Saturday, August 14, 2010

Thing of beauty: Creative catering presentations

I spotted this at an event this week: Tiny - miraculously, still crunchy - rice paper cones with a gorgeous - and thankfully still cold - tuna tartar hors d'oeuvre topped with wasabi caviar and presented in a bowl heaped with white and black sesame seeds. Like a sand beach for the tartare cones it was both a nod to the sea and a brilliant touch of flavor on the outside of the cone. Both delicious and a perfectly conceived passed nibble.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Just plain weird

Yes, it is plenty pretty on the plate. And this salad certainly made use of everything coming out of the garden this week. But it is a weird salad, the object of debate around here as to whether it is decent or disgusting. I say around here, as in, in my head, where I have these discussions with myself.

Maybe, had I used a store bought balsamic glaze... I don't know. Watermelon, arugula, and feta alone are not great together. Once in a while I get carried away with a photo and I fail to realize food magazines all too often trip over themselves trying to get a lot of seasonal colors in their shots.

Watermelon, feta, and arugula salad with balsamic glaze, by Bon Appetit, pretty on a plate, not so much on your palate.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spicy Jicama, Apple, Melon, and Tangerine Salad

Just a refreshing change from lettuce-as-salad formulas which have become tiresome in every incarnation (goat cheese or not). Perfect on a hot day, with or without spicy food to go along with its cool, crunchy bite and seemingly made to go along with sultry dinners starring tamarind cocktails. Enjoy.

Spicy Jicama Tangerine Salad
serves 6
adapted from Authentic Mexican, Rick Bayless (1987, William Morrow)

1 small (1 pound or so) jicama, peeled, and cut into 3/4" dice
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 red-skinned apple, peeled, cut, and cored in 3/4" dice
1/2 small cantaloupe, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4" dice
3 tangerines, peeled, broken into sections, and seeds removed
About 2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro/fresh coriander
1 teaspoon dried chili powder
Romaine lettuce for garnish, optional

Marinate the jicama: Place the jicama cubes in a large, non-corrosive bowl, pour over the orange and lime juices, add salt, toss gently with two large spoons to combine, cover and let stand at room temperature for at least one hour.

Finish the salad about 15 minutes before you are ready to serve. Add the cantaloupe, apple, tangerine wedges, and cilantro. toss the mixture every few minutes until ready to serve. Season with the dried chili powder and additional fresh cilantro if you wish. Toss one final time and place on a serving dish atop the romaine leaves if you wish.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pizza Caccia Nanza

Garlic bread: Honestly, I saw no sign of it in Italy. I am willing to believe it exists though, mostly owning to this fine recipe for a light, crispy, yeast bread into which garlic is baked, not applied later. It made a great, new, light lunch with fresh tomato sauce, a little blanched asparagus, and a Sangiovese (which I drink unapologetically with any food I care to, at any time of day).

Pizza Caccia Nanza
Beard on Bread, James Beard (1973, Alfred A. Knopf)

This is a recipe of Edward Gobbi's, from his delightful book, Italian Family Cooking. "The literal translation of caccia nanza," says Mr. Gobbi, "is 'take out before.' When bread is made in traditional Italian households a bit of dough was reserved to make pizza. the pizza was placed in the oven and obviously cooked more quickly... Caccia Nanza is a specialty of Castel di Lama in the Marches. It is the only garlic bread I have eaten in Italy," Mr. Goob concludes. It is perfectly delicious, I might add. It is good with antipasti, or pasta, and the rather flat loaf may be cut in wedges or broken off in pieces.

- James Beard

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees approximately)
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons rosemary
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and warm water in a mixing bowl. Blend well, then turn the bowl on to a lightly floured board. Knead well, for about 15 minutes, and shape the dough the into a ball. Place it in a lightly greased mixing bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Turn the dough onto the board and knead once more. Put it back in the bowl and let it rise again. Then punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface. roll it out to 1/2 inch thickness.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rub the surface of the baking sheet with oil. Transfer the round of dough to the baking sheet. Make indentations over the surface of the dough and insert a thin sliver of garlic and a bit of rosemary into each indentation. Pour the olive oil over the pizza and rub gently with the hands. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the garlic before serving. Serves 4 to 6.

Photos and instructions:

Put the dry ingredients into a bread-kneading stand mixer, otherwise use a mixing bowl and knead the dough by hand. Add the water, mix gently with the batter blade. When mostly combined, finish the mixing my hand. change the mixer blade to a dough hook and turn the mixer on to knead gently for 15 minutes.

Line a ceramic bowl with olive oil. take the dough in your hands and shape it into a ball. Place it in the bowl and turn it once in the olive oil.

Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place it in a draft free place to rise. It is my habit to set the oven to 200, allow it to come up to temperature, shut it off and wait 15 minutes, then place the bowl in the oven, close the door, and leave it to rise 1 1/2 hours. It will double in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl, and on a lightly floured board, knead the dough once again. I did this by hand to soften it, but by all means, place it back under the dough hook if you wish.

To knead by hand, roll the dough towards you under your palm.

Then push it away under the heel of your hand. Repeat for 15 minutes. Add a little more flour as needed if the dough becomes sticky.

Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out on the board per the recipe then transfer to an olive oil lined baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes at 400 degrees, serve immediately.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sopa de Tortilla

Rick Bayless's work maybe be the most authentically perfect Mexican cooking references to ever hit a printing press, but that has not stopped me from bastardizing a few of his recipes to suit my own tastes. Some of the finer instructional points of Authentic Mexican leave me wondering and in some cases I have honed them to something that, in my my mind, is more direct or pleasurable at a taste or texture level.

One of those adjustments occurs with regard to Sopa de Tortilla (Tortilla Soup). One is supposed to sprinkle dried chiles pasillas over the top of the finished soup: I don't want to eat them that way, they are chewy and unpleasant at best in that form. I've incorporated them into the soup here. It makes for far better depth of flavor in a soup I have often found to be a flavor lightweight when made in the eastern United States; a disappointing relative of the darkly satisfying versions served in Mexico. I have come to crave this soup in both hot and cold states and I hope you will find it just as pleasing.

I served it just the other evening with tamarind cocktails and the pair were showstoppers. Enjoy.

Toasted Tortilla Soup
adapted from Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless (1987, HarperCollins)
4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 dried chiles pasilla, stemmed, reconstituted in 1 cup boiling water, seeded, and deveined
1 15 ounce can organic fire roasted tomatoes
1 1/4 quarts good chicken broth (I made mine and keep it frozen, Zuni's recipe here)
Salt, to taste

Tortilla strips:
4 to 6 corn tortilla, preferably stale
1/3 cup olive oil

8 ounces queso fresco (Mexican crumbling cheese)
1 large lime, cut into 4 wedges

In a medium-sized skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion and whole garlic cloves and fry until both are deep golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Scoop into a food processor and add the tomato and chilies and process until very smooth (tiny dark flecks of the chilies will remain apparent, this is fine).

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in the same skillet over medium high heat. When hot, and oil is smoking, add the tomato mixture. Stir constantly until thicker and darker in color; about 5 minutes. Scrape into a large sauce pan.

Stir the chicken broth into the sauce pan, set over low heat, partially cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and season with salt to taste.

To prepare the tortilla strips:

If the tortilla are fresh or moist, let them dry out for a few minutes in a single layer. Slice them in half, then slice the halves cross-wise into strips 1/4" thick. heat the 1/3 cup vegetable oil in a smallish skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add the tortilla strips and fry. When golden, remove and place on paper towels to drain. Dust with salt when just out of the oil.

To garnish and serve:

Once soup is in the bowl, toss a handful of the crisp tortilla strips over the top. Garnish the bowl with a lime slice and pass the crumbled queso fresco at the table.