Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Trio of Butters for King Crab Legs

As we drove through the Anza-Borrego desert, we were greeted by mountains jutting up from the earth.

These weren't the mountains I was used to seeing, blanketed in green and (sometimes) white from trees and snow.

These were bare, barren, exposed - its rocky innards just laying there in plain sight.   It was as though the earth had used all the force it could muster to push itself up and out into the sky in this hot, parched landscape and was unable to cover up.  No dermis of of greenery to be laid gently over it.

At first it was jarring to see, but it became beautifully defiant, challenging each person passing by to take the scene as it is.  So boldly, so proudly standing there with nothing to hide behind.

These crab legs are quite the opposite of those brown, rocky mountains. Instead of being all out in the open, one must work at getting the inside free.  Cracking open those shells to extract that sweet meat waiting patiently for release.

To celebrate the release of the meat, we made a trio of butters for dipping.  Why three?  Well, variety is the spice of life, as they say. One is a miso butter all salt and earthy.  Another is a brown butter one, infused with ginger and notes of lemon.  The third is a grapefruit one, accented with tangy yogurt and and the sweet anise taste of tarragon.  Each bite of crab to be excavated out of its protective shell and dipped into one of the butters.  Unlike the wide open California desert, the crab keeps its essence hidden away.  It takes effort to get at, but it's definitely worth it.

King crab legs, cooked
lemon wedges, optional for serving

Miso Butter:
1 stick unsalted butter
1 teaspoon miso (we used hacho miso)

Gingery Brown Butter:
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon grated ginger, divided
3 1/2 teaspoons meyer lemon juice
pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon agave nectar
1 teaspoon grated ginger

Tarragon and Grapefruit Butter:
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 teaspoon grapefruit zest
1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
kosher salt, to taste

Miso Butter: Over low heat, gently melt butter with miso.  Use a fork to work the miso into the butter.  Remove from heat once melted.

Gingery Brown Butter: In large saute pan, add butter and 1 tablespoon ginger. Melt then allow the butter brown, about 5-7 minutes total. You will see brown specks that have formed on the bottom of the pan. Be careful to not burn the butter.  Once browned, stir in the Meyer lemon juice, salt, agave nectar, and the remaining ginger.

Tarragon and Grapefruit Butter: Melt the butter gently over medium low heat, then stir in the remaining ingredients.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Endive Boats with Browned Mushrooms

Most foods have a unitary spirit, a one defining trait or feeling or taste to offer.

This, however, is a dualistic food. Opposite, opposing forces are swirling around in these boats made from endive leaves and filled with browned mushrooms.  Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  But much less sinister. I hope.

Instead of a composition of good and evil, we have the mature and the jejune.

On the one hand, there is the fussy side, the prim side, the fancy side.  Adult, perhaps.  Stuffed leaves topped with just a bit of grated fennel and tarragon.  Looking all elegant and handsome on a platter.

And yet they also have a fun and relaxed side.  A child-like side.  The side that enjoys serving the leaves separate from the mushrooms, especially on a lazy, sunny Wednesday afternoon.  No fennel or tarragon needed.  There is much delight to be had in taking a spoon and scooping the mushrooms into the leaves and pretending it is a boat. Then subsequently sailing it right into your mouth with its delicious mushrooms perked up with Herbs de Provence and sweetened with pomegranate juice.

Both sides mutually construct, mutually constitute each other.  Defining themselves in opposition to each, i.e.- an adult is a non-child, and vice verse.  Yet these are not so much mutually exclusive as they are twain - both being housed within each of us and within each of these boats.  Depending on all the variables - the time of day, our mood, what was eaten for breakfast, etc., - each of these parts of us, the adult or the child can be accessed.

Just superficial differences separate the child from the adult here - a garnish, full assembly.  But it makes the world of difference, I suppose.

Want some more ideas for using endive? Cooking Light has some fabulous salads like this one and this one to make good use of this vegetable!

2 heads of endive leaves, separated and rinsed
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
grated fennel, optional, for serving
tarragon, optional, for serving

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Once the butter has melted and the bubbles in the mixture have started to subside, add the chopped mushrooms. Stir continuously, allowing the mushrooms to absorb the butter and oil mixture. After a few minutes, once the mushrooms have begun to brown and release their juices.  Sprinkle with Herbes de Provennce, and dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour in the pomegranate juice.  Take off heat and set aside.

If going the fancy route, spoon a bit of the mushroom mixture into each of the endive leaves and top each one with a small grating of fresh fennel and a tarragon leaf.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Seasoned Tofu Nuggets with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce

Sleep is a most unreliable, fickle companion.  Bestowing her presence, when and only when she decides.

Some days, she leaves you much too early, on a most unfortunate, most inconvenient of days. Like, for instance, the night the clocks move ahead one hour for daylight savings time, exacerbating the sleep loss tremendously.  Luckily, or unluckily, in this case, she left Seth and me both, giving the two of us opportunity to commiserate together in our sleepless despair, cursing the world in which we live, one that is supremely unfair in that a 3 am craving for a decent bowl of ramen is left unfulfilled until the following day. This sleep deprivation also results in nonsensical, yet mystifyingly stimulating, conversations about which planet we would vote out of the solar system (answer - MERCURY, naturally).

Or else sleep never even arrives as scheduled.  Leaving you alone, stranded really, with your thoughts.  Which during the daylight hours is quite a lovely experience, but at night, at night it is terrible.  Night thoughts may start out innocently enough, but they quickly become fears and worries that multiply and compound until they themselves form a companion of their own for you, leaving no room in the bed for sleep.

And on the other hand, sleep will show up without so much as a phone call, the equivalent of just dropping by.  This of course happens on those days when there seems to be an impossibly long, ever growing list of tasks to complete.  One sits down for just a second to gather one's thoughts or else to read the child to sleep, and that is when sleep will make her appearance, cradling you into her arms and you are unable to resist the softness, throwing the whole to-do list in disarray. Or else sleep decides to come when you are on a rare night out on the town with the spouse and decide to see a movie at the ungodly hour of 9 pm and find that your eyes are feeling heavy, and while you actually, truly are enjoying the movie, your eyes will absolutely not stay open. Despite a concerted effort at willing your eye muscles to keep them open and  ingesting caffeine in the form of a giant mocha drink.  An apparently impotent drink.  And you find sleep right there in the seat with you.

Sleep, when irregular, when unreliable, leaves detritus in her wake.  Whether in the form of tired bodies or in the form of to-do lists not completed.  Regardless, the world continues to turn and meals still need to be cooked.  But those meals need not be complicated, as complicated endeavors are a precarious undertaking when pressed for time or sleep.  These tofu nuggets, all coated in a seasoned cornmeal mixture and served with honey mustard dipping sauce, can be put together rather easily.  The cornmeal might not be for everybody - it isn't exactly crispy, more like a pleasantly chewy, slightly crunchy texture that is fun to bite down on.  But Max and I enjoy it. And seasoned with some smoked paprika, cumin, and coriander to give the taste buds something to seek out, something earthy, something smoky, something peppery.  A no frills honey mustard sauce makes a nice accompaniment for the the nuggets.  Sleep may be an unreliable companion, but these nuggets are not.

For the nuggets:
1 cup medium grind cornmeal
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
generous pinch kosher salt
12 ounces extra firm tofu, drained, sliced into about 21 squares

For the dip:
1/2 cup mayonnaise (homemade or store-bought)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (I prefer using Maille brand)
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice

To make the nuggets: Heat oven to 375.  Mix cornmeal with the seasonings in a shallow bowl.  Coat the tofu squares in the cornmeal mixture.  The seasoned cornmeal should adhere to the tofu. Place coated squares on baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.

To make the dip: Mix all the ingredients together.  Serve with the nuggets.

NOTE: We did not receive financial compensation for this post. We received the Maille mustard for review purposes. The opinions are completely our own.  The mustard is absolutely wonderful.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Flatbreads with Avocado, Seasoned Red Onions, Cotija Cream Cheese Spread, and Strawberries

This is a snack to be eaten in one of two ways -

1) All proudly assembled

2) Served as components, with all the pieces to be put together on the spot, simultaneously building and eating then rebuilding your afternoon snack

The first has some merits. But the second is my favorite. The experience of finding just the right combination that works for you, of figuring out the precise balance of those bracing red onions to avocado to cream and cotija cheeses to crunchy sunflower seeds to sweet strawberry slices that makes your particular taste buds sing.

Too often, we need our snacks to be quick. To be eaten with only one hand while the other is engaged with wrangling a small child, clicking away at a keyboard, or steering the wheel of a vehicle.

Yet there is a lovely beauty in the solitude of blocking out the responsibilities of the world and concentrating on your own nourishment. Perhaps one will share this snack with others. Perhaps not. If sharing, one may find oneself in a parallel play of sorts, building your snacks side by side, suiting the snack to each individual’s taste buds. I like to call it "parallel eating."

Eventually, the snack time comes to an end, and one resumes attending to all those responsibilities that were pushed aside. But the memory of snack time lingers until dinner.

Need to ripen your avocados? This Cooking Light article will tell you how!

For the seasoned red onions:
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
pinch kosher salt
sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper

For the cream and cotija spread:
8 ounces cold cream cheese
4 tablespoons cotija cheese

For the avocado spread:
2 ripe avocados, mashed with a fork
drizzle of fresh lemon juice (about a teaspoon)
pinch kosher salt
sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper

1 cup sliced strawberries
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
salt and pepper, to taste
4 flatbreads, warmed

Place the sliced red onions in a bowl. Drizzle with lemon juice, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Using a mixer, beat together cream and cotija cheeses.

Mash the avocadoes with a fork. Drizzle with lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

To assemble the flatbreads, spread cream cheese mixture, then avocado mixture. Top with red onions, sunflower seeds, and strawberries. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper to taste. Especially the pepper, it truly makes the flavors pop.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Salty Toasty Umami Popcorn

I find myself refraining from looking at objects too closely.  I suppose this is not a new development.  Just one that I recently noticed.  I resist inspection, as that could lead to seeing too much.  Perhaps this stems from fear, as if one doesn't see it, one can pretend it never happened or doesn't exist.  Or perhaps to retain the beauty, the perfections, as the cracks and the flaws can remain invisible when quickly looked over.  Or perhaps, because quite frankly, I'm just not a visual thinker, so my mind glosses over things.  This tendency stands in contrast to my son, who must inspect all the things very,  very closely.  

I suppose Max is on to something in this case.  There are things I miss out on when I do my standard visual gloss over.  I miss the curves and contours of a single piece of popcorn. The way the seasonings collect in the crevices.  In this case, the speckles of salt and pepper that dot the surface, punctuating the white expanse with bits of color, directing your attention so that your eyes cannot help but be drawn to the sight of the glittery seasonings that await and your fingers are unable to do anything but grab a handful more.  The clinging of the nutritional yeast, holding on to each popped kernel with all of its might, trying to stay connected to this source of warmth.

It seems like a physical impossibility that this shape, the shape in front of you even exists, as they once, just a few moments ago, were part of the uniformed soldiers of kernels, and now in what seems like a defiance of physical laws, each of these heated kernels has burst open and become an individual.  An individual with its very own proportion of salt to pepper to cayenne to nutritional yeast.

While I have something to learn from Max about sight, I have one up on him when it comes to taste.  Taste is not something to be rushed over.  One must linger over each bite, finding the unexpected notes.  The warm, toasted notes from the salt and the peppercorns.  The way the Szechuan peppercorns open up taste buds, acting as an ambassador for the fiery notes of the cayenne.  The umami that comes from the nutritional yeast. The subtle background noise of the olive oil, giving just a hint of fruit. This is a rather stripped down popcorn.  But somehow it is still an electric one.  Something I can't stop eating.  I even catch myself admiring its appearance.

For the toasted salt and pepper:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns

For the popcorn:
approximately 3 tablespoons canola oil (enough to cover the bottom of a large pot)
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
2 -3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1//2 teaspoons ground toasted salt/pepper mix

For the toasted salt and pepper:  We got this technique from Fiona Smith's book Dim Sum.  Place the salt and Szechuan peppercorns in a skillet and cook over low heat for about 3 minutes, until the mixture has become fragrant. Then run the mixture through a spice grinder.

For the popcorn:  Heat the canola oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add three kernels of popcorn and cover pot with lid. Once those have popped, add 1/3 cup of kernels. Shake the pot frequently. In a small bowl, stir the melted butter and the sesame oil together. Once the popping has stopped, turn off heat, add the olive oil mixture and stir to coat. Add the rest of the seasonings.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Rice Pudding, with Tangelo, Hibiscus, and Red Rice

Lists are such a handy tool for organizing thoughts and grouping together like sets of items. For instance, pride. Or more specifically, things that I have either done or not done in the past few weeks and afterwards felt some pride. I'm feeling a bit pleased with myself, as this list isn't short.

Jenn's list of things that she has done or not done recently that make her proud:

-Getting Seth to recoil in horror when making a beastly noise right in his ear (ok, this happens a lot, but I will never cease to feel pride) .

-Finding the smudge known as Andromeda in the binoculars during some nighttime sky watching.

-Figuring out a workaround after Max's light-up toothbrush died

-Not telling my grandmother about her surprise 80th birthday dinner (keeping secrets is not one of my specialties in life).

-Used a plunger without having to frantically call a loved one to find out if I a) did indeed need to use one b) how to actually use it.

-Managed to leave Whole Foods with only two cartons of candy instead of the 5 (give or take) that I wanted to hoard.

-Found a replacement monitor cord just lying in a drawer, and almost successfully swapped this never-been-used one for the extremely frayed, cat-chewed one that we had been using for far, far too long (this is notable because my brain actively refuses to learn anything that remotely pertains to hooking up electronic stuff, and I actually made the correct identification of where this cord goes).

-Made and ate rice pudding, as I had 
previously never made a rice pudding. 

Which brings me to our Creative Cooking Crew challenge entry for this month.  This month’s challenge (hosted by Lazaro from Lazaro Cooks) is all about rice, asking us what we can do to transform, elevate, modernize or creatively spotlight it in a dish.  Check back in a few days for a link to the roundup of everyone's dishes!

I've never been drawn to the idea of rice pudding. I was turned off by the idea of a non-savory use of rice. Texturally, the whole thing seemed utterly unappealing. Plus, my brain automatically equates pudding with chocolate.

I am now ashamed of my audacity, the brazenness in that belief, my lack of imagination, my inability to see how delicious a pudding made from rice can be.

I now understand the appeal. Instead of repulsion, there is delight to be had in sinking your teeth into those little granules of rice, all puffed up from a nice, long cook in some milk, and suspended by a creamy and sweet concoction that struggles lovingly to hold the whole thing together.

Rice pudding is also infinitely customizable, and it now seems ludicrous that I scoffed at it before. I used Bittman's How to Cook Everything to guide me through this whole new world of rice pudding. I was so extremely excited to see that the instructions amounted to basically - stir, put in oven, stir, put in oven, stir, put in oven. Exactly the kind of thing that one can handle with an active three year old demanding continuous attention.

I went with a combination of tangelo, hibiscus and coconut milk for this particular pudding. This is not really the result of a concerted effort, but one of those happy accidents in which mismatched ingredients all found a home with one another. I'm still not quite sure how it was decided that the home would be rice pudding.

The tangelos were extremely hard to not bring home. So bright, almost glaringly so, just about ready to burst with that sweet and tangy juice. So home with me they went. Dried hibiscus leaves had been hanging around in the cupboard, waiting to give a floral, tangy hand to the enterprise. Red rice (a particularly toothsome form of rice), leftover from a previous CCC challenge, was begging to be used up, and would complement the color from the hibiscus. Coconut milk gave the whole thing some heft, some sweetness, some tropical flair. I'm not sure if this fulfills the requirement of the challenge. but at least I feel proud to have tried.

*adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

2 14-ounce cans coconut milk
1/2 cup red rice
5 tablespoons sugar
pinch salt
zest from 1 tangelo
2 tablespoons fresh tangelo juice
1/4 cup dried hibiscus leaves, wrapped in cheesecloth or spice bag
chopped macadamia nuts, optional, for serving

Heat oven to 300. In an ovenproof baking dish or saucepan, stir together coconut milk, red rice, sugar, salt, and tangelo juice/zest. Drop in the hibiscus leaves. Bake for 30 minutes, then stir. Place in oven again for 30 minutes, and stir. Then bake again for another 20-30 minutes, until the rice has plumped up and the mixture is nice and thick. Remove hibiscus leaves.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Blueberry Pomegranate Yogurt with Sage Butter and Almonds

Every once in a great while, lines, shapes, forms and expanses all come together in such a way that one can actually feel the roundness, the spherical nature of the Earth.  This fact, which exists in the realm of abstraction, is accumulated as knowledge, to be carried along like eggs in a basket as one travels along.

There are times, however, when this fact becomes more that theoretical.  It becomes practical and alive.
Instead of seeing the world with its immense tracts of perceived flatness, these rare and beautiful moments occur, in which we can feel the bends and curves of the world . The four dimensions of reality that we know of are actually felt.  Not only known, but experienced.  With sight, with sound, with touch.

The body becomes alive, electric, taking in the sensation and rolling it around in the mind.  For this moment, this brief and fleeting moment, it is as if you have been bestowed a secret from the universe.

That electric feeling... was sparked with this yogurt.  The butter, infused with the unmistakable smell and taste of fresh sage leaves is what does it.  Adding butter to something that generally is served butter-free raises possibilities.  So many possibilities that bend and curve the world of taste, giving glimmers and whispers of what can exist in edible form.

Not only is there sage butter here, but blueberries and pomegranate arils glistening like jewels, dusted with a hint of cinnamon and squeeze of fresh orange juice, orange-scented yogurt, and almonds and flax seeds to give some crunch, some heft to each bite.  A taste of what it means to be alive.

I am aware that blueberries are not yet in season, but here is a video all about this fruit from Cooking Light to file away for that time, that precious precious time when blueberries make their glorious appearance once again.

6 ounces blueberries
1/4 cup pomegranate arils
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoons honey

1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons flax seeds

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
pinch kosher salt
8 sage leaves, torn

In a small bowl, toss the blueberries and pomegranate arils with cinnamon and fresh orange juice.  In another bowl, stir the yogurt, juice, and honey together.  In yet another bowl, combine almonds and flax seeds.
mix everything together

Melt the butter and salt in a small pot over medium low heat.  Add the sage leaves cook for a few moments until the butter takes on a wonderful sage fragrance.  Assemble the yogurt bowls with the yogurt, berries, almond/seed mixture and a generous drizzle of sage butter. Serve immediately before the butter has a chance to harden.
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