Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Election 2012 in Sandwiches

The Romney/Ryan Sandwich

PB&J, crusts removed for the fussy, childish, and wasteful.
On "wheat bread." Claims to be wholesome but in fact processed, tasteless, and unhealthy.
What is jelly? Contains no real fruit.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich conceived prior to 1940. 
Does not mix well with other foods or flavors.
Tiresome; provincial.

The Obama/Biden Sandwich

Pâté, tomato-onion chutney, greens, and hot mustard on baguette seeks balance of different flavors. 
Engaged with the present; reflects current food trends.
Not fearful of innovation, change, or global influences.
Comfortable with messy, complex realities; chutney and mustard will drip down from sandwich.
Good for women. Iron-rich liver pâté lowers anemia risk.

Leek Bread Pudding: Putting Stale Bread to Good Use

From Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home comes this holiday side dish or hearty lunch. 

This is bread pudding as it should be: simple and rich. It features leeks and chives, those underappreciated relatives of the glorious onion. Certainly not a health food. But a slice or two accompanied by a bitter green salad (to cut through the richness of the pudding) hits the spot on a cold winter's day. 

Since its early origins, bread pudding has helped cooks use up stale bread. Sweet or savory, this tried and true method has stayed the same for centuries: bread cubes soaked in a custardy bath of eggs and milk. Keller's version takes a little over an hour to bake but prep is fairly easy.

You will need to own or buy:
  • 5 cups sliced leeks (about 2 large leeks)
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 cups 1-inch cubes of crustless brioche or pullman bread. (I used brioche hamburger buns and left some of the crusts on.)
  • 1 Tbs. chopped chives
  • 1 tsp. thyme leaves
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 cups whole milk (use low fat if you prefer)
  • 3 cups heavy cream (use half and half if you prefer)
  • freshly grated nutmeg 
  • 1 cup grated Comté or Emmenthaler

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place sliced leeks in a large bowl filled with water and swish around to remove grit. 

Warm a large skillet over medium-high heat and add drained leeks. Season with Kosher salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure that leeks don't stick to skillet. As leeks begin to soften, lower heat to medium-low. Stir in butter to emulsify and season with pepper to taste. Cover pan with a piece of parchment paper and cook for 30 minutes, until leeks are very soft.

Meanwhile, toast bread cubes in a baking sheet in the oven, until golden brown. About 10 minutes. Rotate pan halfway through. Transfer bread cubes to a large bowl.

Add leeks to bread. Then add chives and stir well to incorporate. Add thyme and stir.

In another large bowl, lightly whisk 3 eggs. Whisk in milk and cream. Add a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and a generous pinch of nutmeg.

Sprinkle half the cheese (1/2 cup) on bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Add half the leek and bread cube mixture on top. Pour enough custard mixture to cover the bread and press gently with the back of a spoon. Allow to sit and soak for 10 minutes so that bread absorbs liquid. Then add remaining bread and custard mixture. Top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and a sprinkle of salt.
Bake for 60-75 minutes, until pudding looks set and top is brown and bubbling.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Brussels Sprouts with Kimchi

From David Chang. Spicy, crunchy, and suitably fall-like. Recipe below.

So, what's the deal with Brussels sprouts? (Asked in Jerry Seinfeld voice.)
Are they really Belgian? Actually...only in English and French do the cabbages that every child loves to hate bring to mind Belgium. Turns out "Brussels sprouts" dates back to the 16th century when the first large-scale sprout cultivation took place in the Low Countries. Yada yada yada.

Momofuku Brussels Sprouts. Feeds 3-4. 

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, rinsed, outer leaves removes, and halved (through core)
1/4 lb. smoked bacon, cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch long pieces
1 cup napa cabbage kimichi, puréed in the blender
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup julienned carrots

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook bacon pieces in a oven-proof skillet over medium heat, stirring until just about crisp, approx. 7 minutes.

With slotted spoon, transfer bacon pieces to paper towel-lined plate. 

Wipe bacon fat from skillet and add Brussels sprouts, cut side down. Raise heat to medium-high and cook about 3-4 minutes, until sprouts are seared and dark brown. 

Place skillet in oven and cook 8 minutes or so. Then shake skillet, or with a spoon, stir sprouts. 

Cook another 10 minutes until sprouts are bright green and tender when pricked with a knife.

Return skillet to stove. Add butter, bacon, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to incorporate.

Divide puréed kimchi among bowls. Layer Brussels sprouts on top, then add julienned carrots. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Miso Grilled Cheese

Ahhh miso. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. The rich saltiness of fermented soybean paste is one of those umami flavors that defies description. Miso is often a major component in soups, sauces, and salad dressings. Occasionally it shows up in desserts. How such a bold flavor also manages to stay subtle is precisely what makes miso so special. 

Which brings me to my next point. Add a generous slick of miso to your grilled cheese. Miso gives the old-school comforts of buttery crispy toast and soft oozy cheese a modern sweet-salty touch that is delicious. For two sandwiches, I use three teaspoons of yellow miso, which is milder than the red or brown varieties. A container can happily hang out in the refrigerator for months.

Miso Grilled Cheese (2 sandwiches)

  • 4 slices bread
  • 3 tsp. yellow miso
  • 6 slices tomato
  • 6 basil leaves
  • 1 cup grated sharp Cheddar
  • butter    
Set 4 slices of bread on a work surface. Bread choice is up to you but I like a good country loaf to ensure crispiness. 
On 2 of the slices, spread 1 1/2 tsp. miso. On top, place 3 slices tomato and 3 basil leaves.
Then add 1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar. Top with unused bread slices. Press down. Butter the top of each sandwich.
Heat skillet over medium-low heat. Add sandwiches, butter side down. Cover. Grill 4-5 minutes on each side, turning once. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wow, Mr. Latte's Almond Cake is GOOD

On a recent visit to the Berkeley Bowl, arguably the world's best grocery store, a special item caught my eye. Not the bargain basement heirloom tomatoes or the 45 varieties of apples, but the bricks of almond paste piled high in the bulk section. I am always on the lookout for quality marzipan after a year's sojourn in Berlin, where I gorged on the good stuff, so a light bulb flickered in my head.

What to do with a pliable lump of almonds and sugar?? Then I remembered a recipe filed away long ago: Amanda Hesser's almond cake. (Actually her mother-in-law's cake.) The recipe first appeared in the pages of Hesser's food memoir Cooking for Mr. Latte, and has since then reached celebrity status, at least on the baking blogs. Almond paste imparts a sweet, nutty flavor that is reminiscent of marzipan while the cake's sugary-ness is kept in check by the addition of sour cream. 

I am picky about cakes and prefer them not too sweet, rich, or artificially flavored. This one is a real winner. Plus, it lasts at least a week and miraculously stays nice and moist. Recipe can be found here with one important caveat: watch the typo. The ingredients suffice for 1 cake (not 2), which should be baked in a 9-inch springform cake pan. (Btw, I used my electric mixer - not a stand mixer with a paddle attachment - and did not encounter any problems.)

Back to marzipan...How did Germany's Baltic coast became famous for a confection made of almonds which, last time I checked are not cultivated anywhere in northern Europe? Turns out the candy's origins are old and very much in dispute. One theory has marzipan entering Europe from Persia through present-day Turkey, making a pit stop in the Republic of Venice before traveling north to the Hanseatic city of Lubeck. Today, the designation "Lubeck Marzipan" is protected by the European Union.

The other theory, probably more convincing, is that medieval cooks in Toledo, Spain are responsible for marzipan. One Thousand and One Nights features "a mixture of almonds and sugar" eaten for the duration of Ramadan. Yum.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Kimchi Quesadillas

These spicy, cheesy hybrids come from a Los Angeles food truck chef and recently appeared in Gourmet magazine as one of Ruth Reichl's favorite October recipes. Kimchee, quesadillas, and Ruth's seal of approval? Really, there's nothing not to like here.

The original version calls for shiso leaf. Unless you are running a sushi joint out of your kitchen, I can't fathom why you'd have this herb on hand. I substituted spinach, which worked beautifully. For two quesadillas, you will need:
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 cup cabbage kimchi, drained and chopped (look near the pickles; these days most grocery stores carry it)
  • 2 8-inch flour tortillas (standard size)
  • 8 spinach leaves 
  • 2 Tbs. sesame seeds, toasted (warm these in a small saucepan over medium heat for a couple of minutes, making sure not to burn seeds)
  • 1 cup coarsely grated sharp Cheddar
  • 1 cup coarsely grated Monterey Jack
  • canola oil for brushing

First, melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add kimchi and cook for 5-7 minutes, until kimchi is warmed through and edges are browned. Set aside and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Next, take a tortilla and on the bottom half, place spinach leaves. Layer kimchi, sesame seeds, and cheeses on top.

Wipe skillet clean with a paper towel and return to medium-high heat. Brush a couple drops of canola oil to coat skillet. Wait a minute or two for oil to become hot.

Fold quesadilla in half and add to skillet. Cook 3-5 minutes on each side, flipping once.