Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Plant-based Meal

My friend, Chris started a plant-based diet on January 1st for reasons she'll have to explain.  I can only say that she's sticking to it.  While being a vegetarian is somewhat challenging - plant-based only is downright demanding.   It's not just fish and meat that must be eliminated from your diet - but also anything that is produced by an animal.  That means honey is out too.   However,  I like a bit of a culinary puzzle.  I invited Chris and her husband, Bert to come over for Sunday lunch.  Now, may I say, parenthetically, that Sunday lunch is a tradition that needs to be revived.  I mean, Sunday at about 3pm so that you have all the rest of the day to digest and really don't have to eat an evening meal.  Except for a little snack while watching  Downton Abbey - for example.

I cheated a bit while putting together the meal - with Chris' permission, of course.  I included the butternut squash spread  (which contains the slightest bit of sheep's milk yogurt); a version of the New Year's Eve salad - this time with - beets and celery root very thinly sliced on a mandolin then finely julienned, tossed together with fresh lemon juice, pomegranate seeds, extra virgin olive oil and salt.  The salad was served, garnished with thinly sliced fried shallots - which get very crispy and flavor-filled, and chopped fresh mint; and blood orange and rosemary focaccia.   I subscribe to a food newsletter that recently included a recipe for Meyer lemon focaccia.  However that recipe included sugar sprinkled on top and I wanted a savory flat bread.  So, I did a riff on the recipe and used my dough recipe and in-season blood oranges  for which I have a particular passion.  One of my madeleines is Sicily.  In February, the whole island is dizzily fragrant with orange blossoms most of which will become blood oranges.

I made the dough for this batch with organic all-purpose flour from Wild Hive Farm.  It was the first time I used their flour for this application.  I used my standard focaccia/schiacciata (very thin focaccia) recipe but found the dough to be very sticky and wet so I added some all-purpose white flour to pull it together.

Makes 4 focaccie

For the dough
one 1 1/4- ounce package active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
3 cups organic all-purpose whole wheat flour
1/2 cup organic all-purpose white flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the topping
4 blood oranges, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons flaky sea salt such as Maldon
4 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1.   Make the dough:  Combine the yeast, sugar, and water (I use a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup).  Let stand until foamy, about 15 minutes.  Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Add the olive oil to the yeast mixture, then add the yeast mixture to the flour.  Mix well.  Turn out onto a floured surface.  Knead until soft and elastic, 3 to 4 minutes.
2.   Swish a few tablespoons of the olive oil in a large bowl and place the dough in it.  Turn the dough so it's thoroughly covered in oil.  Cover and place in a warm draft-free environment to rise.   It should double in size in 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Punch down.  Cut into 4 pieces and return to the bowl.  Re-cover.
3.   Heat the oven to 450 - 500 degrees F. ( you know what your oven can do - it needs to be very hot) Have ready 2 baking sheets or jelly roll pans.   Stretch each piece of dough into a log that measures about 3 inches by 12 inches.  Pat down in place on the sheets or pans.   Place the orange slices over the dough.  Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle the salt and rosemary over each schiacciata.  Bake until the crust is golden - 12 - 15 minutes.   { this was the first time that I used my oven for schiacciata and they over-cooked a tad - still very tasty}.  Slice and serve immediately - or even at room temperature.     It would be spectacular with gorgonzola - when you go off the plant-based only diet!

The main course was polenta - moistened with garlic and a tiny bit of hot pepper sauteed in olive oil instead of butter and cheese.  It worked.  The polenta was topped with a stew made with chick peas - soaked overnight and cooked with a piece of onion and bay leaf drained -  added to tomato sauce made with last summer's paste tomatoes that had been frozen and thawed for just an occasion like this one, chard leaves and  ribs separately chopped, and thinly sliced fennel that was first sauteed 'til deep gold in fennel seed-scented olive oil.

The meal was was bright and tasty, flying right in the face of the notion that winter food is dull and monochromatic.   To ensure that our Sunday lunch would be a true respite from the grey, gelid, upstate New York day I set the table with spring colors, and picked up a tussie mussie made with  sweetly fragrant, little yellow puffballs on a stem =  mimosa (another madeleine - February in Genoa), shocking pink tea roses and tulips at Lick the Market ( subscribe to their newsletter - info@lickhudson.com ) where I purchased just about everything else that I used to make the meal.

The food was delicious and very digestible and none of us noticed the absence of meat or dairy.  Can I make a strictly plant-based diet a way of life?  I don't think so.  I like to believe, as Thomas Jefferson did, that meat should be a condiment to your vegetables.  Yes, and a little cheese too!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY  245th ROBBIE BURNS.   Scotland's cherished poet and lyricist - Auld Lang Syne  
It's a tradition among many of his fans, Scots and admirers of everything Scottish to celebrate his birthday with a "Burns Supper"  which has its own particular parameters.   I was fortunate to be an included guest at a Burns supper for his January 25th birthday.   The hostess loosely followed the Supper script.  She served haggis - the loved or hated savory pudding that is traditionally made with minced sheep's heart, liver and lungs, oatmeal, onion, suet and spices stuffed into sheep's lung but NOT made exactly that way in the USA where sheeps' lung is not permitted - stuffed into a chicken breast then wrapped in prosciutto and baked, neeps (mashed turnips), tatties (mashed potatoes) and potatoes Dauphinois in recognition of Mary Queen of Scots', very short-lived  marriage to the Dauphin, the king of France.  Dessert was a chocolate Guiness cake.  If  the Scottish Burns could ever have  tasted the dense, damp, kind of smoky chocolate cake made with Irish (!) stout I'm sure he would have approved.  The cake was iced with a frosting made with cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and heavy cream whipped and applied to the cake so it resembled the head on a pint of Guiness.  All of this meal, which started with Scottish smoked salmon and was accompanied by single malt whisky - a downright genius addition- throughout was delicious and festive, and the company was exactly the same.   Compliments to Morag and Michael.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:   HOT OFF THE PRESS -  a little cookbook that I just made to accompany the goods at LICK the Market.   The more I shopped there the more I realized that I could get just about everything I needed to put meals together.  So, with Michael's  (the proprietor of LICK) OK I put together some recipes using ingredients from LICK's shelves.     You can pick up a copy of  "Cooking from the Market: make good food with ingredients from LICK the market"  at the 253 Warren Street shop.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dinner Party #1

Even although I'm not completely unpacked and situated in my new house - I did work overtime to get the kitchen and dining area into shape so I would be able to cook with ease and entertain  comfortably.    There are a few things that have recently rekindled my enthusiasm for the stove: the new Ottolenghi/Tamimi book, "Jeruslaem" - about which I've already waxed rhapsodic in my last post, and the jar of polenta given to me by my sister, Laura for Christmas.  "It took 9 months to make" she said.   Hmmm.   A week or so later I asked for a more detailed explanation.

"I bought the  seeds from Seeds of Italy - the sole US distributor of Franchi seeds, Italy's oldest seed company.    I sowed the seeds in early June, harvested them just before frost. I let them dry on the stalk in the garden, but after harvest, spread the ears out in the attic to dry for another month.  Then shucked the ears, rubbed the kernels off the cob, sifted out the chaff, and then ground the kernels in the Vita Mix, a very powerful machine.  I sifted the ground polenta again to get out the pieces that didn't grind fine enough.  The chickens enjoyed those.   All together it was NOT the easy Christmas present  that I was imagining when I bought the seeds in January!"

I couldn't wait to cook the polenta.  It got thick and creamy in a matter of seconds - which does happen quickly if you keep stirring with a whisk as you shower the cornmeal into the boiling water.   Incorporated, NOT cooked.  I exchanged the whisk for a wooden spoon and keep stirring for almost 40 minutes.  It tasted almost like fresh corn custard.

Basic Polenta

Bring 5 cups salted water to a rolling boil.  Slowly add the cornmeal, stirring continuously, first with a whisk then with a wooden paddle or spoon.  As the mixture thickens it will begin to "erupt"; lower the heat to a simmer and continue to stir.  When the mixture is thick and smooth, and begins to pull away from the sides of the pot, it's ready, about 40 minutes.   Add unsalted butter and Parmesan cheese to taste.

I was captivated by "Jerusalem"'s recipe for Roasted chicken with clementines and arak from the moment I saw the title and photograph in the same snapshot.   It turned out to be a very good choice to serve with Nantucket/Hudson polenta (those two whaling towns at it again).  The fennel-fragrant, savory-sweet chicken dish just yearned for the warm, soft pillow of corny mush.
This is the right recipe for now - while there are still clementines in the marketplace.

6 1/2 tablespoons arak, ouzo or Pernod
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons grain mustard
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 medium fennel bulbs
1 large organic or free-range chicken, about 2 3/4 pounds, divided in 8 pieces, or the same weight in skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
4 clementines, unpeeled, cut horizontally into 1/4-inch slices
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
2 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, lightly crushed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
chopped flat-leaf parsley to garnish

Put the first six ingredients in a large mixing bowl and add 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper.  Whisk well and set aside.
Trim the fennel and cut each bulb in half lengthwise.  Cut each half into 4 wedges.  Add the fennel to the liquids, along with the chicken pieces, clementine slices, thyme, and fennel seeds.  Stir well with your hands, then leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight (skipping the marinating stage is also fine, if you are pressed for time).  I marinated the ingredients overnight - I think it not only helps the flavor  develop but also divides the work time into 2 separate projects making the recipe seem rather easy.  It is.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.  Transfer the chicken and its marinade to a baking sheet large enough to accommodate everything comfortably in a single layer (roughly a 12 by 14 1/2-inch pan); the chicken skin should be facing up.  Once the oven is hot enough, put the pan in the oven and roast for 35 - 45 minutes, until the chicken is colored and cooked through.  Remove from the oven.
Lift the chicken, fennel, and clementines from the pan and arrange on a serving plate; cover and keep warm.  Pour the cooking liquid into a small saucepan, place over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and then simmer until the sauce is reduced by one-third, so you are left with about 1/3 cup.  Pour the hot sauce over the chicken, garnish with some parsley, and serve.
FYI - I eliminated this last step and just served the whole thing straight from the oven in its baking dish.  Might try it the way the authors suggest next time.  Maybe.

SUSANSIMONSAYS: One last recipe from "Jerusalem" and then you'll have to buy your own copy (I've made 4 recipes from the book since I received it as a Christmas gift - and every single one has worked and has been exceptional).
I served Butternut squash & tahini spread  - with Akmak crackers (available at supermarkets) when a few friends came over for drinks the other night.

1 very large butternut squash, about 2 1/2 pounds peeled and cut into chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons light tahini paste
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 small cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon mixed black and white sesame seeds (or just white, if you don't have  black)
1 1/2 teaspoons date syrup
2 teaspoons chopped cilantro (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Spread the squash out in a medium roasting pan.  Pover the olive oil and sprinkle on the cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Mix together well, cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, and roast in the oven for 70 minutes, stirring once during the cooking.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Transfer the squash to a food processor, along with the tahini, yogurt, and garlic.  Roughly pulse so that everything is combined into a coarse paste, without becoming smooth; you can also do this by hand using a fork or potato masher.
Spread the butternut in a wavy pattern over a flat plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds, drizzle over the syrup, and finish with cilantro if using.  I didn't.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hello 2013

I took a trip even further upstate (than my hometown of Hudson, NY) to celebrate the arrival of the new year.  I went to visit my friends who live in the northern Catskills.  I drove up route 23 two days after a rather big snowstorm that blew in from the Midwest and swept through the northeast .  Fortunately the main routes were clear but the landscape was covered with shimmering snow.  My ears always pop as I climb up higher and higher. This time, driving west into the setting sun, popping ears, and the incandescent light made me feel almost light-headed as I seemed to be at the top of the world.

I arrived to cozy house filled with already arrived guests and the welcoming smell of caldo verde, the great Portuguese kale and sausage soup.  Oh, what a felicitous start of things to come.

I came with an offering for our last meal of 2012 -  Root vegetable slaw with labneh.  The recipe  for the slaw comes from my favorite new cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.   Ottolenghi is the author of last year's favorite cookbook, Plenty - and the owner of a group of eponymous restaurants in London with Tamimi.   I'm absolutely crazy about the combination of ingredients that these two use to create their delectable dishes.   They are both from Jerusalem - Ottolenghi is an Israeli of an Italian father and German mother, and Tamimi is Palestinian.  They came to London, from their divided native city, independently of each other - met in the food world and have been cooking their own mixed, and shared cultural foods together ever since.   If I could, I would fly to London tomorrow just to eat at their establishments which get rave reviews from everyone I know who has eaten in one of them.   Barring a trip to the UK, I've been cooking, with great success from their most recent book.

Here's what they say about the vegetable slaw:
We make this slaw in the winter or early spring, before any of the summer crops are around.  It is incredibly fresh, ideal for starting a hearty meal.  It is also great served alongside grilled oily fish.  The labneh can be substituted with Greek yogurt, well seasoned with some olive oil, crushed garlic, and salt and pepper.  It can also be left out altogether, if you prefer to keep it light and simple.   this recipe was inspired by a dish from Manta Ray, a great restaurant on the beach in Tel Aviv.

I was lucky to find almost all the ingredients that I needed to make this salad from local sources - all gathered together at Lick the Market.  I couldn't find kohlrabi so I just added more of the other ingredients to make up for it.  I used sheep's milk Greek yogurt  instead of labneh - which is quite easy to make as it's basically drained whole milk yogurt -  from Lick as a garnish plopped in the center of the salad.

3 medium beets - 1 pound in total
2 medium carrots - about 1/2 pound
1/2 celery root - about 3/4 pound total
1 medium kohlrabi - about 1/2 pound total
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons superfine sugar 
3/4 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup mint leaves coarsely shredded
2/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 cup labneh or Greek yogurt
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel all the  vegetables and slice them thinly, about 1/16th inch thick.  Stack a few slices at a time on top of one another and cut them into matchsticklike strips.  Alternatively, use a mandoline or a food processor with the appropriate attachment.  Place all the strips in a large bowl and cover with cold water.  Set aside while you make the dressing.
Place the lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan.  Bring to a gentle simmer and stir until the sugar and the salt have dissolved.  Remove from the heat.
Drain the vegetables strips and transfer to a paper towel to dry well.  Dry the bowl and replace the vegetables.  Pour the hot dressing over the vegetables, mix well, and leave to cool.  Place in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.
When ready to serve add the herbs, lemon zest and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the salad.  toss well, taste, and add more salt if needed (yes, needed - I added more).  Serve with labneh - or yogurt - on the side or on top.

The salad was a bright accompaniment to a grand selection of other things - a meal that began with blini and assorted caviars consumed with Prosecco and single malt Scotch around a blazing fire.  And; baked ham glazed with mustard-pineapple sauce - ah, but the ham came from the East Village (NYC) Polish butcher and was filled with real flavor, puree of very local (backyard) potatoes and rutabaga, roasted - backyard too - Brussels sprouts and winter squashes, chutneys, a green salad with currants and shaved Parmesan, etc.

Filled with good food and the bonhomie that comes from being the company of simpatico  people, I believe that I fell asleep before the clock slipped away from 2012 into 2013.  Well, hello 2013, I expect more good food and friends.

The penultimate day of the year was feted at a stunning open house at the Haldeman-Aguiar's mid-century, Ringtop Ranch in Kingston, NY with more friends, good food and drink.

I made Jerusalem's  Cod cakes in tomato sauce for Sunday lunch with a friend.  I used very reasonably priced fresh pollack in the recipe (Lick the Market) and it was very tasty.  The recipe is another keeper.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:   My new kitchen is shaping up into a very comfortable place to cook - and just be in, in the afternoon when the sun is setting over the Catskills streaming favorable light to the room.  Page is open in Jerusalem's recipe for Roasted chicken with clementines and arak (anise liqueur).  Report coming up.