Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rosemary Aioli

Aioli is essentially mayonnaise, a beautifully whipped blend of egg yolk and olive oil, flavored with a little salt and sometimes herbs or garlic. It makes a great dip for vegetables, as an ingredient in salad dressing or as a sauce for fish and other fine foods. Once you have a little practice aioli is fun and easy to make… not to mention it can turn any meal into a fancy feast! I am including it here as an accompaniment to my earlier posting for celery root hash. The hash sautéd nicely into hot cakes and I used the aioli sauce with a hint of fresh rosemary to bring out the rosemary in the hash and the creamy undertones of the celery root. Even if you have not yet tried making the hash, don’t wait to make aioli!

Aioli is one of those simple foods that must be made with quality ingredients to taste good. Use fresh flavorful egg yolk and good olive oil! The trick to making good aioli with the perfect consistency is to whisk it vigorously the whole time and add the oil slowly. The oil should be at room temperature and the egg yolk too, although it works fine for me right out of the refrigerator!

1 egg yolk
¾ to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt
1 tsp. filtered water
1 tsp. fresh, finely chopped rosemary leaves

Separate the egg yolk from the white and store the white for another use. Add a generous pinch of salt to the yolk and begin to whisk, slowly add 1 tsp. filtered water. When the water and yolk are well blended slowly begin to add the olive oil in a thin stream, whisking all the while. As you whisk your aioli will slowly start to thicken, as it thickens you may slowly add more olive oil. Again, whisk it until thick and slowly add a bit more. The oil will initially dilute your aioli and alter the texture, but as you whisk it in they will combine and become thick again. Handmade aioli will rarely turn out as stiff as commercial mayonnaise, but it should be stiff and form peaks similar to whipped cream.

The amount of oil you add is up to you, you may decide you like your aioli to have more of an egg flavor or more of an olive oil flavor. In theory an egg yolk should be able to “take” up to a cup of oil. Meaning that an aioli made with one yolk will continue to thicken with up to a cup of oil, after that it may begin to thin it out. When you have added all the oil you wish to use, add the finely chopped rosemary leaves, this is also a nice time to add finely chopped garlic, parsley, a little lemon juice or other herbs. Make sure the rosemary is finely chopped so that the flavor remains subtle, we do not want it to overpower the delicate flavor of the aioli. Experiment, 1 tsp. of fresh herbs may be too much for you, start with ½ and then add more as desired. You can serve aioli with anything! Aioli keeps in the refrigerator for a few days, but I always prefer it fresh. If you know you only need a little bit for that occasion, use less oil and enjoy a small amount of fresh aioli with a more pronounced egg flavor.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Celery Root Hash

On Wednesday afternoons I cook and do childcare for a family in Oakland (they are all in this picture somewhere...and no, I didn't make the cake). When I first arrive I investigate the contents of their weekly produce box for inspiration. Then I look in the fridge and pantry for supplementary items. To accommodate a special diet, I am asked to cook without any starches including most grains and flours, potatoes, certain legumes and some other foods. I often make soups or curries usually with a base of chicken stock, vegetables and meat. This week there was chicken already cooked and lots of roots. Friends of the family had recently made a corned beef hash and I was asked if I could experiment with something like that. This is what I came up with and I must say, I think it’s a keeper!

I love Celery root and suggest you give it a try in this recipe, particularly if you have never had it before! Don't be alarmed by the roots gnarly appearance, it is easy to tackle. The texture is similar to that of a potato and it has a lovely earthy and herby celery like flavor. It is more mild than celery however, and for those of you who can not eat potato I fell it is the best substitute....besides sweet potato of course. To use the root, start by cutting off the straggling and small roots on the end and the top stem area. Then cut it down the center and peel each half. From there either grate it, as in this recipe, or cut it as you would a potato. You can also roast celery roots whole (skin and all), which is easy and delicious, be sure and clean off all of the dirt first.

For the chicken you can use meat left over from a roast chicken or meat from making stock and broth. If you are a vegetarian or do not have chicken on hand substitute potato, sweet potato, other grated vegetables, nuts or even grains for the chicken and make veggie patties!

From the Produce box I used, 1 medium sized celery root, 3 sprigs of green garlic, 2 celery stalks and 1 small fuji apple.

From the refrigerator I used, 1 pint of cooked chicken and 2 eggs (from the same farm as the produce!).

From the garden I used, three sprigs of fresh rosemary leaves!

Peel and grate the celery root and finely chop the green garlic into moons. Remove the leaves from three sprigs of rosemary, slice celery into thirds and finely chop, and core and finely chop the apple (include the skins). In a skillet, over medium high heat, sauté the grated celery root, green garlic and rosemary in 2 Tbs. of extra virgin olive oil. When the mixture is soft and partially cooked add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and add chopped celery and apple. Continue to cook until flavors are well blended and all is soft, then add two cups shredded, cooked chicken. Continue to cook for a bit and check for salt!

You can serve the hash as is, or you can form it into patties, which is what I did! To make patties, whisk together two fresh eggs. Allow the hash to cool slightly and then add it to the eggs and stir all ingredients together. Form into patties, using about a half a cup of hash in each and sauté in olive oil over medium heat. They should be golden brown on each side and cooked long enough so that they stay in tact when you flip them, about 5 minutes per side. Garnish with paprika and serve with fresh avocado slices and rosemary aioli (rosemary aioli recipe will be posted this week!).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Quiche & Frittata ... egg pies for evey occasion!

If you are looking for a savory excuse to make a pie crust this week, quiche is the treat for you. Quiche can be a breakfast or brunch special served with some fresh fruit or a simple salad, or it can serve as the main course for an elegant dinner. Whatever the occasion, I have found that quiche is a crowd pleaser. And it is simple! Use fresh ingredients, good eggs and keep the flavors simple and balanced. I like to do combinations of one or two veggies with a fresh herb accent or spice blend. Be creative with whatever vegetables, meats and cheeses you have on hand. Years ago when I first started making quiches I went looking for the secret ingredient. It didn't take me much experimentation to discover that the light, rich taste I love in quiche comes from the addition of naturally fermented crème fraîche. Apart from quiche, crème fraîche is wonderful as a garnish to soups and as a sauce for salads and desserts. Since the crème fraîche discovery I have also experimented with using yogurt (always plain). Yogurt has a similar effect texturally, but is a bit sourer (yum!) and will affect the flavor accordingly. Consider this when you chose your ingredients and work with it.

If you do not have yogurt or crème fraîche you may substitute milk, or even better, cream. I also like to add a tablespoon or so of cold water to the egg batter to fluff it up. Make sure that you beat the egg very thin; when you lift a fork or whisk through the egg it should slide right through without stringy chunks or lumps.

The trick is to have all ingredients mostly cooked before you add the egg and bake it. Once in the oven they will not have much time to cook before the egg is done and your pie is ready. For harder vegetables like winter squash and potato boil or steam them before sautéing. Softer foods like leeks, onion, summer squash, pepper or mushroom can be fully precooked in your initial sauté.

8 - 10 eggs, depending on the size
¼ cup crème fraîche or yogurt
1 Tbs. cold water
1 large or 3 small leeks
1 cup cubed butternut squash
3 branches of fresh thyme
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut in half, remove seeds and skin and cube enough butternut squash to make 1 cup, more or less. Cook the prepared squash in a large pot of salted boiling water for 10 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Drain well and set aside. Note: You can either start with a small squash or save or freeze the extra (raw or cooked) for a soup, quiche or other dish. Butternut squash is great as a side dish tossed with butter, fresh thyme leaves and salt and pepper.

Slice leeks thin and wash well, if large cut into half moons. Remove the leaves and tender stems from the thyme branches. In a skillet heat 2 Tbs. butter, when hot add leeks. After a few minutes, salt generously and add a twist of black pepper. Cook until leeks are tender and sweet, 10 minutes or more. When fully cooked, add thyme leaves and cooked squash. Sprinkle with salt and stir well. Adding salt as you go will help the flavors develop and give each ingredient a great flavor on its own. Cook until ingredients are well blended, taste for salt and place evenly into a pre-baked and cooled pie crust.

In a large bowl whisk together egg, crème fraîche, water and a dash of salt and pepper. Whisk until well beaten. A fork or whisk should be able to slide through easily without encountering lumps or stringy spots, this is important to a light fluffy quiche. When beaten to your satisfaction pour the egg mixture into the crust, adjusting or taping to get the egg through the leeks and squash. Sprinkle with fresh grated Parmesan and some fresh black pepper.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, this depends a lot on your oven. The quiche will first start to rise and cook around the edges, slowly moving into the center. To test for doneness lightly press your finger into the center of the quiche, be careful it’s hot. If the center is still mostly liquid then it needs to cook longer, but if there is just a thin layer of liquid on top that's okay. Turn off the oven, prop the door open slightly and let the quiche cool in the warm oven. It should feel springy but firm to the touch. It will set up and finish cooking as it cools.

I recently spent the night at a friend’s house. When I arrived she hit me with a challenge: “I always make the same thing. I have all the ingredients I normally have, can you help me make something new?” Generally she takes her favorite veggies and stir-fries them with various treats like sausage or whatever else she has around and serves it with brown rice. While her family loves it, she needed a creative boost. That night we ended up making a wonderful cream of broccoli soup. I also planted the frittata seed. Frittatas are simple, quick and easy, yet they look finished and beautiful and make a very satisfying meal. Best of all, you can throw in your favorite ingredients and have it taste good, just like a stir-fry!

A frittata is a thick, baked omelette, similar to a Spanish torta. It is very similar to a quiche only it doesn’t have a crust. In general since frittatas lack the structure of a crust it is fun to add heavier ingredients, like squash or potato. Follow the same instructions for a quiche (above), but leave out the crust. Precook and sauté your ingredients, place them evenly into the dish and pour egg over, bakes the same. Maybe this is where the expression “easy as pie” came from!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Perfect Pie Crust

Perfect is a relative term, but for me the perfect pie crust is light and flakey, crunchy but not hard or chewy and a balanced dance between salty and sweet. With that in mind, I don’t put sugar in my crust, the sweetness comes from the subtle flavors of real butter and fresh, high quality flour. I use the same crust for savory and sweet dishes, pies or tarts. I make pie crust a lot and at this point I don’t even measure my ingredients! So, don’t be intimidated by the lengthy instructions, as you experiment with making crusts you will see how easy it is.

In general when I make crust I use ½ or ¾ whole-wheat flour and the remainder white. While I enjoy the flavor and added nutrition of this hearty combination, the most delicate crust for special occasions or refined desserts will be better made from all white flour. Since I find this is a bit boring to the eye and to the taste buds, on the rare occasions that I do this I usually roll out the crust with a course ground whole wheat flour to give it a more dynamic appearance and flavor. If you have a gluten or wheat intolerance or allergy try making your crust with buckwheat flour. While buckwheat has its own unique flavor I find both the texture and flavor appropriate for a good crust. Lastly, please use real butter. Margarine and shortening are not good sources of food or nutrition, and they will make your crust heavy and stale.

The trick to making flakey pie crust is to keep the butter cold. This keeps the butter in small pieces so that when the crust bakes the butter separates the dough into very small layers, making it flakey. Start with the butter straight from the refrigerator, or better yet the freezer. I had a friend who puts his bowl, flour, and utensils in the refrigerator too, if that inspires you go for it. Personally, I always felt that would make my hands too cold and my experience taught me early on cold butter and ice water works just fine.

This recipe makes one crust, if you wish to make a pie with a top and bottom crust you will need to double this recipe.

1 cup flour (see above)
½ tsp. salt (if using salted butter leave out)
¼ cup butter (cold or frozen)
ice water

In a large mixing bowl measure out flour and salt, if necessary, and stir together well. Consider adding some black pepper if you are making a savory dish. If the flour is lumpy then sift it through a fine sieve or metal strainer. Once your flour is well mixed remove the butter from the refrigerator or freezer and slice it into thin chunks. Separate the slices from each other and gently toss them throughout the flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter or two butter knives cut the butter into the flour, taking time to remove the butter pieces stuck to the utensils as you go. Keep at this for a while, it takes some effort particularly if your butter was frozen. The idea is to eventually have the butter in hundreds of little peppercorn sized pieces, each one coated with flour. Once you have achieved this to your satisfaction, remember the smaller the better, clean any stray butter pieces from your utensils and give it one last dry stir.

Fill an 8 oz. glass with as much ice as will fit and then add water. Slowly pour about 2 oz. of water into the flour/butter mixture and stir it in. The dough should begin to clump, but still look pretty dry. Continue to add ice water, 1 oz. at a time, stirring well between pours. The crust will begin to clump together more and more. Adding water is an art, you want the crust to be moist enough to form into a coherent dough, but not too moist so as to be sticky or wet (although if that happens just add more flour). Use your hands to squeeze the dough together, when it sticks easily together but not to your hands it is ready to go!

Flour a large, dry surface; I like to use my dinning room table so I have a lot of room to work. Shape the dough into a round flat disk and then roll it from the center out. Rotate the crust often to maintain a circular shape and add more flour as necessary. If you are transferring the crust into a pie pan wrap the crust gently around your rolling, place the pin over the center of the pan and unroll the crust into the dish. Note: if you do not have a rolling pin a clean wine bottle will work fine.

If the crust is for a pie throw in the insides and put the top crust over, rolling up the crust on the edge and pinching it with your fingers or a fork. Remember to put holes in the top for the steam to escape. If you are making a quiche, tart or cheesecake you will want to pre-bake the crust. In this case, roll up the edges and pinch them flat. It is important that the crust have a heavy lip, well formed on the outer lip of the pie pan, otherwise it will sink down the edges toward the center as it bakes. use a fork to poke holes all over the bottom of the crust and place the pie pan on a cookie sheet in a pre-heated 375 degree oven. Bake the crust for 10 minutes or until the butter bubbles and the crust begins to change tone. Don’t overdo it, the crust need not be browned, that will happen later. Allow the crust to cool for at least 15 minutes before adding your filling.

Sometimes when I have some left over trimmings I throw them in the oven with a little cinnamon and honey for a sweet little treat.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pea Greens- a sweet sign of spring!

When I used to live in San Francisco I shopped almost weekly at the Alemany Farmer’s Market. I enjoyed this market in particular because it is inexpensive, wide open with lots of vendors and not as well polished as other city markets. At various stands on any given day I could choose between some 20 different varieties of dried fruits, fresh nuts, jams and breads or eat a tamale or two while I watch the market unfold. As the Alemany market serves the diverse Asian and Latino ethnic populations of San Francisco, it carries many exciting foods that you would not find at your average grocery store or even farmer’s market. One of my favorite finds from a few springs back are fresh sweet pea shoots. Usually available are the fresh clippings of pea vines that are still young, before it is warm enough for the plants to flower and bear those sweet pea pods! In northern California our early February spring is the time for these sweet green beauties, another of the many things to look foreword to as the days get longer!

Although I no longer live in San Francisco, I try and visit the Alemany market whenever I can. This past Saturday I went with a friend who was just beginning a five-day raw foods cleanse. We both bought sweet pea greens. I have been enjoying my greens so much I wanted to share them here, and in honor of the raw and the cooked I have included two very simple recipes for sweet pea greens, a sauté and a salad.

While little compares to the freshness of market greens, you may also be able to find sweet pea shoots or sprouts in some natural food or Asian food stores. Keep your eyes open…and ask around.

Sweet and Salty Pea Green Sauté

This simple sauté is a great accompaniment to meals or served with grains or potatoes as a meal in itself. Pea greens are also great in soups or added to more complex stir-fries.

1 Tbs. Butter
4 oz. fresh sweet pea greens
fresh ground black pepper
salt to taste

Wash pea greens and break or cut into bite sized pieces, about 1 inch long. You may include the stems, which are very tender when cooked. In a skillet melt butter and add a few twists of black pepper. Once the pepper starts to cook and simmer add the sweet pea shoots, it is okay if there is excess water on the greens, it will help them cook. Sauté on medium high heat, stirring often until greens are wilted and tender but still bright green. Salt generously and serve hot. 4 oz. of pea greens will make two small servings or one more substantial serving, they are often sold in half pound (8 oz.) bunches.

Sweet Pea and Potato Salad

Raw sweet potato has a beautiful nutty and creamy flavor and while it doesn't have as much fat, its flavor begins to rival avocado if you are doing the raw food thing!

4 oz. fresh sweet pea greens
½ small sweet potato, grated (skin is okay)
½ lemon, juiced
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp. ground coriander
salt to taste
Garnish with black pepper.

Wash pea greens, shake off as much excess water as possible and break into bite size pieces, removing any tough stem. In a large bowl toss pea greens with grated sweet potato so that they are well mixed. Add coriander, salt (start with ½ tsp. and add more if necessary), lemon juice and olive oil and toss well. You can also add chopped walnut (¼-½ cup) if you would like to make the salad more substantial. This recipe will make two medium sized servings.