Seeking Perfection (and Cake)

Theres a new NYT column from Yotam Ottolenghhi titled: Eat Your Sugar in which he speaks to the wonderful experience of sharing food with another human being. That “moment of bliss that you see when someone bites into something sweet and delicious for the first time”.

I know exactly how he feels. It’s the same joy I get when I enter into a sweet experiment and then offer my creation to friends and family. Watching the recipient close their eyes and smile as they taste notes of love that were part of its preparation are one of the most rewarding experiences I can testify. It’s on par to how I feel when I get inspired by something and then set about making it my own.

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A month ago, a friend sent me an Instagram pic of an insanely gorgeous crepe cake. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Layers of cream and marmalade between whisper-thin golden crepes. Having made marmalade recently, I thought this would be the perfect foil, and so a sort of experiment ensued. I made a pastry cream steeped with ginger and saffron, prepped a tower of crepes, and gathered my blood orange marmalade. My expectations turned ever so slightly to disappointment as the resultant cake appeared less glamorous than I’d anticipated.

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And yet, I served it anyway; with minimal apologies, because it was made with love and some damn fine ingredients, to say the least. The response was no less than sincere appreciation and enjoyment.

It’s only through tactile experience that we learn what works and what doesn’t, as well as how to improve upon the task the next go-around. We also learn that perfection is not necessarily the endgame and that expecting perfection can be a bit misguided. Sometimes things are a bit messy; just like life. I can’t think of a better metaphor.

But not to worry! I’ll leave you with something delicious:

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Take these cookies, sub in half brown sugar, fold some melted chocolate into the dough, as well as a healthy handful of dried cherries, and sprinkle generously with Maldon or fleur de sel before baking. Bliss is guaranteed! (just ask MKN)

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Enjoy, and much love,
J

Soup as Temptress.

There are synchronistic moments when an idea will come along that aligns with what I am needing and craving right now. Like a soup that mandates a long, slow pause in the frenetic activities of the day; something to draw out and accentuate the slowness of things, while simultaneously rewarding one with something of deep satisfaction and flavor.
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I remember tucking away a recipe I’d discovered for a spicy pork soup about a month ago; I was completely drawn to the flavors, however laboring over a soup for two days was simply not something I was in the space for. But there was something about it that held me, and I knew that I would draw upon it for inspiration, when the timing was right.

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Therefore, upon waking up from a hasty nap to find grey Seattle skies and buckets of rain, making an unctuous, warming soup felt like the most natural thing to do.
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What I loved about this soup is the layering of flavors to build complexity. Meaty pork bones are caramelized, then set to luxuriate with umami-rich seasonings and aromatics in a long-simmering broth. I embellished it a bit by adding warming spices like cinnamon, ginger and chile, along with star anise, which imparted an intoxicating aroma and heat.


I’ve never made a stock this sexy, with velvet undertones and a sheen that glimmers like gold in the moonlight.
It was worth every second of my attention and was definitely a labor of love.
For something this good requires time, patience, generosity, nurture; much like that of a lover, along with intuition of what will ignite the senses; bring one to their knees in adulation and appreciation.
And ultimately, begging for more.
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At first glance, this recipe may seem rather laborious, however once the stock is prepared, the remaining components are fairly straightforward and easy to pull together. There’s minimal chopping and actual hands-on time. As usual, I made modifications to suit my taste and intuition, however i highly recommend pounding the furikake with sesame oil into a paste to release the intense bitter-sweet oil that mingles so nicely with the seaweed.

I could see how additional condiments like toasted coconut, slivered black garlic and a healthy squeeze of lime would only add to the delight of flavors coming from this dish.

Enjoy, and much love,
J

Spicy Pork Noodle Soup with Aromatics
*Inspired by Gingerroot’s Spicy Sesame Pork Soup with Noodles

For the stock:
1.5 lb bone-in pork shoulder
1 ham hock, smoked
1 small bunch scallions
1 onion, quartered
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3-4 large pieces
3 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp red chile flakes
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp tomato paste

Method:
Preheat oven to 400. Place meat on an oiled roasting pan and roast for ~30 minutes.
Turn, then add to roasting pan the onion, carrot and scallions. Roast further for ~20 minutes, then remove from oven.
Scrape meat and vegetables into stockpot, using a little water to deglaze pan and add any remaining bits to the pot.
Add ~14 cups of water to pan, then toss in the remaining spices. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered for ~2.5h, or until the meat begins to pull away from the bone.
Remove meat from broth, and test for doneness, if it easily shreds into pieces, then it’s done. If not, continue to cook for ~30-60 minutes longer until the meat is ready. Set meat aside in refrigerator for later soup assembly.
Let broth cool in the refrigerator overnight to allow fat to separate from stock. Setting the pot in a large ice bath will expedite the cooling process. Once cool, remove layer of fat from the surface.

To prepare the soup, you will need the following:
1 tbsp mirin
1/4 cup furikake (sesame-seaweed blend)
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp of red miso paste
1/2 head Napa cabbage, shredded (~4-5 cups)
1 tsp sesame oil
reserved pork
~8 oz rice vermicilli noodles
chopped scallions
cilantro
sambal oelek (chili paste)

Method:
Set stock over medium high heat and add mirin.
Grind the furikake and sesame oil into a paste with mortar and pestle, then add miso.
Add to that miso paste; whisk into stock. Let simmer for ~30 minutes.
While stock is simmering, prepare cabbage. Place a large pan over medium heat and add sesame oil and cabbage, allowing cabbage to wilt for ~5 minutes before adding the reserved meat. Cook for a further ~5-10 minutes.
In a separate stockpot, boil water for noodles; prepare per package recommendations. Set aside.

To assemble the soup:
Layer rice noodles, then pork/cabbage mixture in large soup bowls. ladle hot broth over each bowl, then top with scallions, cilantro and a healthy dose of chili paste. Add additional condiments, as desired.

In Which She Finds Salad to be More Her Liking.

Pear Almond Upside-Down Cake

Pear Almond Upside-Down Cake

To put it mildly, writing this past year has been a struggle. During the past several months, I’ve had to wade through the cobwebs of my mind for a bit of inspiration. It’s been a bit frustrating and has at times left me feeling somewhat forlorn.

Enter: Summer Fruit.
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Being a city gal no dirt call her own, I get my perishables from the Farmer’s market, brick-and-mortar, and a bit of foraging. In Summer months, I’ve got dear friends and family who generously share with me a bit of their harvest.

This year, it seemed to come all at once. Tomatoes, pears, plums. The kind of fruit that requires one to be ready for action. Needless to say, I produced several small-batch wonders.
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~An orgasmic caramel-vanilla pear butter
~A zippy plum chutney
~Blushing strawberry preserves.
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And then the cakes…I have made several over the past couple of weeks. I’ll debate anyone who disagrees with me that cake is a perfectly acceptable stand-in at breakfast. Add some eggs, or plain yogurt, and there you have it: a complete meal. My favorite cake as of late is a variation on this olive-oil ricotta cake in which I substituted some cornmeal for part of the flour.
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But what’s carried me through this past week and sustained me throughout the long hours and hectic days is a hearty dish of my own genesis. I was perusing the internet and reading a post on grain salads in one of the Food52 columns, which got me thinking about my pantry. Needless to say, it had been a while since I’d done any serious shopping and my cupboards a bit paltry, however I had a bit of red rice tucked away, along with some coconut chips, from which sparked an interest in a salad fleck with toasted coconut and pistachios, and a kaleidoscope of colorful veggies, complemented with a spicy ginger miso dressing.
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This salad was so bright and hearty, the pistachios flecking about like little green jewels. It’s appealing on a multi-sensory level. I ate it for several days running.
I imagine this salad would easily lend itself to substitution, say; wild or brown rice, farro, wheat berries or another grain. Ditto that for the pistachios. The key is to let the grains cool thoroughly before combining them with other ingredients. I like to line a pan with parchment and pour the grains out onto the parchment to let the excess moisture evaporate before mixing with the other components.
Buddha's Salad

Buddha’s Salad

I’m calling it “Buddha’s Salad,” because, well…it feels appropriate.
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Enjoy, and much love,
J
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Buddha’s Salad
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3 c. cooked red rice (or sub another grain)
2 c shredded red cabbage
1 c shredded carrot
1/2 c. finely sliced green onion (green parts only)
1/2 c. fresh cilantro
1 c. toasted coconut chips
1/2 c toasted pistachios
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For the dressing:
1/4 c rice vinegar
2 tbsp miso paste, more to taste
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp grated ginger (I often cheat and use the Ginger People brand grated ginger)
1/2 tsp red chile flakes
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Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients; toss with salad mains to coat. Eat with exuberance.
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Time for Savory.

Most the time my week involves simple food: thick slices of crusty bread, smeared with avocado and sprinkled with coarse salt. A toasted sandwich. Roasted root vegetables. A quick soup puréed with whatever I can find on hand, adding meat or legumes if I’m feeling the need for something a little heartier. An easy salad with poached egg. Green smoothies and the like.
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Lately I’ve been more interested in creating sweets that I almost need an excuse to make something outside of my usual repertoire.
Rhubarb-Pear Tart with Almond Crumble

Rhubarb-Pear Tart with Almond Crumble

This’ll go on for some time. When I start to worry that I’ve forgotten how to cook, I’ll open my books and my refrigerator and glean inspiration, usually starting with the latter and ending with the former. This weekend, I was celebrating a friend’s birthday and wanted to bring something interesting and delicious to share. I had this beautiful bulb of fennel, and I knew that would be the genesis of my creation.
Run-spiration.

Run-spiration.

As per usual, I set out on my run and let things percolate. I found myself thinking about the kale, and dried apricots at home, just waiting for something purposeful. I imagined a weaving them into a salad of hearty grains and a silky-sweet-tart vinaigrette.
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And so on the way home, I picked up a package of farro and went from there. For those unaware, farro is hearty variant of wheat berry, with origins in Northern Italy. It is similar to barley in appearance; chewy, nutty and yet surprisingly light. It adds great depth and body to soups and is fantastic in grain-based salads.
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I loosely based this recipe off another inspired recipe from Ottolenghi that calls for roasting fennel and red onion prior to folding into a warm, rice or quinoa-based salad. It seems this recipe has gone through several adaptations, and so I feel comfortable calling this one my own, however for the original post in Cardamom can be found, here.
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This salad is fantastic when served at room temperature, and even better the next day, when the flavors have had married together a bit. I was witty enough to steal a bowl away for myself before sharing, and was glad to do so, as there was none left when I was making my way home. Now that, friends, is the sign of a good dish! I can only imagine this dish would be even better by roasting fresh apricots along with the fennel and onion.
Enjoy, and much love,
J
 
Roasted Fennel and Apricot Salad with Farro

Roasted Fennel and Apricot Salad with Farro

 
Roasted Fennel and Apricot Salad with Farro
*Note: Soaking the farro for an hour or so will reduce the cooking time a bit. Otherwise, be prepared to wait an hour or more to put it all together. Likewise, if the apricots are too firm, give them a quick soak in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then drain.
Ingredients:
1 c farro
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, sliced about 1/4-in thick
1 large red onion, sliced about 1/4-in thick
4-5 lacinato (flat) kale leaves; sliced into ribbons
1 large handful cilantro, chopped roughly
1/2 c dried apricots (I prefer Turkish, because they are generally softer), cut into quarters
1/3 c chopped walnut
For the vinaigrette:
2 tbsp olive oil
juice and zest of one lemon
1 tsp ginger paste, or 1 tsp grated ginger and a pinch of sugar
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1/2 tsp sea salt
Method:
  1. Boil Farro for ~60 minutes in a large pot with 1 tsp salt and ~5 cups water until al dente (for quick-cooking farro, prepare according to package directions). Drain and let cool slightly
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
  3. Toss fennel and onion in 2 tbsp of the olive oil and a smatter of salt. Spread onto baking sheet and roast for ~40 minutes, giving a turn about 20-30 minutes through, the latter if you want a more charred effect. Let cool slightly, then scrape into a large bowl.
  4. Place kale ribbons on baking sheet and set in warm oven for about 5 minutes. It doesn’t need to be on; you just want to wilt and toast it a bit. Remove from oven and add to onion/fennel mixture.
  5. Make vinaigrette: Combine all ingredients; whisk. Taste, and adjust seasoning as needed. Set aside.
  6. Add farro, walnuts and apricots to roasted vegetables; toss with vinaigrette. Fold in cilantro and adjust seasonings as needed.

 

Teaser.

Good golly. I have patience for many things in the kitchen, however despite the allure of this bread, I am steering clear of any attempts to recreate its blistery-golden crust and likely stellar chew. There was, once, a failed attempt at making sourdough starter some ten years ago,  after I’d ogled my way through the La Brea Bakery bread book. However after several days, I needed a break and made for a weekend getaway.
In the middle of Summer.
Needless to say, when I’d returned, my starter was a giant, pungent, purple mass, bubbling over the top of my refrigerator in 85-degree heat.
That was my last experience with long-fermentation, and the words “feed me, Seymour!” are always in the recesses of my mind. The humming and cooing over craft loaves in recent articles makes me grateful to live in an area where celebrated bakeries such as Macrina, Tall Grass, Columbia City and Essential Baking Company are within a quick walk or farmer’s market-reach away.
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Coconut Cream Cake.

Moving on.
I took an extended weekend to spend time with family, peppering it with a bit of travel and baking. The cake above is just a teaser, as I’m still tweaking the recipe. I hope to post it eventually.
The week finds me craving the comforts of home, and of good company. I’d invited a girlfriend of mine over for dinner who prefers to avoid both meat and gluten, so naturally my mind conjured up Eastern flavors. I had some red lentils and a tin of tomatoes on hand, and plenty of spices, along with some ghee I’d made a few weeks back. If you’ve never made ghee, or clarified butter, it’s insanely easy to do; all one needs is a bit of mindfulness and time.
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Lately, I’m come to favor blooming spices in a bit of fat or oil. Usually I’l grind or bruise them with either a mortar and pestle or, to be truthful, my coffee grinder. If I’m feeling lazy, I’ll just toss them into the dal at the beginning of cooking. Needless to say, freshly-ground or bloomed spices are simply the best way to get the truest flavor and aromatic bang from your ingredients.
Red Lentil Dal with Tomatoes

Red Lentil Dal with Tomatoes

For this dal, I bloomed the spices in ghee, and cooked the lentils along with lots of garlic and ginger and chopped tomatoes. It’s fantastic served with some nutty basmati rice. It’s my ultimate comfort food.
Enjoy, and much love,
J
Ooh! p.s. I also whipped up some pickles. Well, carrot pickles. They should be ready in about 5 days.
Lucky me.
Spiced Carrot Pickles

Spiced Carrot Pickles

Red Lentil Dal with Tomatoes
2 c. water
1 c. red lentils
1-2 tbsp fresh chopped ginger
1 tbsp finely sliced garlic
1 14.5 oz plum tomatoes, chopped, reserving most of the liquid
1 tbsp ghee, or unflavored oil
5 cardamom pods
1 tsp brown or black mustard seed
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin seed
1-2 chills or 1/2 tsp red chili peppers
Salt, for seasoning
Basmati rice, cooked, to serve
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Method:
Combine first five ingredients, including tomato juice in a 4-quart pan over medium high heat. As mixture comes to a boil, reduce to low and simmer, covered.
Meanwhile, bloom the spices: melt ghee in sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add spices and toss well, cooking for no longer than 30-60 seconds so as to avoid burning. Scrape ingredients into pan with lentils, cover again and continue cooking.
Check lentils for doneness at ~35-40 minutes. They should be soft and mash slightly with the push of a spoon. Season with salt to taste and serve over rice and garnished with cilantro.

 

Love in the Time of Pastry.

Often, I feel a natural pull toward the kitchen to get creative and make something sweet. I have an insatiable sweet tooth, admittedly. This desire generally peaks after I’ve gotten home from a full day of activities, donned my sweats and T-shirt, and simply cannot bear the thought of leaving my cozy apartment to be assaulted by the bright lights of a grocery. Oh, and people. Not that I am an unsociable person, quite the opposite. It’s just that once I’ve expended my mental and emotional energy of the day, I need a respite. That’s when having a somewhat decently-stocked pantry comes in handy.

Given that it’s Fall, I naturally turn to more things like pastries and pies and cakes; something fruity and not too sweet. I surveyed my cupboard and had odds and bits of different types of flours, a few apples in the refrigerator and a stick of butter. What emerged is destined to repeat, for sure.

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These apple galettes are quite possibly one some of best mini pastries I’ve made; perfect for breakfast, after dinner, or pretty much any time of day, really.

Feel free to substitute a combination of flours with this one; I’m thinking rye flour might be a nice addition.  However, if using a dense whole-grain flour, don’t add more than ~1/3 cup, or you’ll need to play with the fat and liquid components of the pastry dough.

Ooh! And adding some candied ginger to the filling might be nice as well. I would go for about two tablespoons, and cut back on the sugar by equivalent volume. And I would hold off on adding the grated ginger, as is it might be a bit overpowering.

~Mise en Place

~Mise en Place

Apple Ginger Galettes

For the pastry:
2/3 c unbleached pastry flour
1/3 c whole wheat, rye, or Emmer flour
1 tbsp unbleached sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
8 oz (1 stick) butter
For the filling:
4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced about 1/4 inch wide
1/4 c unbleached sugar
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 tap cinnamon
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
Additional ingredients
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
2 tsp coarse sugar, such as demerera
Method:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
1. Combine all of the filling ingredients; set aside.
2. Prepare the pastry; refer to this link for basic dough prep http://redflowerjlhcooks.com/2013/07/25/or-how-to-make-a-pie/
  1. Cut chilled dough into four equal pieces.
  2. Roll into ~1/8-in thin circles, You’ll want them to be about 8 inches in diameter.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment for the pastry, or put each circle onto individual parchment squares.
  4. Give the filling a quick stir to redistribute the juices, then scoop into the center of each pastry.
  5. Gently fold up about 1-2 inches, pinching each fold together to ensure a decent seal.
  6. Brush the edges of crust with egg, then sprinkle galettes with demerera (or other sugar on hand)
  7. Bake 15 minutes, then turn heat down to 350 degrees F.
  8. Check the pastry in about 20 minutes; if the crust is browning excessively, cover with foil.
  9. Cook another 15-20 minutes; apples should be juice and bubbly at this point.
  10. Remove from oven, cool slightly and serve.
Bon Apetit, and much love,
J