January 31, 2011

meyer lemon + ginger kudzu

Now that we're really in the depths of winter, I've been craving citrus fruits. I love local apples and pears, don't get me wrong...but these days the grapefruits and clementines are calling to me. So when I saw a bin of plump, yellow-orange Meyer lemons at the grocery store over the weekend I could not pass them up. Thinking about a very simple preparation that wouldn't interfere with the delicate, floral flavor of the lemons, a warm lemon kuzu came to mind.

The kuzu is one of my favorite winter bedtime brews - sort of a cross between a tea and a pudding, there are few things more gentle and comforting. The term kuzu is used to describe any liquid thickened with kuzu, a starch from the root of the kuzu plant that is used as a thickener in Japanese and macrobiotic cooking. The liquid is often a fruit juice, sometimes a more savory preparation with umeboshi, shoyu, and ginger. Depending on how much kuzu powder you add, you can achieve anything from a lightly thickened beverage (1 Tbsp kuzu to 1 cup liquid) to a pudding-like dessert (2 Tbsp kuzu to 1 cup liquid).

With the addition of ginger and honey, this kuzu brew reminds me of a hot toddy with extra texture and body. It's perfect for a cold night. Kuzu's calming properties promote relaxation and sleep; it is also beneficial for the GI tract and useful for soothing anxiety and hyperactivity.

Meyer lemon + ginger kudzu
Kuzu powder (aka kudzu powder) can be found in Asian and natural foods stores

juice from 2 Meyer lemons, strained (about 1/3 cup)
1 tsp ginger juice (squeezed from about 1 Tbsp of freshly grated ginger)
2/3 cup water
1 to 2 Tbsp honey (to taste)
1 to 2 Tbsp kuzu, depending on how thick you prefer

In a small saucepan combine the lemon and ginger juices, water, and honey to taste. Whisk in the kuzu powder; the liquid will turn cloudy.

Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking often. Once it begins to simmer, whisk constantly; as soon as the mixture has thickened and changed from cloudy to translucent, remove from heat and transfer to serving cups (it will take about 5 minutes total). Drink, or eat with a spoon, warm or at room temperature.

January 30, 2011

sake poached pears with star anise


Today I tried a new combination for poaching pears, and it worked really well: sake and star anise. I've had a jar of star anise pods in the spice rack for a while, but never manage to do anything with them. I think I've been intimidated by its potent licorice-y aroma and worry that the flavor will overshadow the other elements of a dish. Although I love fennel I'm not a big fan of black licorice. But today I learned that star anise can actually play nicely with others; in the poaching liquid for the pears, accompanied by cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla, the star anise imparted a subtle licorice flavor that was pleasant and not overwhelming.

The sake was also a winner here, creating a nice floral base for the poaching liquid, which I then reduced to make a sauce for the pears. The sake and spices came together really nicely, helped I'm sure by a pat of butter whisked in at the end, and the finished sauce had a balanced, delicate flavor, without any one component screaming above the others. Though I served the pears simply with their sauce, I'm quite sure freshly whipped cream and toasted, chopped almonds or walnuts would be delicious additions.

sake poached pears with star anise
I used Bosc pears this time; Bartlett and D'Anjou would also work well here.

1/2 cup sake
1-1/2 cups water
1 star anise pod
2 cardamom pods
1 inch piece of vanilla bean, split
1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp maple syrup
2 firm-ripe pears, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cored
1 Tbsp unsalted butter

Combine the sake, water, star anise, cardamom, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and maple syrup in in a medium saucepan and whisk to combine. Add the pear halves to the pot in a single layer. Cover with a round of parchment paper (this helps the pears cook more evenly; if you don't have parchment, just cover the pan with a lid). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the pears are tender when pierced with a knife, about 25 minutes, turning over the pears halfway through.

Remove the pears from the liquid, raise the heat and boil until its volume reduces by about two-thirds. Strain the sauce and whisk in the butter.

Serve the pears with the sauce spooned over them.

January 29, 2011

black bean soup with mulato chile


My mom gave me a jar of dried mulato chiles a couple of months ago; I've been thinking about what to do with them ever since, and this week decided to try them in a black bean soup. Mulato chiles are a variety of dried poblano, reddish black in color with a chocolatey, smoky flavor and a touch of heat; they're commonly used in mole sauces. Since mulatos aren't too spicy, I upped the soup's heat quotient by adding two fresh, chopped jalapenos (seeds and ribs included). I remembered a few slices of bacon in the freezer and decided to include them, too, but if you'd rather leave the bacon out just saute the vegetables in olive oil and double the amount of smoked paprika later on. This is one of the best black bean soups I've ever tasted -- the mulato adds richness and depth of flavor, the jalapenos provide a hit of fresh, clean heat, and cumin, smoked paprika, lime juice, and fresh cilantro round out the flavors and tie everything together. One day for lunch I garnished my bowl with cooling chopped avocado and hard-cooked egg; another day with chopped baked tofu. Delicious both ways.

black bean soup with mulato chile

1 cup dried black beans, soaked for 8 hours, rinsed and drained
4 slices of bacon, thinly sliced OR 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 celery rib, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 jalapenos, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp smoked paprika (use 1/2 tsp if not including the bacon)
1 dried mulato chile
roughly 1-by-1-inch piece of dried kombu
2 medium potatoes, diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
sea salt
freshly squeezed lime juice, to taste
chopped fresh cilantro (for garnish)
diced hard-cooked egg, avocado, baked tofu, and/or crispy bacon (for garnish)

If using the bacon, saute it in a large soup pot over medium-high heat until crispy and browned. Drain off all of the fat except about 2 Tbsp (reserve some of the crisped bacon if you'd like to garnish the soup with it later). (If not using bacon, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil before proceeding to the next step.)

Add the onion, carrot, celery, and jalapeno to the pot, and saute for 5 to 8 minutes until the vegetables are lightly browned. Add the garlic, cumin, and smoked paprika, and saute for another couple of minutes until the cumin seeds are fragrant.

Add the soaked and drained beans, mulato chile, and kombu. Pour in 5 cups of water, add a big pinch of sea salt, and stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer the soup until the beans are tender, about 1-1/2 hours. As it cooks, break up the dried chile into smaller pieces with a spoon (and remove the stem once it detaches from the pepper). When the beans are tender, add the potatoes and simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes.

Season the soup to taste with freshly squeezed lime juice and salt. Garnish each bowl with cilantro and accoutrements of your choice: diced avocado, crisped bacon, hard-boiled egg, and baked tofu are all fine additions.

The soup is even better the next day.

Updated 2/1/2011 to include green bell pepper, which was omitted in the original version of the recipe. 

January 28, 2011

friday foodie round-up

With a new editor-in-chief and publisher at the helm, many changes are afoot at Bon Appetit, including a campaign refresh (an example of which is above) aimed at recruiting 'the forgotten foodie.' Conde Nast switched my subscription over to BA for a few months after giving Gourmet the axe in 2009. I didn't renew - just couldn't get past the congealed-looking food on the cover - but there's a chance I'll check out a future issue to see what the new BA has to offer. (Photo from The New York Times)

This week Mark Bittman hung up his apron at The Minimalist, his weekly column in The New York Times' Dining section. And, he's sharing 25 of his all-time favorite recipes from the column (now on my grocery list: garbanzo flour to make socca). Not to worry, Bittman will still be writing for the Times in various capacities.



Images from a beautiful new food-as-art cookbook by chef Rene Redzepi of the Copenhagen restaurant Noma. (Photos from the Kitchn)
I've fallen down the rabbit hole of coffee snobbery. Now that I've converted from a French press to a Chemex for my morning brew (and have a burr grinder on order, too. Oh, my), I'm eyeing the elegant, beehive-shaped Hario Buono drip kettle and imagining myself achieving perfectly even grounds saturation without increasing my risk of carpal-tunnel syndrome. And speaking of coffee snobbery, you might enjoy this very funny article by Frank Bruni (eek, nearly blinded by a Chemex - all in the name of research!) (Photo from Remodelista)

My favorite farmer had chicken feet at the greenmarket this morning, so I'll be simmering up a batch of gelatin-rich stock in the next couple of days. What do you have cooking this weekend?

January 27, 2011

always prepared

What's that classic scout motto? Oh, right: Be Prepared. Even though I was only in the Girl Scouts for a couple of years in elementary school (just long enough, though, to experience a harrowing white-water rafting trip on the Delaware River and get splashed with cow dung on a rainy day outing to an Amish farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania), I take that motto very seriously. When it comes to food, at least. When I was working in the hospital as a med student and intern, my senior residents often remarked that thanks to me our team never missed a meal. I was the 'Let's Do the Admission After We Eat' Intern. With good reason, though - as far back as I can remember, when my blood sugar takes a dip I become not merely cranky but stark raving mad. So I've learned to respect mealtime. And keep snacks around. I've gotten somewhat off track from my original intention for this post, so let's get to the point: almond butter and banana.

I have a major blog crush on Simply Breakfast, a photographic journal in which Jen documents her morning meals with style and simplicity. So I wanted to share with you my favorite breakfast these days, which I've been eating right at my desk when I get to work: rye crispbreads (usually Ryvita, sometimes Kavli), generously schmeared with unsalted almond butter (it's gotta be Justin's Classic variety), sprinkled with a pinch of sea salt, and topped with slices of ripe banana.

I am not exaggerating in the least when I say: utter perfection. Crunchy, creamy, a wee bit salty, pleasantly sweet and fruity without being sugary. Almond butter and banana might be one of the most wonderful flavor combinations ever (in my book, almond beats peanut butter any day). Plus, with its nice balance of complex carbs, proteins, healthy fats, and natural fruit sugars, I'm satisfied and free of stark-raving-madness all the way through till lunchtime. And, I conveniently keep all of the ingredients, except the banana, in my office. How's that for being prepared?

January 26, 2011

brown bagging

Manhattan's midtown east, where I spend my weekdays, offers myriad lunch options; unfortunately, most of them manage to be both pricey and underwhelming in the flavor department. To avoid battling it out with the swarms of hungry office workers at dubious salad bars and souperies, I bring a homemade lunch as often as possible. I tend to carry my goodies in whatever small, reusable shopping bag I have around, which usually ends up being a whole foods or lululemon bag. Yawn. Plus, the bags I use have open tops, so there's nothing to keep out the rain (or snow, like this morning). A few days ago I saw this article on stylin' lunch totes in The New York Times, and it inspired me to update my lunch bag. Turns out that fun, colorful, and functional lunch-toting options abound; though I haven't committed to one just yet, here are some great totes I've found around the webosphere.

This cheerful oilcloth bag might elicit smiles on the morning commute, as much as such a thing is possible among an undercaffeinated crowd on a crammed subway car. (Photo from Etsy)

I love the irreverent prints on these simple linen canvas bags. Plus, they're lined with waterproof nylon in case of a spill. (Now, if they only had a closable top, too.) (Photo from Etsy


And, winning the most likely to be indestructible award, a neoprene lunch purse from Built. I'm leaning toward this tote for its shoulder-length handles, great for the mass-transit-riding among us, and secure top zipper. (Photo from Built)

January 25, 2011

tuscan kale salad

Romaine-based salads used to be part of my daily meals year-round, even in the dead of winter; as I've embraced a more seasonal way of eating, though, I find myself drawn towards the heartier dark, leafy greens instead - collards, kale, chard, rabe. I'll usually saute them with onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and other spices (and in one of my new favorite combinations, with apple). These days when I'm craving the juicy crunch of a raw salad during the winter months I'll often make a slaw with thinly sliced red or green cabbage, or a salad with Tuscan kale. Tuscan kale (also called dinosaur, lacinato, or black kale), with its long, slender leaves that are more delicate and tender than curly kale, lends itself readily to raw preparations.

The first time I made a kale salad it was this recipe from Melissa Clark, and I liked it so much that I've been following its basic elements ever since. Thin ribbons of kale marinate in a garlicky vinaigrette until they wilt ever so slightly, then get great texture and flavor from sweet, chewy currants and rich pine nuts, plus shavings of nutty parmesan on top; the robust combination perfectly balances the vibrant greenness and slightly bitter bite of the kale.


Tuscan kale salad with currants and pine nuts


1/4 tsp grated lemon zest
juice of 1 lemon
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/8 tsp red chile flakes
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp currants
1 small bunch Tuscan kale, large stems discarded and leaves thinly sliced crosswise into ribbons (about 3 cups)
2 Tbsp pine nuts
freshly shaved parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)
sea salt and black pepper


In a large bowl whisk together the lemon zest and juice, garlic, red chile flakes, olive oil, currants, a pinch of salt, and a couple of grinds of pepper. Let sit for a few minutes so the currants absorb some of the liquid.
 
Add the kale and toss to coat with the vinaigrette. Marinate at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes until the kale has wilted slightly. Taste and add more salt and black pepper if needed. Add pine nuts just before serving, and shave some parsesan over each portion.

January 24, 2011

beets vinaigrette


Beets are my favorite dirt candy. Roasting them whole, skin-on, is the way to go; it concentrates their sweet and earthy flavor and brings out the best in their texture. I roast a pound or two at a time in a 400-degree oven, drizzled lightly in olive oil and wrapped in aluminum foil (helps them cook evenly without drying out), for about an hour and a quarter. Once they've cooled, trim the stem and root ends; the skin slips right off, revealing garnet-colored interiors of silky, tender beet flesh. Beet roasting is a good activity for a lazy Sunday morning; they keep beautifully in the fridge, ready to be peeled as needed for meals throughout the week.

I like to treat beets very simply. A bright, mustardy vinaigrette with shallot and apple cider vinegar is a perfect counterpoint to their deep, earthy sweetness (a crumble of gorgonzola works, too). I've been crumbling walnuts over everything lately, and they were a good match here as well; their rich flavor, with its astringent edge, and of course their crunch, made the ideal finishing touch. I think even Dwight Schrute would approve.


roasted beets with mustard vinaigrette

1 lb beets
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 heaping teaspoon whole grain mustard (such as Maille)
1 small shallot, minced (about 1 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
walnuts, coarsely crumbled

Preheat oven to 400F.

Drizzle 1 tsp of olive oil over the beets and mix to coat evenly. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil, place in a baking dish (to catch any juices that might escape as they cook), and roast for about 1 hour and 15 minutes until tender when pierced with a knife. I often leave them in the oven as it cools, for 20 to 30 minutes more, to help ensure they're all evenly cooked through.

To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl whisk together the mustard, shallot, apple cider vinegar, a pinch of salt, and a grind or two of black pepper. Then slowly stream in the olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if needed.

When the beets are cool enough to handle, remove the stem and root ends and peel off their skins. Cut the beets into bite-size pieces, drizzle with vinaigrette, and top with walnuts.

January 23, 2011

calabaza


This is the fat wedge of calabaza squash I bought at the greenmarket on Friday. Doing some research on epicurious, a Gourmet recipe caught my eye for a calabaza, corn and coconut soup, the squash simmered in coconut milk with cilantro and cayenne, pureed until smooth, and topped with a corn relish that's brightened with lime juice, more cilantro, and shallot. The soup was great with calabaza, and I think kabocha or butternut squash would work equally well if that's what you have on hand. It's vegan, too.

January 22, 2011

green chile, to go

Hey all you green chile addicts out there - you never need to be far from your next fix, because green chile is now available in convenient to-go packets.


Given my general aversion to processed and packaged foods, I was a little bit wary when I first encountered these single-serves. But check it out, just three ingredients in there: flame-roasted green chiles, lime juice, garlic salt (okay, 4 ingredients since garlic salt = garlic + salt), and no preservatives or other artificial ingredients. Although they don't brag about it on the package, 505 Southwestern states on their website that they use only Hatch green chiles in their products (during my chile education from the yogi, I learned that Hatch, New Mexico, is the mecca of green chiles). So this is the real deal.

One morning, wanting something different for breakfast, I slathered some green chile on top of a mashed avocado and ate it on crispbreads. Delicious. The sauce is impeccably fresh-tasting and brings the clear, clean heat of green chile (I tried the medium variety so it wasn't too spicy but still delivered a nice kick of heat), balanced by acidity from the lime and rounded out with a hint of garlic.


Simply tuck a packet of green chile into the back pocket of your stonewashed jeans, and you're set. I can see bringing a packet or two to brunch to top scrambled eggs, in place of my usual Tabasco.

Thanks to Adena, who received the green chile packets as a gift and shared them with me!

January 21, 2011

local lunch

It was a good greenmarket week. I managed to get to three of my favorite markets, and now the fridge and pantry are bursting with wintry produce - squash, cabbage, potatoes, apples, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, onions, and beets.


For my work lunch today I made a hearty salad with thinly sliced purple cabbage, shoyu-roasted carnival squash, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and currants, dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, sea salt, and  black pepper. Crunchy, savory, and sweet, with added protein from the nuts and seeds, it was a simple combination that really worked. Alongside the salad was a rutabaga mash with Ronnybrook butter and mellow white miso. I love rutabaga - its flavor is similar to a turnip but sweeter and more buttery; its flesh, which is pale yellow when raw, turns a lovely gold after it's cooked.

A delicious, seasonal, plant-based meal, much of it sourced from farms located within about a hundred miles of where I live.* That makes me happy.

shoyu-roasted winter squash
I used a carnival squash, which is similar in size and shape to an acorn squash but with a buttery yellow skin that has orange and/or pale green stripes. I left the skin on, but you can peel the squash if you prefer; older or larger squashes may have tougher skin so in that case it's a good idea. Shoyu, traditionally fermented soy sauce, provides salt and depth of flavor, with an umami savoriness that plays nicely off the sweetness of the roasted squash.

1 winter squash, stem and seeds removed, and diced into 3/4-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
2 Tbsp shoyu
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a large bowl stir together the squash and shoyu. Then add the oil and a few grinds of black pepper and toss again (I add the shoyu first so it has a chance to coat the squash - the oil would interfere with that to some extent).

Spread the squash mixture out on a baking sheet or pan, and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and caramelized.

*Not counting the condiments, nuts/seeds, and currants.

January 20, 2011

roasted cauliflower with cumin + tahini

I've been wracking my brain over what to say that might convince even the cauliflower-haters out there to try this recipe. I'm aware that cauliflower isn't the most popular of vegetables, but in my opinion the fault here in no way lies with the cauliflower. It has been wronged again and again: overboiled, oversteamed, served limp and watery in one of those generic 'mixed vegetable' side dishes. (And don't even get me started on frozen vegetables. I'd rather eat the cardboard.) You can probably tell by now that I've experienced less-than-well-prepared cauliflower myself, so if you're not a fan of the crucifer, I understand where you're coming from. But have you tried it roasted? If not, please promise you will try this recipe before condemning cauliflower to unloved vegetable purgatory for all eternity.

Roasting transforms cauliflower into an entirely different vegetable than the one you might have encountered before. The intense, dry heat of the oven turns the edges of the florets crisp and brown and their interiors tender and juicy; its flavor mellows, turning towards nutty and sweet. I can never resist munching a few pieces directly from the baking sheet, kissed merely with olive oil, salt, and black pepper.

Now, if you happen to drizzle a luscious tahini dressing over this already wondrous roasted cauliflower, one rich with the round, nutty, smoky flavor of cumin and a punch of heat from red chile, then you truly have something worthy of celebration. I draped some of the roasted cauliflower spears over steamed kale and collards, drizzled everything with the tahini mixture, and showered raisins and chopped almonds on top to add texture and sweetness. The combination hit all the right notes -- savory, sweet, and smoky, tender, chewy, crunchy, and creamy. 



: : : If your issues with cauliflower run particularly deep, maybe try starting with this buttery cauliflower puree. It's like mashed potatoes, only better. I dare you not to have seconds. : : :

roasted cauliflower with cumin and tahini dressing
Delectable over dark leafy greens, this would also be a good match for a whole grain such as brown rice, millet, or quinoa, or on its own as a side dish. Toast the cumin seeds in a heavy-bottomed skillet (I use cast-iron) for a few minutes until fragrant and lightly browned, stirring occasionally so they don't burn.

1 head of cauliflower, leaves and base removed, and cut into florets
Extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup tahini
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
1/4 tsp red chile flakes
raisins and roughly chopped almonds, to garnish

Preheat oven too 425 F.

Place the cauliflower florets in a large bowl and add a glug of olive oil (2 to 3 Tbsp), a big pinch of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss well to coat the florets evenly. Spread the cauliflower in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the florets are caramelized and tender when pierced with a knife, 25 to 30 minutes.

While the cauliflower is in the oven, combine the tahini, apple cider vinegar, cumin seeds, red chile flakes, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper in a blender. Add 2 Tbsp of water, cover, and blend for a minute or two. If the dressing is too thick, gradually add more water (about a tablespoon at a time) until it reaches a pourable consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drizzle the dressing over the cauliflower and serve sprinkled with raisins and chopped almonds.

January 19, 2011

around stockholm












Looking through my photo archives last night, these pics from a trip to Stockholm last summer caught my eye. (I also posted about this trip here.)

I'll be back tomorrow with something edible. In the meantime, have a lovely Wednesday!

January 18, 2011

maple cinnamon apples

My favorite winter dessert takes all of 15 minutes to prepare: thinly sliced apples, sauteed in butter with warming spices and a touch of maple syrup. Sometimes, if I'm feeling fancy, I'll use the sauteed apples as the foundation for a crisp or crumble, or fold dough around them for a galette. Mostly, though, I simply heap some into a bowl, still steaming, and top them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Apple pie a la mode, minus the crust.




For this rendition I went with cinnamon and fresh ginger for spice, added extra depth by browning the butter slightly before sauteing the apples, and folded in walnuts and currants at the end for additional texture and flavor. The result was warming and satisfying, but not overly filling, the perfect ending to a winter meal.

maple cinnamon apples
serves 4

Jonagold apples were practically made for the saute pan; they hold their shape and retain a bit of bite when cooked. I had only one Jonagold this time so included a Pink Lady and a Cortland, too; the latter two varieties tend to fall apart during cooking, so I had a blend of intact slices and sauciness, which I liked. Leftovers are delicious for breakfast, warmed and topped with plain whole milk yogurt.

juice of 1 lemon
3 large apples
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup dark maple syrup, divided
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly broken into smaller pieces
2 Tbsp currants

Add lemon juice to a large bowl. Peel and core the apples, and slice them thinly. Add them to the bowl as you go along, tossing with the lemon juice to prevent them from browning. Add the cinnamon, ginger, and 2 Tbsp of the maple syrup, and gently toss to evenly coat the apples.

Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium heat until it stops foaming and begins to brown slightly. Add the apple mixture and juices and saute, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender and the juices thicken, about 8 minutes. Gently incorporate the remaining maple syrup, walnuts, and currants, and cook for another minute or so.

Serve warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you like.

January 17, 2011

ski queen

Like many things deeply rooted in nostalgia, my affection for Norwegian gjetost (pronounced yay-toast; literally 'goat cheese,' and also known as brunost or 'brown cheese') leans slightly toward the irrational. My mom was into gjetost when I was a kid; I remember her thinly slicing the cute little brown cube of cheese and draping ribbons of it on top of warm buttered toast or whole grain flatbread. My memory of gjetost's flavor is fuzzy but comforting - sweet, caramelly, rich, like a cheese candy of sorts. At some point my family lost the taste for gjetost, and it disappeared from our cheese drawer not to be seen again. I forgot about my love for this brown cheese entirely, until I saw a little red brick of Ski Queen in the cheese case at the market one day and was compelled to buy it.


Gjetost is an amalgamation of cow's and goat's milk, cream, and whey. The mixture is boiled for several hours until much of its water content has evaporated and the milk sugar (lactose) has caramelized, similar to the way dulce de leche is made.  Once solidified, the cheese is cut into little cubes and packaged; when you unwrap one of these cubes, it looks uncannily like an oversized caramel. In Norway and other areas of Scandinavia, gjetost is a a breakfast standby, thinly sliced with a cheeseplane, the curls eaten on buttered toast or flatbread, with fresh fruit or preserves.


This is definitely not a cheese to eat by the chunk. Gjetost is an intense sensory experience, sort of a cross between fudge and cheese; beginning with the richness, sweetness, and slight bitterness of caramel, it finishes with a wave of tangy goat. It's a flavor that's difficult to put into words. It just has to be experienced. (And it is something of an acquired taste - people seem to either love it or hate it.)

The richness of gjetost calls for something substantial that can stand up to it -- a hearty, whole grain rye flatbread (such as Kavli) is a good pairing. A thin layer of unsalted butter on the flatbread creates a mellow foundation for the curls of gjetost (I don't have a cheeseplane so didn't quite achieve curls; just sliced the cheese as thinly as I could with a sharp knife) and balances the intensity of the cheese. An interesting combination. Try it if you dare.

January 16, 2011

kukicha chai

I first tried chai made with kukicha (roasted twig tea) when I was interning at Three Stone Hearth.  For one of our mid-morning tea breaks, the kitchen manager made a big pot of kukicha chai for us to share. I particularly liked how she pronounced the name, as if it were all one word: ku-kee-CHA-chai. Try it, it's fun to say. 
Loose kukicha tea

This is a creamy and warmly spiced brew that won't keep you up all night, thanks to low-caffeine kukicha (it has only one-tenth the caffeine content of green tea). Kukicha is made from the twigs, stems, and coarse summer leaves of the tea bush, which are steamed, dried, aged for 2 to 3 years, and then cut and roasted. George Ohsawa, the grand poobah of macrobiotics, considered kukicha to be the most balanced beverage, due to its alkalinizing effects and low caffeine content. It is also high in antioxidants.

With a nutty, earthy, slightly smoky flavor and a less tannic character than green or black tea, kukicha makes a mellow brew -- nice on its own and a versatile accompaniment to many foods. It also makes a delicious chai, simmered with a blend of warming spices including cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.

 Spices for chai (clockwise from upper left): cinnamon, fresh ginger, fennel seed, black peppercorns, green cardamom pods, and cloves (in the center)

kukicha chai
makes about 3-1/2 cups of tea

5 pieces cinnamon (or 2 cinnamon sticks)
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced (no need to peel it)
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
10 green cardamom pods
3 cloves
3 Tbsp loose kukicha tea (or 3 tea bags)
3 cups water
1/2 cup organic whole milk
honey, to taste

Combine all the spices and the water in a medium saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the kukicha tea and simmer for 5 minutes more. Then add the milk and simmer for another 5 minutes. 

Taste the tea; if the spice level is to your liking it's time to strain - if not, simmer for another 5 minutes or so. Strain into mugs and add honey to taste. 

January 15, 2011

peas and corn


Provisions for a hearty football-watching dinner of split pea soup and this fantastically delicious cornmeal crunch. Similar to baked polenta but thinner and crispier, and flecked throughout with caramelized onions and nutty parmesan cheese. I also added a generous pinch of hot pepper flakes for a touch of heat. Next time you're simmering up some soup, make a batch to go alongside. You won't be disappointed. 

January 14, 2011

comb

Flipping through Edible Manhattan's booze-centric issue on the subway this morning, the phrase gin from honey caught my eye. I'm not much of a spirits drinker, but when I do order a cocktail it's often something that features the refreshing, herbal, junipery flavor of gin. And now someone is making gin from honey? Interesting.


The story goes like this. Several years ago, hedge-fund refugee Ed Tiedge was bitten by a spirits-making bug (or, I suppose, he was stung by a bee. Gosh, I get silly on the Friday before a 3-day weekend.). Selling his Porsche to support his burgeoning venture, Ed studied with distillers in California and cognac makers in France, then returned home to New York where he set up a basic pot still and began distilling his own honey-based brews.

At Ed's distillery, StilltheOne, the gin-making process begins with orange-blossom honey. The honey is diluted with water, yeast is added, and the solution is left to ferment in steel tanks for a couple of weeks, creating mead (honey wine). The mead, which is crisp and dry, with only a touch of the honey's sweetness remaining, is then transferred to stills where it is distilled first into brandy, then re-distilled to make an 80-proof vodka. The vodka undergoes another distillation with a mixture of 9 herbs, including juniper, licorice, coriander, rose petals, and galangal (what a combination!) to make gin.

According to the Edible article, the resulting spirits - Comb Vodka and Comb 9 Gin - are dry, clean, and sharp, with floral notes from the honey. And they are gluten-free, too, since they contain no wheat or other gluten-containing grains. One day soon I've got to get over to The Stag's Head, a gastropub on East 51st, to order the Bee's Knees: muddled lemon, honey, mint, and Comb 9 Gin. I wonder if they'll warm it up for you - wouldn't that make a lovely hot toddy?

In late fall, Dan Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns supplied the distillery with sassafras, basil, green coriander seeds, honeysuckle, cardamom leaves, and honey from their very own hives. The signature spirit will be served in the near future at Stone Barns and Blue Hill New York.

For more details, read the full article here, and check out StilltheOne's website.

January 13, 2011

steamed kabocha with shoyu & ginger


Well, I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love the kabocha! My first kabocha experience was in cooking school, when a side dish of the squash, baked and mashed, was featured in a Friday Night Dinner created by our class. The mash was creamy, sweet, denser in texture and more flavorful than the usual squash puree. I was surprised to see flecks of green here and there, too -- turns out that the kabocha, with its tender and edible skin, does not even require peeling. Three helpings later, I had been converted into a kabocha aficionado; ever since then I've been unable to resist picking up one or two when I spot them at the greenmarket.

The kabocha's dense flesh holds up well in a variety of preparations. In addition to baking and mashing, it is delicious cubed and roasted, simmered in soup, or steamed. Sweet and nutty, with a flavor often likened to chestnut, the kabocha is a promising candidate for dessert, too. A kabocha pie would be tasty, I'm sure, but I'm referring to something far simpler: a few chunks of cooked kabocha after a meal can nicely satisfy the sweet tooth. There are a few different varieties of kabocha - some have deep green exteriors, others are pale grayish-green, and there is also a richly orange-hued variety. The paler pumkins tend to be the driest and least sweet, while the orange-skinned seem to be the sweetest with the most tender skin (the dark green pumpkins fall somewhere in between).

Ozu, a macrobiotic-focused Japanese restaurant on the Upper West Side, offers an appetizer of steamed root vegetables and squash that includes kabocha. Steaming preserves the firm texture of the squash and is a lighter method of cooking than roasting or baking -- more expansive, according to macrobiotic principles -- making it a good method to balance its grounding energy. Ozu serves their steamed root veg and squash dish without any adornment, but I decided to dress mine up a bit with an Asian-inspired mixture of shoyu, ginger, garlic, mirin, and toasted sesame oil. The combination was a perfect contrast to the kabocha's natural sweetness.

steamed kabocha squash with shoyu-ginger sauce

1 kabocha squash, halved, stem and seeds removed, cut into 3/4-inch chunks (about 4 cups)
1/4 cup shoyu (traditionally fermented Japanese soy sauce)
2 Tbsp mirin (Japanese rice wine)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp brown rice vinegar
1 Tbsp grated or minced ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes

Steam the squash, covered, until tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 to 20 minutes (I used a steamer basked set inside a medium size pot).

Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, uncovered, until the sauce thickens slightly.

Drizzle the sauce over the squash just before serving, or serve on the side for dipping.

January 12, 2011

underground

Who would guess that beyond this nondescript midtown lobby, past the elevators and building directory and down an unmarked flight of stairs, thrives a cozy sake bar serving authentic Japanese pub food?


It's Sakagura. A self-proclaimed 'hidden jewel,' a little bit of New York magic, and an ideal spot to settle in on a cold January evening.

This intimidating character presides over the back dining room - perhaps a warning of the ugliness that might ensue after too many glasses of sake? Just a guess.

From our table's vantage point, though, he appeared less threatening.

And so, ignoring his grimace, we selected two sakes from Sakagura's list of more than 200 varieties - one served cold, the other hot. Much sake-induced giggling and silliness followed, but luckily none of us ended up looking like the hovering ghoul.


A succession of small plates followed, starting with a salad of paper-thin daikon ribbons topped with a spicy cod fish roe mayonnaise, pea shoots, chiffonade of shiso and nori, and radish matchsticks. The mayonnaise reminded me of taramasalata, the Greek fish roe meze, and struck a perfect balance of salty, spicy, smoky, and sweet.

Yuba Shumai: succulent dumplings filled with minced pork, shrimp, and lotus root, wrapped in paper-thin bean curd sheets and served with a lively ponzu sauce.

 A special of seared duck breast and scallions with smoked sea salt.

 Tori Tsukune: juicy chicken meat balls glazed with teriyaki sauce.

A favorite at the table: Gyu Miso Nikomi, braised beef ribs in a rich, sweet miso broth, topped with refreshing grated daikon and sliced scallion.

Sake Manju: a bun made with sake lees and stuffed with red beans, accompanied by green tea sorbet and a black sesame tuile. (Sake lees, aka sake kasu, is a thick rice paste that remains at the end of the sake-making process. It has a deep umami flavor, similar to miso, but sweeter.)

 Refreshing green tea ice cream - herbaceous with a hint of bitterness, and not too sweet.

Vanilla ice cream served with a tiny pitcher of sweet-salty shoyu sauce.

When we finally emerged from our cozy underground cocoon, full-bellied and content, we were greeted by softly falling snowflakes, dusted sidewalks, and the hush that accompanies them.