29 January 2012

Tomato "Cassoulet", Two Preparations of Celery Root, Greens

The weather this weekend has been phenomenal, hitting the mid-60s with mostly-cloudless skies and no winds. Perfect for lounging in a park watching the dogs, getting chided for not having one ourselves, riding the cable car, and... soup? A hearty bean-and-pork concoction heavily influenced by cassoulet on a warm day? You, astute reader, may have forgotten that it is winter. It gets cold when the sun goes down, and it gets cold fast. Not quite cold enough to really complain about, the mid 40s are still enough for bundling up and turning on the heat. And, yes, a hearty dinner.

I had a few goals in mind for the dinner; I wanted to cook something like the titular dish of this post, having seen one on the dinner specials board whilst eating brunch and I wanted to use seasoning very sparingly. For the veggies, I decided on broccolini (because I love it and my grocer had Sovrano cheese) and celery root, which has a strong flavor. Also, you can make, essentially, mashed potatoes with it and call it "celery root puree" and put it on your fancy menu next to things like "fricassee de poulet". If you had a fancy menu, that is. Anyway, celery root puree is nice but I also wanted to try making fries from it or, going with the earlier menu theme, "celery root frites". So I ended up with this:
The seasoning was sparing; I've thrown some herbes de provence on top of the soup and celery root for effect, but when cooking it was simply salt and pepper. Starting with the bowl, we have a tomato-and-bean soup with dry sausage, severely blackened ("frites noir") celery root skinny fries, roasted broccolini dressed with a bit of sovrano, and celery root puree. While dark, the fries didn't taste burnt; they had started to brown, I turned around to shape the puree into balls, and turned back to see the charred-looking mess. Honestly, I would change nothing with the dish except not charring the fries. The prep was simple and the flavors strong.
Tomato "Cassoulet" Soup, Celery Root Preps, Broccolini
Serves 2-ish
1 can (15oz) of diced, salted tomatoes
1 can (15oz) of white beans (navy beans/haricot)
1 small (4oz?) dry sausage, sliced thinly into rounds
a bit of strong, hard cheese (sovrano grana recommended, or use pecorino)
dressing herbs (fresh herbes de provence or other hearty herbs, or dried if you don't have fresh)

Heat a cast iron over medium until hot. Add the sausage, cook on one side for a minute, flip, and cook until a decent amount of fat has rendered out and the sausage darkened. Reduce heat to medium-low, add in the beans and tomato, and stir. Stir every now and then while you do the rest, but you are mostly going to leave this alone for the next 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 to make...

Two celery roots, two preps (plus broccolini)
2 celery roots
1 bunch broccolini
white wine vinegar
a bit of strong, hard cheese (sovrano grana recommended, or use pecorino)
high smoke point oil (grapeseed if you have it, or refined canola)
salt and pepper

Chop off the top and bottom of the celery roots, then skin with a knife. You can lose a bit of flesh during this. Chop one of the roots into fry-shaped pieces then soak in a bowl with white wine vinegar. Prepare a foil-lined baking sheet and in a bowl combine enough oil to coat the broccolini, a few turns of salt, and a turn of pepper. Shake out the fries and toss them and the broccolini in the oil mixture. Lay out on baking sheet without crowding, otherwise the broccolini won't crisp properly. Put in oven about 30 minutes before you want to eat.

With the untouched celery root, chop it into cubes and start a small pot of water boiling. Proceed as you would for mashed potatoes, viz. boil until a fork easily pierces, drain, (optionally add some fat like butter or milk), mash with fork, and salt to taste. This will take about 20 minutes and cool quite quickly when mashed, so consider saving it until the fries are frying.

After the cooking sheet has been in the oven for 15 minutes, remove it and take the celery root off. It should have softened and lightly browned. Grate cheese over broccolini, place back in oven, and lower to 350. Given how small the fries will be, prepare the smallest frying prep you can manage; I used my smallest pot with only a few tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is hot, add the fries, shaking intermittently. Prepare a paper-towel lined plate to dry fries on.

Once the fries go in, add some cheese to the cassoulet (to taste) as well as any salt or pepper you think it may need; the sausage should have seen to this, but you never know. Mash the celery root as described above, remove the fries to paper towel and drain. Toss with a bit of salt and pepper. Remove broccolini from oven. Garnish with any herbs. Eat.

24 January 2012

Miso Lime Tofu

I've been watching some cooking shows on Netflix recently. A few of the guilty-pleasure "reality" format (anything featuring Gordon Ramsay from the UK) and a few of the actual cooking variety. What I've noticed is that people use a lot of spices. Heaping handfuls of the lighter herbs, pours of salt, multiple teaspoons of dry spices. Compare to the sprigs, pinches, and dashes I usually use, I can see a problem with my cooking. The other big difference was variety of ingredients; I tend towards one or two spices per dish (plus the onion/garlic/salt/pepper component). In an effort to improve, I made this.
It was heavily flavored, prepared somewhat properly, and quite good. My only failing was not fully committing to curry; I used no coconut milk and only though to add corn starch at the end when I noticed how thin everything was, disregarding the boil-simmer-reduce one seems to find in recipes for thick sauces. But everything else was spot-on; the tofu had a bit of flavor from the marinade. The lime and ginger were overpowering flavors, with miso close on their heels.
Miso Lime Tofu
Serves 2
1 anaheim pepper, diced
1 Andre-the-giant thumb of ginger, peeled and minced
an amount of minced garlic equal to ginger
juice of a lime
2 tbsp miso
1 tbsp mirin
1 tsp soy sauce

Curry Sauce
The marinade from above
1 anaheim pepper, diced
1 tsp sesame oil (probably leave this out?)
1/2 cup water
thickening agent, volume unknown (corn starch or roux; roux probably a better idea)

Everything Else
Handful of spinach leaves
Bunch of broccolini
12oz firm tofu

To make the marinade, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix. Really simple. Chop the tofu into pieces that you want to eat and put it in a ziploc bag with the marinade. Give it at least 30 minutes. Once you think it is marinaded appropriately, start the rice. Take the tofu out of the bag and place in a heated frying pan with some oil to brown it.

Be lazy like myself and pour the marinade out of the bag into a bowl, then add the additional pepper, water, sesame oil, and salt to taste. Tofu should be getting sufficiently browned, so chop up the broccolini and add it into the frying pan. Cook for a few minutes, then add the curry. Bring to a kinda-boil, then reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes, until the broccolini and tofu are soft. Add the spinach on top and stir a few times.

Remove from heat and serve over rice.

18 January 2012

Nutty Cranberry Loaf

A few weeks ago, a shortage of time and a grumbling belly led me to cooking a revelatory meal for myself and E - soba noodles, leafy greens of some sort, tofu, and a lazy-ass sauce. Why revelatory? Well, the prep goes like this:

1) Fill a large pot of water and put on high.
2) Wash and rip/chop for leafy greens and put into pot of water.
3) Make a sauce (for instance, a bit of beer, miso, oil, and spicy) and put chopped tofu in it for 5 minutes.
4) Heat large frying pan with some oil over medium.
5) Add tofu to frying pan, browning a side of it.
6) Your water might be close to boiling or not, but check your leafy greens to see if they blanched. If so, spoon them out, rinse in cold water, and drain.
7) Continue cooking tofu until two sides are browned, then add in leafy greens and any leftover sauce.
8) Add soba to pot of boiling water and cook for ~3 minutes.
9) Drain soba, add to frying pan, toss everything together and serve.

The whole meal takes 20 minutes (30 if you factor in grocery shopping). You save a lot of time by blanching your veggies in your water as it comes to a boil, then immediately using that boiling water for soba. It may not be pure, and you may be ridiculed for blanching veggies like that, but it works. So, yes, I've been doing that for quite a few of my cooked dinners. Besides that, I've been eating burritos and I made saumon à l'unilatéral for E on a lark - easiest french recipe I've ever cooked. Also, bread.
I made this beauty with a few errors. The recipe below is what I cooked, but I would recommend some changes. For one, double the cranberry content at least; very few in the dough. Likewise, double the nut amount as well. Also, don't be lazy - make sure your honey hasn't solidified in your unheated apartment; the loaf could really use about 3% or so.
Nutty Cranberry Loaf
300g flour ~= 1 loaf
100% unbleached bread flour
65% body-temperature water
2% instant yeast
2% salt
5% cranberries (consider doubling as per note)
5% nuts of your choosing (consider doubling as per note)
3% olive oil
(consider 3% honey as per note)

At least a night before baking, mix the dough. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl, mix with a spoon, then add the liquids and stir until everything comes together. If you are using honey, combine the liquids before mixing as well to dissolve the yeast/honey/salt. Cover with plastic in bowl and let sit for 10 minutes. Wet hands and stretch-and-fold the dough 3 times, waiting 20 minutes between each iteration. Refrigerate overnight.

Day-of baking, remove from the fridge 1.5-2 hours before the intended baking time. Flour a work surface, shape into a loaf, and place on a piece of parchment that has been dusted with semolina. For ease-of-baking, the parchment should be one something it can easily slide off of, like an overturned baking sheet. 45 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 500 degrees with a cast iron pan that can fit the loaf and a lid for said pan (I use a brownie dish, though an actual dutch oven would be best). Once the dough, when poked, is very slow to recover, sprinkle some additional flour on the bread and score it deeply once across the top. Carefully slide it into the pan, cover, and reduce oven temp to 450. Remove the lid after 15 minutes and rotate the bread. Cook for another 20 minutes or so until the bread is done (nice color, sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, internal temperature of 180 (or above, but try and stay closer to 180 than to 200).

03 January 2012


Over the slow weeks of the holidays, E and I talked a few times about making cookies but never quite got around to it. Something about lazy days spent huddled in front of your computer, slaying dragons and harvesting all manner of material, makes me want cookies. Unable to resist the urge any longer, I created these beauties:
The recipe is mine, approximated by browsing a few cookie recipes online to get some basics (I don't know how much flour you need per egg, nor the baking soda/powder requirements) and took the rest from my long history of making shortbread. The goal here was a fluffy cookie - Blue Bottle has these snickerdoodles which transcend cookie-dom; they are fluffy and airy, not too sweet, full of flavor. I wanted something like that at home. An aside: the rest of their cookies are spectacular, specifically the Sesame Absinthe Cigar ( Biscotti Regina) and their Gingersnaps.

For flavor, I didn't want to go grocery shopping which left me with a few options: fresh ginger, chocolate (chips or powder), nuts, oats, and molasses. Also malted barley, which I use for bagels, caught my eye; molasses in cookies is good but adds a heavy flavor; I figured the malted barley would do a lighter flavor and keep the cookies a white/yellow color. That plus ginger settled it, and so I got these. They are very fluffy and not too sweet with a ginger punch that has gotten stronger overnight; they almost border on biscuit/scone territory, but are definitely cookies.
Makes ~15 cookies (feel free to double; this is roughly a half-batch)

1 cup flour
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg (I wouldn't double this - most recipes online are 1 egg for every 1.5-2 cups flour)
1 tbsp malted barley (you can use honey as a substitute)
~1 knuckle fresh ginger (1 tbsp most likely, though I didn't measure)
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda (because there is some acidity in the cookies)
1/4 tsp baking powder (because I wasn't completely sure there was enough)

If you have a mixer, this recipe is really easy. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy stirring. I don't, but I still did it. Combine the butter and sugar and mix quickly until creamed. It helps if you chop up the butter and leave it on the counter to soften. Add the egg to the bowl and beat on high for as long as your arm can take, then another minute or so (at least 5 minutes). The goal is to get some air into the batter.

Add the baking powder, vanilla, salt, barley, and grate the ginger over the bowl (so that if any liquid comes out you get that as well). Stir for just a minute or so, until blended. Line baking sheets with parchment. Form cookies by filling a tablespoon with batter and level off, then scoop out with a spoon onto the sheet - these are your cookies. Cover with plastic and cool in the fridge for at least an hour. Cook at 350 for 17-20 minutes, until the edges have begun to brown.

If you want, you could chill the dough between mixing and shaping; this would allow you to actually shape the dough by hand instead of plopping it onto the sheet because anything else is too sticky.

02 January 2012

Roasted Cauliflower & Grilled Rice Soup

Have you ever tasted an ingredient and thought to yourself "where have you been all my life"? Have you ever had mirin? Go ahead, Wikipedia it. I even gave you the link. It is sugar and booze, rice wine specifically. And, at least in the dish I made for dinner, delicious. The impetus for trying this was, of course, the Momofuku cookbook I received as a gift. I went to the store knowing I needed mirin and sushi rice, and had remembered something with fish sauce and cauliflower or brussels and silken tofu.

My memory failed me - there was something with fish sauce and cauliflower, and also something with silken tofu and sushi rice, but it was not the same recipe. So I improvised and ended up with what could only be described as a matzo ball soup that took a red eye from New York to Tokyo and dealt with its debilitating fear of flying by getting absolutely smashed and waking up in the seedy underbelly of Tokyo with no clue how it got there.

Or, as I called it in the title, Roasted Cauliflower & Grilled Rice Soup. You may or may not want to cook this; you could probably make a great meal out of it (instead of a delicious but incredibly mis-matched one) by removing the cauliflower/fish sauce and substituting some pickled carrots and more flavor in the tofu.

No formal recipe here, only an ingredient list and prep. Part of this (the cauliflower) is because it is mostly ripped from a cookbook and the other part (sauce for the rice) is that I didn't measure. But, yes, the meal.

The cauliflower was tossed in oil and salt then roasted until it started to brown. Afterwards, it was tossed in the fish sauce vinaigrette from Momofuku. The recipe was supposed to have other things, like toasted puffed rice, fried cilantro leaves, etc. I ignored all of that.

The grilled rice patties were formed by cooking some sushi rice and then beating it into a pulp - first with a spoon then, when I realized the futility of that, with my hand. Make sure you let the rice cool a bit (so you don't get burned) and keep your hand a little wet (so the sushi rice doesn't stick to you) if going this route.

After getting the rice pulpy, form it into a cylinder with wet hands and put it in the fridge for a few minutes to chill while you prep the sauce. I didn't measure anything, really, so these are my guesstimates: 5 parts mirin, 2 parts sesame oil, 1 part sriracha, a dash of soy sauce, and a clump of black sesame seeds. After mixing the sauce, heat a bit of oil in a pan over medium-high. Remove the rice cylinder from the fridge and cut into pucks.

Throw into the pan and sear/sautee until they have developed some golden-ness on one side, then flip over and repeat. Once both sides are looking a little browned, turn down the heat to medium-low, let the pan cool down a bit, and throw in the sauce, tossing to coat.

All of this was served in a bowl of silken tofu, vigorously stirred with a spoon then heated until it began to separate slightly, about five minutes.