Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Berry, berry good

This is the time of which we dreamed during the long winter in northern Michigan. The beginning of summer and its gloriously fine weather also brings with it our short and delicious strawberry season, followed by cherries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. I recommend gorging.

I purchased a flat of organic strawberries, which is roughly equivalent to 8 quarts. Most of them are now in the freezer in zip-lock bags and will comfort me in winter smoothies 6 months from now. Here's my method of freezing berries:

* Slice off the caps and any rotten parts.
* Dunk the berries in a bowl of cold water to rinse clean.
* Drain in a colander.
* Spread in a single layer on a tray and place in the freezer.
* When berries are frozen, transfer to zip-lock bags and return to freezer.

Strawberries freezing in a pie plate
Of course, you want to use as many fresh berries as your tummy can hold while you have the chance, and I have some quick and easy suggestions.

This summer cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen, adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe, and further modified by me, was so good I had to make it twice. For the first go-round, I made it exactly as written, with the barley flour (yes, I had that on hand due to a winter experiment with barley bread). The second time I was out of milk and white sugar, so I used a combination of yogurt and kefir for the milk and turbinado sugar for the sweetener. It was equally good. When raspberries come in, I think I'll add a little cinnamon to the topping, and maybe a sprinkle of cloves.

I weighed the berries the first time, but just crammed as many as I could fit the second time.

Strawberry cake before baking
 The strawberries shrink a little in the oven and the batter rises around them.

Finished cake. Yum!
Other great things to do with berries:
* pancake topping
* oatmeal topping
* ice cream topping
* blend with milk and drink
* add to salads

Oh, the list is endless. Feast on them while you can!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Extreme Cooking, part 2

Today's post should have been day four on the theme of "sure, cooking is easy, but it doesn't have to be." The problem with extreme cooking is that it doesn't leave much time for blogging. Plus, the weather just turned lovely here in northern Michigan, and I've been wanting to take my cooking breaks outside. Finally I remembered my laptop can also go outside.

Dinner for four turned into dinner on the deck for nine, mostly due to my realization that four people couldn't possibly eat all of this. And we had leftovers, so now I'm trying to wrangle friends into stopping by for lunch. I still have a quart of chilled beet soup.

The most labor-intensive component of the menu was the burnt bread sauce for the slow-roasted carrots. The most difficult component was thinly slicing the gravlax. Even with a sharp knife, my carving skills leave much to be desired. I managed, but it wasn't perfect. The biggest hit was the pistachio dip with flax seed crackers.

I'll explain the recipes, but I don't have the patience to type them all in, even my barely-streamlined versions. Each one from Bar Tartine is pages long. If you think you're up for this type of cooking, I highly recommend purchasing the cookbook.

Also, you'll see now why I'm such a bad food blogger. After four days of cooking (not all day -- it wasn't that intense), I only have a few pictures. I get distracted in the kitchen and I forget to document every step. I have a few photos, but not of everything.

First, the popular flax seed crackers began with flax seeds soaked in a broth of kombu dashi, sundried tomatoes, onion, dill, parsley and garlic. (This meal was made possible by my Vitamix, definitely the workhorse of my kitchen).

After soaking for about an hour, I thinly spread the mixture onto four pieces of parchment paper and put them in the dehydrator for about a day.

Once they were crispy, I broke them into chunks. I didn't take a photo of the finished product, but I think I'll make more to take for book group later this week, along with this French Onion Dip from the chef-authors of Bar Tartine.

The pistachio dip, also made in the Vitamix, wasn't too fussy except for shelling a bag of pistachios, where were toasted with shelled pumpkin seeds:


Aside from those delicious green nuts, it had charred green onions, grapeseed oil, lots of garlic, charred green chile, lime juice and cilantro. Here it is in the blender:

I warned my guests to drink plenty of water (we had plenty of wine, too), primarily due to those crackers and the equally high-fiber bread on which I served the gravlax. The bread recipe is from Chad Robertson, the master baker who is a co-conspirator of Bar Tartine and the owner of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. I had made his Rene's Rye Bread during the holidays and loved it, so I was happy to have an occasion to try it again. It involves some planning as it features sprouted rye berries. I started those a couple of days before I made the dough and they were perfectly ready on mix day:

The wet ingredients were sourdough starter, buttermilk, barley malt syrup and beer. I used Bell's Smitten Golden Rye this time, just because I had a bottle in the fridge.

The dry ingredients included a blend of all-purpose and whole wheat flour (Chad's recipe calls for spelt, but I already had wheat ground so used that) and whole rye flour. But this is the reason I warned everyone to drink plenty of water:

Look at all these seeds! Flax, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower.
The dough mixes up to slurry, about the consistency of concrete (so the recipe says -- I have no personal experience with concrete mix).

It sits in a warm spot in the kitchen for a few hours, then goes in a pan to sit some more. I use a pullman pan, which has its own lid. It rests in the refrigerator overnight and is baked the next morning. And it is awesome!

Now for that burnt bread sauce. As noted in part 1, I started this four days ahead by charring some day old bread and putting it into the dehydrator. The next day, the charred and dried bread slices were pulverized into a powder by the Vitamix and transferred to a jar for storage. I also charred, dehydrated and powder two bunches of green onions. Still, I was not done. I had to make a kombu dashi, which was simple: simmer seaweed in water and strain. But there was still more bread to char:

I charred onions:

And I charred garlic, arbol chiles and almonds. By this time, I was done with photos, so the rest of the story will be from my memory. All of those ingredients, along with a hothouse tomato, parsley, lime juice, honey, salt and pepper went into the blender and then into a bowl.

Next up was an almond milk sauce which was kind of easy because I cheated and used store-bought almond milk. Into the blender with the almond milk, a small cooked potato, a little serrano chile, more lime juice and honey. Whir, strain into a jar, store in the fridge.

The carrots weren't so complicated because I already had made the specified chutney spice powder in a previous recipe. I'm building my Bar Tartine powder pantry little by little. I warmed this in butter, then tossed the carrots in and roasted them in the oven at 250 for about an hour. The serving presentation -- and I really wish I had taken a photo of this -- was a big glob of the burnt bread sauce with the almond milk poured over it, the carrots spread on top of it all, and little green pools of drizzled carrot oil. I forgot to grate toasted almonds as a finishing touch, but it was still quite lovely and delicious.

I used this Serious Eats recipe for gravlax and mine looked almost like the photo except for the slices of gravlax appearing as if they'd had a shredder accident.

Dessert was stupid simple and a clear indication of my exhaustion by that stage. After all the dishes had been cleared, I popped back in the kitchen, tossed a few ripe bananas, some Breyer's vanilla ice cream, a sprinkle of cinnamon and most of a jar of Smucker's caramel sauce in the blender, whizzed it smooth, then trotted out back to the porch with the blender pitcher and two bottles of rum. I set it all on the picnic table and let my guests pass it around to help themselves.

Was it worth it? Oh, yes. Perhaps my mother was onto something when she told me, "You get out of something what you put into it." But then, I've never been fortunate enough to experience that laziest and most sublime of treats -- the perfectly ripe peach picked from a branch of a neighbor's tree hanging over the fence.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Extreme Cooking

A few months ago, I wrote an essay for the Oryana newsletter defending home cooking as a simple, economical way to get dinner. While that's undoubtedly true, there is another side of cooking, one that may be more open to the "elitist" characterization.

Welcome to my next experiment in extreme cooking.

Over the next four days, I'll prepare a multi-course dinner using methods and techniques unlikely to be demonstrated on the Food Network. This will not be a cheap dinner, nor will it be easy. I'll be sprouting, fermenting, dehydrating, curing, baking, and maybe even cooking.

The menu has a Scandinavian influence with most recipes adapted from my new manual of extreme cooking, the cookbook of Bar Tartine in San Francisco. I will be preparing:

Pistachio Dip with Flax Crackers (Bar Tartine, p. 216)
Chilled Beet Soup with Coriander and Yogurt (Bar Tartine, p. 158)
Chicory Salad with Anchovy Dressing (Bar Tartine, p. 184)
Gravlax with Coriander, Caraway and Mustard-Dill Sauce
Rene's Danish Rye (Tartine Book No. 3, p. 140)
Slow-roasted Carrots with Burnt Bread and Almond Milk (Bar Tartine, p. 224)

Because I'll be exhausted by the end, the Food Network can handle dessert, which will be Bobby Flay's Bananas Foster Milkshake, having nothing to do with Scandinavia or extreme cooking. It's a quick blender concoction, although I will make my own caramel sauce ahead of time.

First step is shopping for the ingredients. They look lovely:

To make the burnt bread sauce, I will need bread. I'll be burning the last of my caraway-coriander sourdough, so that means it's time to make more bread. Grinding whole wheat for flour:

Adding bread flour:

Mixing the dry ingredients:

The wet ingredients (I add a little yeast as an insurance policy because my kitchen isn't very warm this time of year):

Mixing the dry ingredients with the wet:

Old bread sliced to burn:

After broiling it in the oven for several minutes it is ready to go in the dehydrator:

Another do-ahead project, carrot top oil. I've blanched the tops of two carrot bunches, then whizzed it in the blender with a cup of sunflower oil. It will drain in the refrigerator, I hope.

Other Thursday night projects were soaking rye berries for the Danish rye bread and making another batch of yogurt. More to come!