Thursday, February 27, 2014

Burrata and Sardines, Together at Last?

Last weekend, we had the simplest little lunch—a light snack—that satisfied in so many different ways.  Salty, sweet, sour, savory.  Ok, we might even have said there was a little (chutney) spice involved as well and thus round out all the flavors.  And the texture?  Crusty, chewy, creamy.

I have to start my explanation by going a bit further back.  In case you haven’t been acquainted with it, burrata consists of soft buffalo mozzarella skin filled with fresh cream and shredded mozzarella.  It’s quite heavenly—and perishable, and expensive.  Thank goodness one ball of burrata can serve many people (2-4, depending on size) since its richness is a bit too much for one.

Last September, I wrote about my new infatuation with burrata and talked about a way you could enjoy this creamy cheese (click here for that post).  It seemed to us that the creaminess of the cheese needed to be complemented by the savory and briny roasted vegetables we had with it.  Since then—two weeks ago to be more precise—we discovered that there is actually a better way to complement burrata.  At Anteprima, an Andersonville (Chicago neighborhood) Italian restaurant, they served burrata with a light sprinkling of sea salt, toasted bread slices, and peach jam!  It was brilliant.

We decided to repeat the snack at home.  We no longer had access to the very expensive and exclusive burrata we were able to purchase last time, but we were actually quite happy with the (still expensive but) more commercial BelGioso brand that was readily available at the market.  You can see the BelGioso half-slice in the above picture is much less creamy than the one from the September post, but we enjoyed both kinds.  One was more unctuous and special-occasion, but I could see eating the BelGioso with a bit more regularity.

We toasted some slices of sesame nut covered baguette, sprinkled a tiny bit of Maldon sea salt on the cheese (don’t overdo the salt), and served the burrata with Stonewall Kitchen Old Farmhouse Chutney (with apples, cranberries, and peaches).  We enjoyed this twist on cheese-and-chutney-on-bread snack.  Then we tried the cheese with some strawberry preserves.  Well, that was, believe it or not, a superior combination.  (Will described it as like eating scones with clotted cream and jam, and it was every bit as decadent as that experience!)

To round out a meal which might seem too much like dessert, we supplemented with some canned sardines with homemade balsamic glaze (with the recipe available here). 

It was a perfectly civilized and simple little snack that required no cooking (unless you consider heating the oven and spooning out jams cooking) and yet seemed special and gourmet at the same time.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Spicy Pork Rice Noodle Soup with Kale

We’re digging the “healthy” recipes from the January 2014 issue of Bon Appetit.  It seems like just about every one of these has been a winner.  It’s been a while since we’ve wanted to attempt so many new recipes from a cooking magazine, but these recipes—grouped in the issue as “the new healthy”—have been absolutely terrific.

Different bean dishes (both cannellini and red bean) have been staples for our new Asian-style breakfasts, along with organic short grain brown rice.  Two fish entrées have already been added to our repertoire.  And now a Vietnamese-inspired rice noodle soup with spicy pork and mustard greens is our latest infatuation.

This soup was on the cover of the Bon Appetit issue, and we kept on meaning to try it out.  But we also kept on missing one or another key ingredient.  When we had ground pork, we had no greens.  Then we bought rice noodles only to discover that we didn’t have any Szechuan peppercorns at home after all.

I decided to take the plunge anyway.  After all, I had a bunch of kale that was starting to go yellow in parts and which I wanted to use up as soon as possible.  I had purchased a pound of ground pork which I had split up into a package of ½ lb (for this soup), and two ¼ lb packages (one for mabo tofu and another for spicy stir-fried green beans with minced/ground pork). 

So I defrosted the pork, tore up the kale leaves, and decided to forego Szechuan peppercorns the recipe called for.  Besides, I rationalized, not only is it important to improvise, but we aren’t really even big fans of Szechuan peppercorns.  (We used it before in a coffee-and-spices crusted ribeye with caramelized onion jam.  Another post!)  Anyway, here’s a link to the original soup recipe.

Essentially, I mixed ground pork with cumin, garlic, ginger, crushed red pepper, and Korean red pepper flakes.  I substituted ½ teaspoon of the Korean red pepper flakes in the place of 1 teaspoon crushed Szechuan peppercorns originally called for, and I wonder whether that produced a possibly spicier soup than intended.  Never mind.  We loved it.

You brown the pork, add chicken broth, and let simmer for a bit before adding torn greens (kale in our case, mustard greens in the recipe), sliced scallions, soy sauce and fish sauce.  Simmer some more.  Then you cook rice noodles.  We used the small size, and I suspect medium would be great.  The recipe calls for “wide rice noodles,” but honestly the picture doesn’t seem to reflect that…

I like to withhold some scallions to throw on top of the cooked noodles before ladling the soup mixture.  Or throw in the scallions afterwards.  In any case, I’ve always enjoyed some thinly-sliced scallions on top of Asian-flavored soups.  It’s sort of like cilantro in Latin cooking, basil in Italian cooking, and parsley in most anything.  The little bit of fresh herby-ness adds a certain je ne sais quoi.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Broiled Snapper with Garlic Roast Potatoes

If you are cooking at home for Valentine's Day/weekend, I have a great fish suggestion for you.  I cannot seem to get enough of the fish recipes in the January 2014 issue of Bon Appetit!  When I first saw that the issue featured some fish dishes, I was desperate to like anything because—truth to tell—I was getting a bit bored with the fish recipes at my disposal. 

With our attempt to become more pescatarian (or whatever one is called who attempts to eat mostly vegetables and fish), we’d been running out of fun fish dishes, especially for those Sunday evening meals that we wanted to be a bit more elaborate than quick pan-fried fish (see my post from two weeks ago).  But the recipes Bon Appetit presented—all of them!—sounded so good!

Of course, I already made a substitution with the first recipe we tried.  Somehow, I imagined that it would be difficult to find good, fresh mackerel at the store, so I readily took their suggestion to use snapper instead for their “Mackerel with Crushed Potatoes and Oregano.”  We might look for mackerel next time though since the recipe was so yummy that we decided it’s a keeper!  (Here’s a link to the recipe.)

Some notes:

·      Any small potatoes will do, but the Yukon Gold will deliver a buttery look and texture.

·      We only had non-fat Greek yogurt (Fage), but that really didn’t seem to matter, so don’t panic and get another tub of yogurt if you have 2% or non-fat.

·      I thought we had fresh oregano, but we only had fresh thyme.  So, I substituted the thyme for the oregano and then added some dried oregano for more flavor (picture above).  Worked out great.   Oh, and Maldon works out great (for this and other dishes) because the flakes are soft enough to easily crush with your fingers as you sprinkle over your food.

·      If you have mackerel—like the recipe called for—you might not have this issue, but the snapper we cut in pieces were thicker than mackerel and tended to curl up (bottom picture).  We obviously also had to cook for a bit longer since they were thicker fillet pieces.  They tasted great though, so all’s well that ends well.

Happy Valentines Day!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Croissant, Pain Chocolat, and a Taste of Paris

This past June, Will and I spent two weeks in the north Marais area of Paris in a 5th floor walk-up flat.  Despite the numerous winding flights we had to negotiate, we spent every single morning exploring the neighborhood to get fresh bread.  There were—and I do not exaggerate—no fewer than four boulangeries within a block of us in each direction.  There might have been more (likely, there was!) but we only frequented those four. 

We made a point of visiting each store with regularity since we liked each for different reasons, but our favorite boulangerie was one which had received second place prize in the Paris croissant competition.  While we had seen that advertisement on their storefront window, we were not able to go to this particular one until we had tried the others because this particular store was closed the first two mornings of our stay in the area.  Perhaps that’s just as well.  After we tasted the prize-winning croissant, we realized that there was indeed a difference between just excellent croissant and AMAZING croissant.

Excellent croissants have nice flakey layers of pastry, smell of fresh butter, and a delicate glaze on a slightly crusty top.  AMAZING croissants have all of that and then also a caramelized and crunchy buttery bottom crust that’s a darker brown than most croissants and is almost pure butter.  Once we’d had those croissants, it was difficult to go with just any old Parisian croissant.  Then, once we returned to Chicago, we were almost despondent because—really—nothing here came close (not even to the plain old excellent ones in Paris).

Then I got clever.  For a Christmas present, I got Will a croissant baking class at Baker&Nosh, a place I read about in Yelp reviews which declared theirs the best croissants in the area.  Before the actual class, we took a trial run to the café to taste their croissant.  At $3 (and only available on weekends), it was a bit expensive for how small the croissant was, especially since ALL the Paris boulangeries had their larger croissants priced in the narrow range between 1 and 1.25 Euro.  But still, the flavor was promising, and the bottom crackled with a caramelized butter crust.

So, I waited with bated breath on the night of January 27 (a bone-chilling, record-breakingly cold Monday) as Will went to bake.  He came back with a bounty: 4 regular croissants, 4 pains chocolats, 3 ham-and-cheese croissants, 3 almond croissants, and some savory pastry sticks.  (Pictured above.)  They were fabulous!

When the weekend came, I was prepared.  I got a pound of 83% butterfat European-styled block of butter (my contribution to our project), and told Will that I wanted him to make some more croissants before he forgot any special methods he just learned.  I even offered to “help,” though that amounted to nothing more than rolling a few croissants and pains chocolats (because he thinks I make them “prettier”).  All the while, I insisted that he write down special details and notes on the recipe he brought back.  Then I just ate and ate and ate—and took the occasional sip of French Roast coffee.

Now I have to find other “gifts” for Will that can pay such dividends!