutes longer. With a spatula, turn the cauliflower and cook on the other side until well seared, about 3 minutes longer.
4. Remove from the oven, add the garlic confit, parsley, red pepper flakes and and stir to distribute the seasonings and toast the garlic slightly. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Transfer to a serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*If you don’t have a cast-iron frying pan, use a non-stick skillet instead. When cauliflower is ready to go into the oven, transfer to an oven-safe baking sheet lined with tin foil and a light mist of olive oil so it doesn’t stick.

Garlic Confit
Makes 4 cups

Ingredients:
2 cups extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
8 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled (1 head = 10 cloves)
12 fresh thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves, bruised

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a medium baking dish, combine the olive oil, garlic, thyme, and bay leaves. The garlic should be completely covered by about 1 inch of oil.
3. Bake until the garlic cloves are soft, fragrant, and lightly browned but still hold their shape, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven, let cool to room temperature.

4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months, completely covered with olive oil to prevent air from reaching them.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Soft Chocolate Almond Cherry Cookies

Never mind holiday shenanigans like twinkling street lamps and department store display windows, my euphoric Christmastime enthusiasm is reserved for just one thing: the Food52 Holiday Shop. Every year, my favorite recipe website puts together a real live holiday pop-up shop, teeming with unique, artisanal cooking gifts that whip me into a frenzy of want. I cannot afford anything, yet I must have everything. In the same way that people roam Ikea, playing house in the little model rooms, I covertly circle the Food52 Holiday Shop interior, picking up multi-hundred dollar cast iron skillets and vintage cocettes while pretending I'm minding my business in my own kitchen. On the oak wood farmhouse table next to me is my hand-crafted, organically glazed Portuguese porcelain dinnerware set, a casual eucalyptus and pine garland runner elegantly draping its midsection that I, you know, assembled on a whimsical winter garden walk in the woods outback while I was also gathering firewood and winterberries. I hope the staff doesn't notice that this is the 3rd day in a row I've visited to continue my make-pretend game.


In addition to this splendid array of dining and cooking delights, The Food52 pop up shop also exhibits exactly two edibles: the contenders for the year's best holiday cookie contest, an ongoing competition between the company's founders to determine who has procured the top holiday cookie recipe of 2015. (And, let's face it, the real reason I've come back 3 days in a row.) But I needed to try both cookies multiple times, you know, just to be sure of my vote!


OK but really—I knew at first bite that my vote was for Merrill's Soft Chocolate Almond Cherry Cookies.  Simply and unequivocally delicious, they were everything a holiday cookie should be. A glorious combination of chewy chocolate cookie—or is it an impossibly soft brownie?—dotted with rich chocolate chunks, sweet dried cherries, and a glorious nutty, buttery undertone. I swooned. And swooned so much that I knew this would be the cookie recipe to accompany my will-you-be-my-bridesmaid gifts, because if you didn't know, I'm getting married. Introducing: Kvell in the Kitchen, Wedding Edition!


Now, I was very excited to embark on this baking adventure because a) I am, you know, a blushing bride-to-be b) have not yet started any type of wedding diet and c) like all arts and crafts projects. But let me tell you, these cookies were not easy breezy. After hours of hand-removing every stage of batter from my immersion blender (no, I don't have a stand mixer, yes, I can confirm you do need one for this recipe) I finally was able to create a little assembly line of dough and sugar to coat my cookies—1.5 inch diameter balls, 2 inches apart, just like the recipe called for—and they came out as one giant, puddled, cookie lump. Or a birds-eye view of a ski mountain covered with brown moguls. Suddenly, I am no longer a blushing bride, but an on-the-verge-of-tears totally frustrated bride. I almost gave up (not before making a mental note to add standing mixer to my registry).

But! No more kvetching in the kitchen, because despite the fact that my cookies looked like poo, they did in fact taste delicious, and after 10 minutes of cooling I was able to pick them apart and distribute them as originally planned. Below, I have gone at great lengths to amend the recipe (smaller cookie diameters, more space in between them) to make sure this doesn't happen to you. Its worth the fuss (and time commitment—note that the cookie dough needs to cool in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before baking). But seriously, they are dynamite. Wedding-worthy for sure!

Soft Chocolate Almond Cherry Cookies (from Food 52)
Makes about 36 cookies

Ingredients:
125 grams almond flour (~ 1 ⅛ cups)
50 grams all-purpose flour (~¼ + ⅛ cups)
cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
cups packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar, plus more for dusting
1 ¼ teaspoon flaky sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (pieces should be  inch or smaller)
⅔ cups dried cherries, chopped

Directions:
  1. Whisk together the almond flour, all-purpose flour, cocoa powder and baking soda.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula once.
  3. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer and pulse at low speed for 1 to 2 seconds, about 5 times. Remove the towel and keep beating at low speed for about 10 seconds more, until everything is just combined. Scrape down the bowl again.
  4. Add the chopped chocolate and dried cherries and mix on low speed for another 5 seconds or so, just to incorporate. Transfer the dough to an airtight container and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.
  5. Center a rack in the oven and heat it to 325 °F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Pour about ¾ cup sugar onto a large plate. Using your hands, form the dough into balls an inch in diameter. Roll the balls in the sugar and arrange them on the baking sheets, at least 3 inches apart.
  6. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes; they should dome slightly in the middle, and they should look dry on the surface but still be soft to the touch. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets on racks for 5 minutes, then transfer the parchment to the racks to finish cooling.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Chickpea Stew with Tomato, Turmeric, Yogurt & Harissa

A very special someone recently got me the Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California cookbook, and we are a match made in heaven. Epitomizing "grain-and-vegetable-centric, globally inspired cuisine", enveloped in New-American rustic style, the pages are filled with beautiful shots of verdant, vibrant dishes, the majority plant-based.  After flipping furiously through each page, I settled on a recipe that featured winter's small seasonal bounty: a kale, carrot and chickpea stew. I know, shocker! I only have like 10 recipe variations for this.


However, this Chickpea Stew with Tomato, Turmeric, Yogurt & Harissa is a testament to the auspiciousness of making one dish you like with small ingredient tweaks many, many times—one day you will come across one that is infinitely better than all the rest! And I found that in this recipe. Even said special someone, who didn't like kale and chickpeas until this year, agreed it was the best soup he'd ever had.

Here's why it works. The spices are rich and subtle at the same time, focused Middle Eastern flavors that give flair without overpowering.  (Though its the spice combination that make the stew magical, I have a sneaking suspicion fennel seed is the secret ingredient. I bought it for the first time to make this soup, and I'm infatuated with its perennial aromatics.)

Second, a slightly thickened texture, created by pureeing a portion chickpeas with soup broth in advance, avoid the thin liquid of some soups while totally amplify the chickpea flavor. What a genius idea for a thickening agent!

Lastly, the spiced yogurt is to die for. I am a fanatic about any yogurt-based condiment, and this one is herb and lemon tinged to perfection. As Chef Travis Lett points out, the cooling qualities of yogurt are the ideal counterpart to a spicy soup, and these two blend in flawless harmony.

Now, while I wax poetic about this chickpea stew, I have to admit that I didn't even make the recipe in its truest form—I took lots of short-cuts! For example, I used canned chickpeas instead dried, marinated ones the recipe called for, used ground spices instead of whole, and bought vegetable stock and harissa instead of prepping Lett's homemade recipes. That being said, the stew still came out above and beyond any of my soups to-date. The recipe is easy enough for a weekday soup, but definitely suited to impress a crowd—serve a big pot surrounded by little bowls of spiced yogurt and Harissa, a visually enticing presentation that looks as inviting as it tastes.

Chickpea Stew with Tomato, Turmeric, Yogurt & Harissa (adapted from Gjelina)
Serves 4

Ingredients
For the chickpea stew:

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained (or 1 lb dry: see directions below*)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin**
  • 1 tsp coriander**
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds**, ground or chopped finely
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into half-moons
  • 8 small red potatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 3 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and cut into 2-inch-wide strips
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • harissa, to serve. (Can be found in specialty food stores/International aisle of Whole Foods. And If you live in NYC, Taim makes a great one!)


For the spiced yogurt:

  • 1/4 tsp coriander**
  • 1/4 tsp cumin**
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions:

  1. In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, warm oil until hot but not smoking. Add the carrots, onion, and garlic; season with salt and pepper; cook until vegetables begin to soften and brown slightly, about 5 minutes. Add cumin, coriander, fennel, paprika, turmeric, thyme, bay leaf and potatoes. Cook until quite fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in the tomato paste, scraping the bottom of the pot frequently so that it does not burn, and cook until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by more than half, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add vegetable stock, discard bay leaf, return to a simmer.
  4. In a blender (or large bowl and immersion blender), combine 1 cup of the soup with 2 cups chickpeas. Puree until smooth. Return pureed beans to the soup pot. Add kale and remaining chickpeas, stir gently. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes. (This prevents the yogurt from curdling.)
  5. Make the spiced yogurt. In a food processor, blender or by immersion blender, combine spices, yogurt, and herbs. Process until yogurt is tinted green. Add olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice and pulse until incorporated. Taste and season with salt. Stir in the water, a little bit at a time, stopping when the yogurt is still thick, but thin enough to drizzle from a spoon.
  6. Before serving, spike soup with vinegar. Serve with a dollop of spiced yogurt and drizzle of harissa.

Notes:
*To make dried chickpeas: Add 1 yellow onion (quartered), 1 carrot (peeled and quartered), 2 garlic cloves (smashed), 1 bay leaf, and 4 fresh thyme sprigs to ingredient list. In a large bowl, cover chickpeas with water by 2 inches and soak overnight. Drain the chickpeas and rinse with cool water.
In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, combine the chickpeas, onion, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme. Add fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Season with salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer until chickpeas are tender but still hold their shape, about 45 minutes.  Discard bay leaf. Cool chickpeas in the cooking liquid and then drain, discarding the liquid. Set aside.

**Original recipe calls for whole seeds, toasted in a frying pan over medium heat for 3 minutes, cooled, then ground into powder with mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Butternut Squash Black Bean Enchiladas

Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are Mexican cuisine’s best kept secret. There are two distinct elements nestled within each $2-$3 can: the chipotles, which are smoked and dried rehydrated jalapenos, and the adobe sauce, a tangy, pungent mix of tomato puree, vinegar, garlic, and spices. The result is intense, smoky flavor that’s a one-stop-shop. Chipotle peppers can operate hans solo, no additional spices or seasonings required. However, if you want to add an extra ingredient, they do play well with others. A dollop of plain Greek yogurt can add a rich, creamy taste. Or, in these Butternut Squash Black Bean Enchiladas, the addition of plain, canned tomato sauce and sautéed garlic create an enchilada sauce that’s simply magnificent.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve always been suspicious of enchilada sauce. To me, it fell into the category of processed, salty jarred sauces that accompanied my most abhorred type of food: greasy Mexican. And given that enchiladas are usually doused in cheese and sour cream, I tend to stay away from them and opt for fresher, lighter options.  But, this recipe proves my theory wrong. Here, the enchilada “meat” consists of hearty, seasonal butternut squash and cumin-kissed black beans. Oil is scant, and cheese altogether absent—the dish is vegan. Whole-grain corn tortillas add another healthy component, and dousing in the homemade enchilada sauce loads on the flavor, but not the cals. Toppings options are abundant and tailored—my favorites are sliced avocado, minced cilantro, and quartered limes. If you absolutely cannot fathom an enchilada sans cheese, feel free to go ahead and sprinkle some on top. (Cheddar is the obvious choice, but feta is surprisingly good too.)
This dish works perfectly for the holiday time of year. In a season characterized by general frenzy and heavy celebratory eating, these enchiladas are a fresh breath of air that utilize a fresh seasonal ingredient to produce hearty fare that’s surprisingly light. Plus, the prep is easy: a handful of ingredients come together with mindless ease, and the majority of time is just spent cooking the enchiladas in the oven.
Next to taste, my second favorite things about this dish is the texture. A quick spray of olive oil via mister over the tortillas, pre-bake, ensures that they are perfectly crisp on the outside, but flawlessly soft on the side.  Though not necessarily pretty after storing, they do keep for a few days, and those extra chipotles can stay refrigerated for months.
Butternut Squash Black Bean Enchiladas (adapted from Minimalist Baker)
Serves 3-4

Ingredients:
For the enchiladas
  • 3 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 1-2 tsp grape seed or olive oil
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • Sea salt and black pepper
For the sauce
  • 1-2 tsp grape seed or olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce + 2 Tbsp adobo sauce
  • ½ cup water (or sub vegetable broth for more flavor)
  • Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Optional toppings
  • Red onion, diced
  • Ripe avocado, sliced
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds
  • Lime wedges

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. On a baking sheet, combine butternut squash, 1-2 tsp oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until squash is tender. Set aside to cool. Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees F.
  3. While squash is cooking, prepare sauce. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1-2 tsp oil and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is slightly browned and translucent, 4-5 minutes.
  4. Reduce heat to low. Add tomato sauce, diced chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, and water/vegetable broth to pan. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer sauce to a blender and blend well for a completely smooth sauce (optional). Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Set aside.
  6. Place same skillet used earlier back over medium heat and add black beans. (Its OK that there will still be some sauce in the pan.) Season with a little salt, pepper, cumin and stir. Once bubbling, remove from heat and add roasted butternut squash and 1/4 cup of the enchilada sauce, mixing thoroughly.
  7. Wrap tortillas in damp paper or cloth towel and microwave to warm for 30 seconds to make more pliable. Pour a bit of sauce into the bottom of 9×13-inch baking dish. Spread to coat.
  8. Take one corn tortilla and lay it down in the dish. Fill with generous amount of squash-bean filling, then roll up tortilla. Place seam side down at one end of dish. Continue until all tortillas are filled and wrapped, then pour remaining sauce over the top of the enchiladas in a stripe down the middle. Brush/spray the edges of the bare tortillas with oil for crispy edges.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, or until warmed through. Top with desired toppings and serve. The enchiladas can keep for a few days in the refrigerator.