Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fresh from the Farmers Market

Farmers market season is back! Sadly, I missed the opening day, but it was for a good cause—I had a cooking class on potato gnocchi to teach. But let's just say nothing was going to keep me from the market a second weekend in a row. I dragged my husband out of bed early, in fact. After a long grey winter, strolling through the colorful displays of lush produce inspired me anew. Greens and root vegetables are the main offerings this early in the season. Tuscan kale, curly kale, rainbow chard, Savoy cabbage, leeks, celeriac, yellow potatoes, and eggs looked good, so I stocked up.

I had no thought as to what I would make with these ingredients, but I knew it would be good…

And it was. With the cabbage I made Russian cabbage rolls, a family recipe. Delicious.

Printable Recipe

1 large head green or Savoy cabbage
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 yellow onion, julienned, plus ½ onion, grated
1 ½ pounds 85% lean ground beef
¼ cup long grain rice
¼ cup minced Italian parsley
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ¾ cups strained tomatoes, preferably Pomì brand
1 green or red bell pepper, julienned
Generous pinch cayenne pepper

Using a paring knife, cut the core out of the cabbage. Cook the cabbage in a large pot of boiling, salted water for 6 to 8 minutes, or until tender. Transfer the cabbage to a large bowl of ice-cold water to stop the cooking process, reserving the cooking liquid, and then drain the cabbage thoroughly.

Heat a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add the oil and the julienned onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 45 to 50 minutes, or until caramelized.*

Meanwhile, mix together the grated onion, ground beef, rice, 3 tablespoons of the parsley, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper in a large bowl. Carefully remove the outermost leaf of the cabbage and place it cupped side up on a work surface. Place about ¼ cup of the beef mixture toward the base of the cabbage leaf. Fold the base of the cabbage leaf over the beef mixture, tuck in either side, and roll all the way up. Make more cabbage rolls with the remaining cabbage leaves and filling in the same manner, using 2 overlapped cabbage leaves per roll as the leaves become smaller. As you work, arrange the cabbage rolls seam side down on a plate. Separate any remaining leaves from the heart of the cabbage.

Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, and cayenne to the pot. Line the pot with the remaining cabbage leaves and add the cabbage rolls seam side down. Add enough of the reserved cabbage cooking liquid to cover by an inch. Place a small upturned plate over the cabbage rolls, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of parsley and simmer, covered, for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cabbage rolls are cooked through. Remove the plate, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Serves 4. Serve with crusty bread. My mom always used green cabbage, but the Savoy cabbage at the market looked too good to pass up. Basmati rice is good in this recipe. The plate will keep the cabbage rolls completely submerged beneath the cooking liquid so that they cook evenly, and it will also keep them from unrolling as they simmer.

*For information on making and using caramelized onions and everything you ever wanted to know about searing, plus dozens of fabulous searing recipes, look for my book Seared to Perfection in stores now.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pink Cakes and Freeze-Dried Strawberries

My ingredient obsession of the moment: freeze-dried strawberries. Have you tried them yet? You may have had them in your breakfast cereal. They're light as a feather and seem to dissolve instantly on your tongue, and they taste like…well, imagine if you crammed an entire pint of super-ripe strawberries into your mouth along with a couple of strawberry Jolly Ranchers—that's how they taste.

Perhaps it's because strawberry season is three long months away or perhaps it's because freeze-dried strawberries really are that good, but I've been grinding them up and putting them in everything. I love how they turn buttercreams and cake batters technicolor pink. It's like when Dorothy found herself in Oz and suddenly the world was in brilliant color. But with flavor! Three quarters of an ounce of strawberry powder plus a little tinkering transformed my regular financier batter into these lovely treats.

I'm thinking of making pink angel food cake or pink yellow cake frosted with pink whipped cream next.

Strawberry-Almond Teacakes
Printable Recipe

¾ ounce freeze-dried strawberries
5 ½ ounces sugar
2 ½ ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the tins
2 ½ ounces almond meal
5 ounces egg whites, at room temperature
5 ounces (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the tins

Grind the freeze-dried strawberries to a fine powder in a blender, spice mill, or clean coffee grinder. Whisk together the strawberry powder, sugar, flour, and almond meal in a large bowl. Whisk in the egg whites until thoroughly combined and then whisk in the butter until thoroughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Butter and flour a standard 12-cup muffin pan or line with paper liners and divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake for 24 to 26 minutes, or until golden brown and the edges of the teacakes start to shrink away from the pan. Let the teacakes cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Invert onto cooling racks and finish cooling completely.

Makes 1 dozen teacakes. Both the unbaked batter and the finished teacakes have good keeping qualities.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Have a Biscuit

This morning I had a little bit of time to spare, so I decided to bake biscuits. Want one?

But before you dig in, I have to mention that registration for spring Clark College classes just opened. Please join me in the kitchen! I'll be teaching Seafood Primer, Quiche, Sensational Salads for Spring, and Muffins & Scones II. Current class listings can always be found in the Cooking Classes, Book Signings & Appearances sidebar on the right.

Cheddar-Herb Biscuits
Printable Recipe

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
2 teaspoons nigella seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, shredded
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded sharp cheddar
1 ¾ cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
½ teaspoon paprika

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, chives, parsley, nigella, salt, and cayenne in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Toss in the cheddar. Add the buttermilk to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Transfer to a work surface and knead a few times until the dough just holds together. Lightly flour the work surface, pat the dough into a 1-inch thick circle, and cut using a 2 ½-inch round cutter. Arrange the biscuits a couple of inches apart on parchment-lined baking trays. Gather the scraps, knead once or twice, and roll, cut, and arrange on baking trays in the same manner. Lightly brush the biscuits with the cream and sprinkle with the paprika. Bake for 24 to 26 minutes, or until golden brown.

Makes about 2 dozen small biscuits. Work quickly and with a light touch to prevent the butter in the pastry from melting. Dip the cutter into a little flour between each cut to prevent the dough from sticking to it. Serve biscuits warm, possibly stuffed with a slice of good ham. Nigella, which can also be known as kalonji or charnushka, tastes very much like thyme and is available at Indian markets and at Penzeys Spices. Biscuits keep for a day or two in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place.

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