Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Hunt

We look forward to hunting season each fall. When the morning fog comes, we know it’s time to head for the forest. We stalk our prey armed with a pocket knife, a pastry brush, and lots of brown paper bags. We are in pursuit of the wild and elusive chanterelle mushroom.

And the extremely rare lobster mushroom.

They hide under clods of soil, they’re camouflaged as fallen leaves, but they cannot evade capture for long. We’re on their trail.

We had a good hunt.

We’ve been feasting ever since. This week I made chanterelle soup, herbed polenta with creamy chanterelle sauce, and some fantastic wild mushroom pizzas, and we’ve only eaten our way through half of the mushrooms so far. We’d better start planning our next hunting trip.

Wild Mushroom Pizza
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ pound wild mushrooms, sliced or torn into bite-size pieces
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 recipe Simple Pizza Dough
1 recipe Alfredo Sauce, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 500˚F with a baking stone on the center rack.

Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, or until tender.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and let cool.

Gently deflate the dough, cut it in half, and form each half into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.

Keeping the remaining dough covered as you work, gently stretch 1 half into a circle, about 12 inches across and slightly thicker around the edges. Place the crust onto a 14-inch parchment paper circle on a baker’s peel. Spread with half of the sauce, leaving a 1-inch border at the edge, and top with half of the mushrooms. Carefully slide the pizza with the parchment onto the baking stone in the oven and bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown. Meanwhile, assemble the second pizza with the remaining dough, sauce, and mushrooms in the same manner. Bake the second pizza after the first one is done. Cut the pizzas into wedges and serve.

Makes 2 12-inch pizzas. The oven needs to be good and hot for pizza, so preheat it for at least an hour while the dough rises. Don’t be tempted to skip sautéing the mushrooms, all the moisture that raw mushrooms exude will make for a soggy pizza crust. I like to use parchment paper rather than semolina for sliding the crust off the peel into the oven. It’s less messy and absolutely foolproof, eliminating any chance that the pizza will stick to the peel.

Pizza Dough

Back away from the phone. You don’t need delivery tonight. You can make homemade pizza, it’s easier than you might think.

Simple Pizza Dough
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
1 1/3 cups warm (about 110˚) water
2 ¼ teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Oil a large bowl. Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in a small bowl and stir to dissolve. Whisk together the flour and salt in another large bowl. Add the yeast mixture and oil and mix until a rough dough forms. Transfer to a work surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Form into a ball, place into the oiled bowl, and turn to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for about 1 ½ hours, or until doubled in volume.

Enough for 2 12-inch crusts. This dough is also great for making calzones and breadsticks.

Friday, October 24, 2008

No Fear

I’m not afraid of either.

Alfredo Sauce
Printable Recipe

1 cup heavy cream
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, grated
Generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the cream, butter, garlic, and nutmeg in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes, or until thickened and saucy. Remove from the heat, stir in the Parmegiano, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Enough for 1 recipe Fresh Egg Pasta fettuccini or 1 pound of dry fettuccini. Boil the pasta while the sauce simmers. Once the pasta is al dente, drain it well, toss it with the sauce, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On the Side

How about a new side dish recipe to add to your repertoire? This one’s so good, everybody always asks for seconds.

Cauliflower with Breadcrumbs & Parmegiano
Printable Recipe

4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the baking dish
1 ½ pounds cauliflower florets, blanched
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs
1 cup grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
Generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Butter an 11×7-inch baking dish. Add the cauliflower and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss together the breadcrumbs and butter in a medium bowl, making sure that the breadcrumbs are evenly coated. Stir in the Parmegiano, nutmeg, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Spread the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the cauliflower in the baking dish. Gently tap the dish on the counter a few times so that the topping settles. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6. A medium head of cauliflower will yield enough florets for this recipe.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

No Such Thing as Too Much Chocolate

At my house, when we run out of chocolate, panic ensues. There’s shrieking and stomping of feet, a real tantrum. You see, each day when my husband gets home from a long day at work, he makes a beeline for the pantry and helps himself to a big handful of couverture. If he finds the bin empty, he becomes very, very unhappy. Unlike my husband, I don’t yell or scream, I quietly agonize over when I’ll get my next fix.

I buy chocolate by the 10-kilo bag for personal consumption.

So the good news is we don’t run out often. A new 10-kilo bag of Callebaut dark chocolate callets* is always greeted by laughter, dancing, and general jubilation. We rip open the bag, drink in the intoxicating aroma, and feel at ease, knowing that all is right in the world once again.

Best Ever Hot Chocolate
Printable Recipe

½ cup heavy cream
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or scant 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Bring the cream to a bare simmer in a small, heavy saucepan. Place the chocolate into a medium bowl, add the hot cream, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the milk. Return to the saucepan and heat to a simmer, stirring frequently. Stir in the vanilla, ladle into mugs, and serve immediately.

Serves 2 just 1. This is the richest, creamiest, most decadent hot chocolate ever. Hot chocolate made with powders and mixes doesn’t even come close. For a flavored hot chocolate, infuse the cream with orange zest, Earl Grey tea, mint, cinnamon, chile powder, or even your favorite liqueur. Serve topped with marshmallows or lightly sweetened whipped cream.

*Callets are essentially high quality chocolate chips. I prefer to work with callets because, unlike bar chocolate, they’re ready to melt, with no chopping required.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cheater Method

I love warm, comforting polenta, but I don’t like making it the traditional way. I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do than whisk the lava-like mixture constantly for 15 minutes or more. So I’ve devised an easy cheater method, which involves the oven and only an occasional stir.

Creamy Polenta with Pepperoni
Printable Recipe

1 6-ounce stick pepperoni, diced
1 cup polenta
1 quart water
Several pinches red chile flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Heat a small, heavy sauté pan over medium-low heat until hot but not smoking. Add the pepperoni and fry, tossing frequently, for 6 to 8 minutes, or until rendered. Drain on paper towels.

Combine the polenta, water, chile flakes, and a generous pinch of pepper in a small pot. Heat to a bare simmer, stirring occasionally. Transfer to the oven and bake for about half an hour, or until the polenta is tender and creamy. Stir in the Parmegiano and pepperoni and season to taste with salt. Divide among individual plates and serve immediately.

Serves 4. Stir in a splash of cream or a pat of butter for an even creamier polenta. This polenta just begs to be topped with Roasted Grape Tomatoes. Transform it into an all-purpose, basic polenta by omitting the pepperoni. This recipe doesn’t take well to being doubled.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tomato's Last Hurrah

I know tomato season’s over. I’ve already taken drastic measures. But I’m not quite ready to face the harsh reality, life without fresh tomatoes is so hard. Thank goodness the market still had some nice looking grape tomatoes. Now I can say one last goodbye.

Roasted Grape Tomatoes
Printable Recipe

1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Combine the tomatoes, garlic, oregano, oil, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper in a large bowl and gently toss to coat. Spread on a baking tray and roast for about 15 minutes, or until juicy and tender. Transfer to a bowl and serve immediately.

Serves 4. Nice as a side dish or tossed with pasta. Line the baking tray with foil or parchment for ease of cleaning.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Russian Store

Scattered here and there in the strip malls of every major metropolitan area are Russian stores. Maybe you’ve never been to one. You may not understand their signs.

You may not even notice them at all.

The storefronts tend to be rather nondescript and unassuming. But if you pay attention, you’re certain to find one. It’s worth looking, for these Russian markets and delis hold many tasty treasures within.

The meat case alone makes the trip worthwhile.

It seems to go on and on forever.

It’s loaded with an endless variety of cold cuts, hams, bacon, smoked sausages, dried sausages, and pork in every guise. Happily, the delicious sausages, with names like Maskoska, Estonska, Moldavska, and hunter’s, are quite affordable for any budget.

Another case holds a rainbow of pickled vegetables.

The olives, wild mushrooms, green tomatoes, sour apples, salted cabbage, and various salads are just like homemade. Bulgarian, French, and Greek fetas are sold by the pound. All sorts of other cheeses are available as well.

Salted and cold smoked fish are plentiful.

Choose from mackerel, whitefish, whiting, salmon, vobla, and more. And, I’ll let you in on a little secret, Russian markets are always a great source for caviar, both black and red.

The Russian store’s pastries and cakes will, no doubt, tempt you.

And the bread is brought in fresh daily.

If you make it in before noon, you may be able to get some while it’s still warm.

Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? Well, that’s just the deli counter. Let me tell you about the rest of the store. The selection of canned goods is astounding.

There are aisles full of jarred vegetables, fruits, pickles, and preserves.

The pitted sour cherries in light syrup are particularly delicious.

They’re perfect with a cup of hot tea. Of course, you can pick up your tea at the Russian store too.

In the freezer section, you’ll find ready-to-cook stuffed dumplings called pelimeni and vareniki.

Last, but certainly not least, every good Russian store will stock a fantastic assortment of sweets and candy.

Bin after bin of yummy chocolate, wafer, fruit, nut, and marshmallow candies with fun and whimsical names like bird’s milk, clumsy bear, cow, lobster tail, and squirrel and with colorful, shiny wrappers are guaranteed to make you feel like a kid again.

A Russian store has all this to offer, and lots more. I crave this kind of food, I grew up eating it. Find the Russian store near your neighborhood, explore and taste your way through it, and I’m sure you’ll love it too.

Anoush Deli (6808 NE Fourth Plain, Vancouver, Washington, 360-693-4359) happens to be my personal favorite Russian store, and my family shops at Euro Deli Too (6832 Coit Road, Plano, Texas, 972-312-0244).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chocolate Cravings

It’s a good thing that being a chocoholic is considered socially acceptable, or I would have been forced to enroll in a twelve-step program long ago.

Chocolate Panna Cottas
Printable Recipe

1 ½ cups milk
2 ½ teaspoons (1 envelope) gelatin
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Measure ½ cup of the milk into a small bowl and slowly sprinkle over the gelatin. Place the chocolate into a bowl over a small pan of simmering water and heat, stirring frequently, until melted. Combine the remaining 1 cup of milk, cream, and sugar in a small saucepan and heat to a bare simmer. Whisk in the gelatin mixture, chocolate, and vanilla. Chill over an ice bath until just beginning to thicken. Divide the mixture among 6 ramekins or dessert cups. Refrigerate for about 4 hours, or until set.

Serve as is, or to unmold, dip the bottom of each ramekin into hot water for a few seconds, wipe dry, and invert onto a dessert plate.

Serves 6. Can be made up to a day ahead of time and kept covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator. These silky panna cottas are sure to satisfy your chocolate cravings, and the best part is that the recipe’s a cinch to make!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tomatoes the Rest of the Year

Fall’s here, and the rain has set in. I mourn the passing of tomato season. I’ve already stocked up on Pomì tomatoes.

Two cases to get me through to next summer. So sweet, like a ray of sunshine, they’re the next best thing to vine-ripened, and certainly better than anything in a can.

Easiest Cream of Tomato Soup with Orzo
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
53 ounces strained tomatoes, preferably Pomì brand
1 quart water
½ cup heavy cream
¾ cup orzo
¼ cup chiffonaded fresh basil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, for serving

Heat a large, heavy pot over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the garlic and sauté for about a minute, or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, water, and cream and bring to a boil. Add the orzo and basil and simmer, stirring frequently, for about half an hour, or until the orzo is al dente. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into individual bowls, top with plenty of Parmegiano, and serve immediately.

Serves 6. Perfect with salad and garlic bread or grilled cheese sandwiches. If you prefer soup with a coarser texture, substitute Pomì Chopped Tomatoes for half of the strained tomatoes. You will need 2 26.455-ounce boxes of Pomì tomatoes for this soup. They’re available at most fine grocery stores.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Flavor Bible

I remember way back, when I began to learn to cook, I was so intimidated by the whole thing. There was so much to learn, and it all seemed so complicated. I was completely mystified by the idea that cooking could be done freely and with improvisation. I remember thinking, “Me, cook without a recipe? Impossible.” I really could have used a book like The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs back then.

Like Karen Page’s and Andrew Dornenburg’s previous books*, The Flavor Bible is a glimpse inside the minds of dozens of well-respected chefs and pastry chefs. It explores how these cooks create memorable dishes by manipulating taste, mouthfeel, aroma, and also the visual, emotional, mental, and spiritual response of the diner, what, when taken together, the authors call “the x factor”. The majority of the book is comprised of carefully compiled, exhaustive lists of flavor matches. This is not a cookbook in the traditional sense of the term; it has no recipes. In fact, the authors reject conventional cookbooks to the extent that they encourage cooks to slavishly follow recipes.

So does The Flavor Bible live up to the promise of its title and subtitle? Perhaps the book wouldn’t have allowed me to bypass culinary school and the lessons learned from years of cooking experience. A working knowledge of cooking techniques and methods, which the book doesn’t cover, is necessary to assimilate and make use of all of the information presented. But The Flavor Bible certainly would have helped me to understand and gain confidence with the creative process of combining flavors to build a dish. Aspiring cooks and professional chefs alike would be well advised to add this comprehensive reference to their libraries.

*Becoming a Chef, the first book by Page and Dornenburg, will always have a special place in my heart. It may sound cliché to say that a book changed my life, but this book alone inspired me to pursue a culinary career. I wholeheartedly recommend it and their subsequent books Culinary Artistry, Dining Out, Chef’s Night Out, The New American Chef, and What to Drink with What You Eat.
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