To Wok, or not

It’s post-Easter, and once again I’ve got more eggs than space. Here’s a tasty way to convert 2-3 eggs into a satisfying meal along with any lingering vegetables from the fridge.  

Granted, fried rice can be a bit of a yawn, but this one will catch your attention. Bill from Woks of Rice adds a clever seasoning sauce to his rice either ahead or during the stir fry process.  More than the usual few shakes of soy sauce, his blend includes a dash of turmeric which adds color, smooths the edges, and fills in some the missing blanks.  

I have taken liberties with Bill’s recipe and streamlined it further for my own convenience and entertainment.  I’ve discovered that the Instant Pot works nicely as a makeshift wok!  By using the Sauté More setting, it rises to the occasion and supplies plenty of heat for the stir fry task. 

Fried Rice

So, grab your wok, a pan, or pot of choice. It’s critical that all prep work is done ahead since the stir fry goes very fast. The ingredient list may look long due to the many vegetable inclusions, but pick and choose as you wish. Here are 3 salient points:

  1. Attend to all advance work and gather all tools. When ready, there are few cooking steps. 
  2. Read though the recipe a couple of times so that the cooking process flows smoothly.
  3. Directions are provided for either a wok (or wide skillet) or Instant Pot.  When it’s time to remove the ‘pan from the heat’ simply grab a glove or mitt and lift pan or pot liner onto a hot plate or board standing by. If necessary, carefully wipe it out before proceeding.

Although this is a vegetable-based dish, it’s delicious with ham, shrimp or other protein added at the vegetable stage.   

Fried Rice, Wok or not 

Inspired by Vegetable Fried Rice, Woks of Life   

Ingredients
1 cup raw rice (3 cups approx., cooked white rice)
Rice Seasoning Sauce:
½ tsp sesame oil
2 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp light soy sauce
½ tsp salt
½ tsp turmeric
Vegetables:
¼ cup carrots, dice
½ onion, dice
¼ cup shiitake or other fresh mushrooms, dice
¼ cup green pepper (your choice) dice
¾ cup snow peas, remove strings and halve
1 green onion, chop
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided, more if needed2 cup mung beans sprouts
1 clove garlic, mince
⅛ tsp white pepper
1 Tbsp white wine or water
2 eggs
¼ tsp salt
⅛ tsp white pepper
1 Tbsp white wine or water

Instructions

  1. In Advance 
    • Prepare Rice  Prepare the rice according to package directions. In Instant Pot, place 1 cup basmati rice, 1½ cups water, and ½ tsp salt in pot. Seal, bring to Pressure, cook 5-6 minutes; allow 10 minutes cool down time before releasing pressure. Cool to room temperature and break up any clumps.
    •  Seasoning Sauce and Vegetables  In a small bowl, combine sauce ingredients and set aside. Trim vegetables, cut into similar size; set aside in neat piles.
    • Eggs  Combine the eggs with salt, white pepper and water. 
  2. Heat wok to high (IP Sauté Normal) coat with 1 Tbsp oil. Pour in the eggs; scramble with spatula and when half cooked remove pan (IP liner) from heat. Use spatula to break eggs into smaller pieces and finish cooking with residual pan heat. Turn out onto holding plate.
  3. Set wok heat to medium (IP to Sauté Normal).  Add 1 Tbsp oil, onion, garlic, and carrot, stir fry for 1 minute with spatula.  Add mushrooms and pepper, stir fry 30-60 seconds. 
  4. Increase heat to high (IP to Sauté More).  Add rice and stir fry, firmly scraping bottom to prevent sticking.  After 1 minute pour the reserved seasoning sauce over the rice and stir to coat rice evenly.  Season with more white pepper and cook 2 minutes until steam rises from rice. Adjust seasoning.
  5. Add the snow peas, stir 15-30 seconds.  Return eggs to pan and mix to incorporate.  Add water or wine around perimeter of pan and stir it in.  Add the beans sprouts and scallions, cooking until sprouts begin to wilt.  Serves 4.

Scottish Salmon anyone?

A package of Scottish Smoked Salmon caught my eye at the grocery store recently. It was a thick slice from a fillet weighing between 5-6 ounces in size, similar in shape to a cut of hot smoked Pacific Northwest salmon. But it was softer when pressed—on the order of a chunk of cold smoked Nova.  I was intrigued…

When I opened it later, I discovered the salmon’s skin was attached and it was wonderfully moist and flaked easily.  It’s richly smoked flavor was more intense than the usual Nova salmon—somewhere between hot smoked and Nova. Oh yum. This delicacy would require a light touch to retain its essence and beauty. 

After considering my options, I decided to feature the salmon in a light, creamy Pasta Carbonara. 

I’d go with a fettucine rounded it out with mild artichoke quarters, a bit of roasted red pepper and peas for color—and fold in the salmon at the last minute. If the lovely Scottish smoked salmon is not available, go with your next best choice, either Nova or hot smoked.  

Since there isn’t much prep for this dish, it’s best to have everything ready as it all happens in the blink of an eye.  Frozen peas are set out on the counter at the onset. Canned quartered artichokes are used rather than fresh or frozen and tossed lightly with mild vinaigrette.  I used a variety of fettucine that only takes 5 minutes and started it cooking before beginning the carbonara. 

First, the vegetables are heated in a sauté pan and the hot drained pasta is added and combined. When well heated, the pan is removed from the heat. The egg mixture is poured over the hot pasta forming its own creamy sauce with more Parmesan added in. Any residual heat should be enough for the eggs to bind and cling to the pasta. If in doubt briefly return to heat. Too much heat can run the risk of a scrambled mess.

 

Top with the glorious smoked salmon and a few chives or green onions, give a light toss and dinner is served! 

Smoked Salmon Carbonara

Ingredients

  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, small slivers
  • ⅓ cup roasted red peppers, strips
  • 1 cup quartered artichokes, rinse, drain, cut if large. If time permits, marinate  briefly in 1-2 Tbsp vinaigrette
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ tsp each salt & red pepper flakes
  • ¾ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 12 oz. fettuccine, cooked al dente, 1 cup salted pasta water, reserved
  • 5 oz. Scottish smoked salmon, broken up – or equivalent Nova or hot smoked salmon
  • salt and freshly ground pepper as needed
  • 2 Tbsp chives or green onion slivers

Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente.  Drain and reserve 1 cup pot liquid.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, sauté garlic briefly in olive oil. Add roasted red peppers and drained artichokes, gently toss to incorporate flavors. Add the defrosting peas, cook 1-2 minutes to heat well.  
  3. Beat eggs with red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. Slowly whisk ½ cup of the hot pasta liquid into the eggs to temper them and stir in ¼ cup of grated cheese. 
  4. Reduce heat to medium, toss the pasta and vegetables together in the hot skillet. Drizzle with olive oil to avoid sticking to pan and remove from heat.
  5. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta/vegetables to evenly coat; sprinkle with more cheese. Add more hot pasta water if needed to form a creamy sauce; adjust seasoning.
  6. Top with the smoked salmon pieces and gently combine; overmixing can reduce freshness and color. Sprinkle with chives or green onion.  Yield:  4 generous servings

Transported

Nothing draws me in faster these days than books, movies, and food from other cultures, especially those set in sunny seaside locations.

Number One on my list:  Greece and its many idyllic islands.

Agistri, courtesy Kernpanik 

What a package to contemplate. Glistening beaches, deep blue seas, craggy mountains, a vast history of innovative, resilient people, and magnificent cuisine. Ah, the sun drenched food: the hand-crafted cheeses, the olives and their oils, glorious fruits and vegetables, and the seafood.

On My Greek Table recently, Diane Kochilas whipped up a fascinating version of avgolemono soup laced with fresh fish. It stayed with me and kept replaying in my head… Yes, I should eat more fish, I need this soup.

At its core, avgolemono is a classic Greek soup thickened with eggs and a lively amount of lemon juice—teamed with fish is surely a heavenly match.  As much as I would love to tackle a whole fresh fish like the one Diane tossed around, they are hard to come by.  I’d be lucky to find fresh fish fillets.

I’d adjust my plan, settle on a slightly less authentic version and be happy with rock fillets.  For a modified stock I’d improvise and incorporate a couple bottles of briny, easy-to-find clam broth (usually stocked in the canned fish section).

The soup base starts with a quick sauté of onion and other vegetables, a bay leaf is added, and it’s all simmered with clam stock. Then, fish fillets are layered in for a brief poach and stock boost. When firm to the touch, the fish is pulled to cool and remove any lurking pin bones. The stock volume is increased to accommodate addition of the traditional rice component and cooked until tender.

For the emulsion process, the eggs and lemon juice are whisked together (cornstarch can be included to further ensure soup binding) and tempered with hot stock. It is then poured into the hot soup and stirred in one direction (this motion ensures a smooth consistency) until it becomes thick, silky and bright—hallmarks of this legendary soup.

Greece in a bowl

Finally, fish pieces are re-warmed in the pot and the soup is ladled into waiting bowls.  Finish it with a dusting of fresh dill or marjoram and pass more lemon.

In spite of alterations the soup retains its winsome character—blithely brimming with essence of sun and sea—thanks to the magical egg and lemon emulsion.

Avgolemono Fish Soup

Inspired by Diane Kochilas, My Greek Table.  Chicken and chicken broth can be substituted for fish ingredients.

Ingredients
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chop
1 stalk celery, chop
1 medium carrot, peel, chop
1 clove garlic, mince
6-7 cups fish fumet, clam stock/water, divided
1 bay leaf
¾ lb fresh fish, rock or other firm fleshed fish
salt and pepper
½ cup rice, basmati is good
3 eggs, room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice, from 2-3 lemons
1 Tbsp cornstarch (optional)
fresh lemon and herbs such as dill or marjoram

Instructions

1.  In a soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent. Add the celery, carrot, and bay leaf and sauté briefly. Add 4 cups liquid and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes.
2.  At a low simmer, layer in the fish fillets, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover and poach for 10 minutes, until the fish is opaque. With a wide spatula, carefully remove fillets to holding plate to cool.
3.  Add rice and a pinch of salt; cover, reduce heat and simmer until done, approx. 12 minutes.
4.  Meanwhile remove any detritus and bones from the fish, break into smaller portions and set aside.
5.  When ready to serve, return stock to a simmer making certain there is at least 6 cups liquid.
6.  In mixing bowl, whisk eggs and lemon juice; cornstarch if using. With a ladle, slowly whisk in 1-2 cups hot stock, to temper.
7.  Pour the tempered mixture into the simmering soup; gently stir in one circular direction until it thickens, do not boil. Adjust seasoning, add the fish to warm.
8.  Ladle into bowls and top with fresh herbs and more lemon. Serves 3-4

Ice Storm Satisfaction

This past week the entire country was hit by severe winter storms. We haven’t been spared here in Oregon either. For over a day now, ice storms  have caused sporadic power outages throughout the region.

Icy Rose Bush

Crashing sounds continue to echo outside, as huge icicles precipitously break and fall thunderously to the ground from their weighty perches. It’s darn cold out there.

An early start this morning called for a late breakfast of warm, luxurious, comfort food. High on my mind, a fabulous block of Cotswold Double Gloucester cheese on standby in the fridge.

Cotswold, Courtesy Amazon.com

Cotswold is a variation of Double Gloucester, a whole cow’s milk cheese made in Gloucestershire County, England where it is revered as a pub cheese.  In my book, it’s not nearly so self-limiting.

This is a unique cheddar-style cheese, pale orange in color and deftly speckled with chives and onions.  Its full herbaceous flavor equally shines on a cheeseboard or teamed with just about anything that agrees with alliums.

Here’s a simple solution that soothed my hungry heart.

Cotwold Pub Sandwich

Call this a starting place: a hot sandwich or cheese-stuffed French toast topped with an egg.  A cheese sandwich of this stature is so startlingly robust it needs little more—perhaps a dab of mayonnaise.

Or, Cheese-Stuffed French Toast

Envelope it all in an eggy batter and simply toast on both sides.  It is exquisite graced with a gooey fried egg.

Cotswold Pub Sandwich (Cheese-Stuffed French Toast)

Ingredients
2 slices sourdough bread
2-3 slices Cotswold Double Gloucester with Onions & Chives cheese
1 tsp mayonnaise or mustard combo
2 eggs, divided
1 Tbsp milk
salt, pepper
1 Tbsp butter, divided

Instructions

  1. Spread the inside slices of bread with mayonnaise. Layer with thick slices of Cotswold cheese.
  2.  In shallow bowl, beat 1 egg with 1 Tbsp milk, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the sandwich in the egg batter and soak for 30 seconds to absorb some of the batter. Turn and repeat.
  4. In hot skillet over medium heat, coat the surface with part of the melted butter.  When hot and bubbly add the sandwich and cook until toasted and cheese softens, approximately 3 minutes per side adding butter as needed. 
  5. Remove sandwich to plate.  If desired, add an egg to buttered skillet; once the white begins to set turn or, add 1 Tbsp water to pan to create steam, cover with lid and cook to set the yolk, another minute or so.
  6. Top the sandwich with a fried egg. Enjoy hot.   Serves 1. 

Behold, leftovers!

This year, Christmas dinner had its challenges.  With lockdown in place for many of us, we faced a different holiday meal, one without the shared comfort and joy of extended family and friends.

Not terribly hungry, I ended up roasting a supply of vegetables: brussels sprouts, carrots and potatoes. When ready I topped it with sliced ham, a mustard glaze and baked until bubbly. It got the job done—without much flash or flare.  My heart really wasn’t in it.

Pending leftovers

Holidays meals often translate to future soups, stews and snacks.  The uninspired leftovers lingered in the fridge for a couple of days before I considered what to do with them.  I mulled over the possibilities: soup and such just didn’t seem to fit here. Then I recalled a delicious dish that would create a cohesive meal out of all this with little effort on my part.

In a 2014 blog I described the Chicken Puff Pie as a throwback to the “pot pie—without the pie crust”.  At the time I was deeply into crepes, clafoutis, and custard-based dishes and this evolved from that process. The surprising dish yielded a nutritious, creamy, and satisfying meal without all the work.

I’ve since learned that just about any leftover vegetables and complementary protein will work. Refresh them in a quick sauté with onion and herbs. A thin crepe-like batter is poured overall,  suspending the collection into something similar to a savory clafoutis.

Puff Pie glimpse

Bake the dish for 30 minutes in a hot oven until light and puffed.  Cool briefly and slice into neat wedges.

True comfort food that does not taste like leftovers and reheats beautifully…

Vegetables and Ham Puff Pie  

Most complementary precooked vegetables and protein can be substituted here. 

Ingredients
1 Tbsp butter, plus butter for baking dish
½ medium onion, peeled, small chop
1 clove garlic, divided, crushed
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, diced
1 tsp dried herbs:  thyme, rosemary, sage
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 cup precooked brussels sprouts, cut in half
1 cup precooked carrots, small chunks
1 cup precooked potatoes, small chunks
1 cup or more ham cut into small chunks
Batter
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
3 large eggs, beaten
⅔ cup warm milk
1 clove garlic, crushed
few grinds fresh pepper
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
For top:  2 Tbsp Gruyere cheese, grated

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a quiche dish, pie plate or similar baking dish.
  2. In large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, cook to soften. Add the garlic, jalapeno if desired, herbs, salt and pepper, cook 3-4 minutes.
  3. Stir in precooked vegetables. Add the ham and cook 3-4 minutes to heat and blend flavors.
  4. Make the batter: In a medium bowl combine the flour and salt and make a well in the center.  Add the beaten eggs and begin incorporate the flour; whisk in the milk, the garlic, and a few grinds of pepper. Add the Parmesan cheese to form a thin, nearly smooth batter.
  5. Spread enough batter into the baking dish to coat the bottom, about ½ cup. Place in the hot oven and bake until the bottom is set, 4 minutes.
  6. Evenly distribute the ham and vegetables mixture over the layer of batter in the baking dish. Stir down the remaining batter and pour it evenly over the filling. Sprinkle Gruyere cheese over the top and return the dish to oven.
  7. Reduce the heat to 375°F and bake 35 to 40 minutes longer. It is done when puffed and browned around edges and the center is firm when pressed.  Yield:  4 or more servings

Breakfast All Day

Frittatas are highly versatile and notoriously good hot, warm, or room temperature. They are equally good as a finger food snack cut into small bites.

Depending on the combination, a frittata is satisfying any time of the day. It makes an easy receptacle for fresh or cooked vegetables like potatoes, chorizo and other meats, and leftovers such as pasta—or just about anything that can be suspended in eggs—that familiar binder that keeps it all together.

A frittata is so adaptable it’s hard to screw it up.  As a habit, I tend to begin with vegetables, sliced or in a standard chop, and sauté them over medium heat for even cooking. Any other inclusions are added, followed by the eggs, and it’s finished on the stove with a quick flip, or baked in the oven until set.

Recently, I came across a photo of a frittata that featured bigger pieces of cut-up vegetables—not a hugely innovative idea, but it caused me to rethink frittatas in general.

Frittata with Mixed Vegetables & Cheese

For a slightly different approach, why not simply bump up the heat a little?  Start by searing vegetables cut to any size with a fast steam to further soften?  Add other ingredients including the eggs and cook until set, and finish under the broiler.

Frittata fast track

No big deal, but it does provide a faster, more consistent outcome.  Those lovely vegetables are no longer lost and buried filler.

just a bite

The eggs rise up and elevate zucchini, onion, pepper, and baby tomatoes  into tempting chunks wrapped in a cheese bath.

Mixed Vegetables and Cheese Frittata

Ingredients
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tsp butter
½ medium onion, thickly sliced
1 small zucchini, thickly sliced
1 pasilla, poblano or bell pepper, seed, cut into 1” pieces
1 cup halved baby tomatoes
1 tsp combo fresh thyme, savory, rosemary or other
salt and pepper
6 eggs
⅓ cup thick dairy such as yogurt or ricotta
2 Tbsp water or milk
½ cup crumbled or grated ricotta salata, feta, or cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated asiago or Parmesan cheese
½ cup green onions

Directions
1. Preheat oven broiler to 400°F degrees.
2. Heat 8-9” skillet heat over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sauté the onion to soften for 1 minute. Increase heat to medium high, add zucchini, the green pepper, fresh herbs and a light dusting of salt and pepper.
3. Cook to color the vegetables, 4- 5 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp water and cover for 1-2 minutes to soften the vegetables.
4. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and liquid. Remove lid, toss the vegetables, add butter and a bit more olive oil if needed to coat bottom of pan.
5. Pour in the eggs and sprinkle with the cheese. Once the mixture begins to set, tilt the pan and gently lift the mass to loosen the bottom with a spatula and allow the egg liquid to run to the bottom of the pan. Continue to turn the pan, gently lifting to keep from sticking to pan and letting the loose eggs flow under.
6. When the eggs begins to set run the frittata under the broiler until the center is puffed and the top begins to brown in places. Remove and sprinkle with green onions or other fresh herbs. Serve hot, warm or room temperature, sliced into wedges. Serves 4.

Quintessentially laid back

I can’t believe I haven’t yet posted on Key Lime Pie, a favorite of many, including me. Once you’ve had a taste of its tart-sweetness, just thinking about this luscious pie makes your mouth water.

Key Lime Pie

This is a recipe that comes from my cheffing days based out of Florida—where  small, flavorful Key limes are readily available. If not, no worries, just substitute bottled Key lime juice or regular limes. It really doesn’t matter—it’s always good.  For a tropical climate with a laid back attitude, this legendary pie is one that everyone can wrap their minds around.

It’s a curious pie that hasn’t changed much in decades. One of its quirks comes from the inclusion of sweetened condensed milk. The knowledge that acid combined with evaporated milk could yield a thick filling was a boon to those living on the water or in remote locales. No need to fret over fresh milk or cream, and the addition of sugar in the canned milk made it even easier.

Chilled Out 

Still, there are many versions of Key lime pie.  I like to lighten the filling just a bit with a couple of  beaten egg whites.  An optional sour cream topping can introduce an interesting counterpoint to the sweetness of the pie.  Also included, a graham cracker crust alternative that bakes for only three minutes in the microwave.

Most Key lime pie lovers would agree that it is perfectly good morning, noon, or night—anywhere there’s a cool breeze and a little shade.  At times, I’ve been known to get further carried away by making candied lime slices ahead for garnish points. But that’s another story.

Key Lime Pie

Ingredients
1 recipe Graham Cracker Crust, baked (below)
Filling
1 – 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand is good)
¼ cup Key lime juice (6 small), bottled Key lime juice, or fresh lime juice
1 tsp grated lime zest
2 eggs, separated
½ tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Optional:  Topping: 1 cup sour cream, ⅓ cup granulated sugar, 1 tsp vanilla; lime slices

Instructions

  1. Ahead bake the crust. Pre-heat oven to 325-350°F.
  2. For the filling, whisk condensed milk, lime juice and rind in a bowl to blend. Whisk in egg yolks and vanilla until smooth and thick.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the whites until soft peaks form, sprinkle on sugar and continue until stiff. Gently fold into lime mixture.
  4. Pile filling into the pre-baked shell and bake 15 minutes to set; remove to rack to cool while making the topping. If not using, bake a total of 30 minutes.
  5. For topping, gently combine sour cream, sugar, and vanilla and spread over the warm pie. Bake the pie with topping an additional 15 minutes.
  6. Cool and chill well. Slice into wedges and serve with a lime slice. Yield: 8 slices.

Graham Cracker Crust
1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (10-12 graham crackers)
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
⅓ cup melted butter

  1. Spray a 9″ pie plate with cooking spray.
  2.  For the crust, combine ingredients and pat into pie plate; chill for 15 minutes.
  3.  Bake the crust in the microwave for approximately 3 minutes, or in 375°F oven 6-8 minutes, until firm and crisp. Set aside to cool.

Delicious but not Devastating

Incorporating vegetables into desserts is an appealing way to slip more valuable nutrients into our daily food intake. Carrot and zucchini cakes are solutions, likely loaded with exorbitant amounts of oil and smeared with heavy-duty cream cheese toppings. Any natural benefits have been all but cancelled out.

Delicious but not devastating, that’s my goal. Trying to elevate the plight of vegetable desserts, here’s my latest take on zucchini cake. First, I’ve learned that steaming, rather than conventional baking, can introduce moisture and lower the need for massive doses of oil.

I zeroed in on two other ingredients of interest: chocolate and nuts.  I like the chocolate and zucchini combination—but chocolate easily overwhelms, and I’m not looking for another chocolate cake (probably one of few to so admit). Nuts add deep taste, complexity, and crunch. Then, it made perfect sense: why not keep it simple and go with cacao nibs?  They have all that, and more.

Roasted Cacao Nibs

There is a difference between regular chocolate and nibs. Typical chocolate bars come from cacao seeds, which are fermented, ground, and further processed. Cacao nibs are crumbled pieces from the exterior cacao bean shell, with a bitter chocolate punch and nutty texture. Nibs are rich in flavonoid antioxidants, minerals, and more; they contribute plenty of fiber—but nothing extreme as gnawing on wood.

I’ve included another duo that works well together: coriander and orange. Instead of the usual grated zest, I’ve gone with tiny nibs of minced orange peel (white removed) for a super-charged citrus flavor that’s offset by the exotic perfume of coriander. The backdrop for all of this comes from a huge surplus of green summer squash, rather than zucchini.

Zucchini Cake with Cacao & Orange Nibs

The cake steams in 35 minutes—literally from the inside out—it cooks thoroughly, thanks to the center hole in the bundt pan. You would never guess it had been steamed; once turned out of the pan and cooled, it appears browned and perfectly baked. The cake’s surprisingly light texture is speckled with flavorful flecks from the orange, green squash, and chocolate brown cacao nibs. It’s quite a party!


Update! The pressurized steaming process also softens the cacao nibs. As the cake rests, the nibs seem to bloom (stored in the fridge). Their nubby texture relaxes, and more complex chocolate qualities unfold.  Fascinating… and highly delicious.


Steamed Zucchini Cake with Cacao and Orange Nibs

Ingredients
1½ cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp each baking soda and salt
1 tsp coriander
2 eggs
⅓ cup vegetable oil
½ cup each granulated sugar and brown sugar
2 Tbsp plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups grated zucchini or summer squash, skin on
2 tsp orange peel, white removed, sliver and chop well
⅓ cup roasted cacao nibs

Instructions

  1. Thinly coat 8” bundt pan with Baker’s or nonstick spray.
  2. Prepare Instant Pot or other multicooker: fill with 1½ cup water and insert trivet. Cut aluminum foil cover for pan and prepare sling for pan.
  3. Combine flour through spices together and set aside.
  4. In mixing bowl whisk eggs, then beat in the oil. Whisk in the sugar to fully combine, and then stir in the yogurt and vanilla. Add the zucchini.  Stir in the dry ingredients just to incorporate and finally add the cacao and orange nibs. Scrape batter into the bundt pan and level the surface.
  5. Begin heating multicooker, set to Sauté More. Add 1 ½ cup water and place the trivet in pot.
  6. Cover filled bundt pan with foil. Fold the other length of foil into a long sling. Wrap it under the pan, up the sides, over the top, and lower it into the pot.
  7. Seal pot with lid, reset to Hi Pressure for 35 minutes. When complete, turn off unit, disconnect and let rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Slowly release remaining pressure and open the lid. Using the foil sling, carefully lift pan out of pot and onto a rack. Remove foil and cool for 10 minutes. With thin knife, loosen any edges adhering to pan and turn cake out to cool onto rack.  Makes 1 cake, serves 10.

Anytime Bagel

This really isn’t a recipe, it’s more a prompt for designing a Breakfast Bagel & Lox.  In its simplest form, you begin with a toasted bagel and smear it with a topping such as cream cheese, ricotta, even hummus; it’s crowned with a healthy portion of thin sliced smoked salmon—plus any other touches, such as capers, onion, & dill.

People have their preferences on smoked salmon. If you are from the east coast it’s probably Nova Scotian or Scandinavian cold smoked salmon. On the west coast, we are all over the board, with even hot smoked a consideration.  As far as I’m concerned it is all good, but I do love pristine Nova.

Creating your masterpiece, you could go two-sided and build up both bagel halves. I’m happy enjoying a really good onion bagel with the focus only on one side. That’s plenty, because I like adding an egg.

For the egg(s), lately I’ve taken to using an egg ring and either poaching or scrambling the egg. It’s good to butter the ring and the pan surface before dropping in the egg. Once it begins to set, add water to pan, cover with a lid, and steam until the white is set and yolk is pink and cooked to taste.

If you are a dyed-in-the-wool bagel lover, you know this is not just morning food. Rather, it falls into the breakfast-all-day category. It’s good anytime.

Breakfast Bagel & Lox

Ingredients
1 bagel, sliced in half
2 Tbsp or more cream cheese or fresh ricotta
1 sliced tomato
1-2 eggs, poached*, scrambled, or fried
1-2 ounces thin sliced smoked salmon
capers, red onion, fresh dill or other herbs, ground pepper, sliced tomato, radishes, fresh lemon

Instructions
Toast the bagel and spread both sides with cream cheese or ricotta.  Layer on slices of tomato and top with prepared egg*.
Drape with smoked salmon and add capers, red onions, fresh dill and sliced lemon. Serves 1 or more.
*For poached egg using egg ring, heat skillet to medium. Butter ring interior and pan surface. Drop egg into ring in pan and let it set briefly. Drizzle pan with a few tablespoons of water to create steam, cover with a lid 2-3 minutes, until white is set and yolk is pink, or cooked to taste.

Sweet Dreams

We all have our favorite places and cultures to visit. Mine has long been the northeastern corner of Spain, the mysterious Basque country and the Pyrenees Alps. It’s got the total package, a rugged coastline and breathtaking mountains, plus resourceful, resilient people with a world class cuisine.

Basque food has the unique ability to reach into the heart and linger there, and such is the case with the notorious Basque Gateau.  Popular versions of it crop up across the border in the Pays Basque region of France and down into the southern reaches of Spain.  It’s a simple pastry marked by crosshatches across the top and filled with either cherry jam or pastry cream. So, what’s the big deal?

People praise the cake’s holding powers and reverently speak of it as the item to take when traveling or visiting friends.  Admittedly, I’ve had my own visions of romantic adventures complete with this charming cake—safe in the knowledge it would sustain in any conditions.

I’ve considered making a Basque Custard Cake but have been put off by the complicated process and rich pastry. However, there is one recipe I have held onto for quite a while. It’s an interesting take from the French perspective by accomplished chef Michel Richard.  In my notes, he describes it endearingly as a “pastry cream encased in two cookie crusts; aka a weekend cake in France because it holds so well.”  Sweet.

The more I’ve studied Richard’s approach, the more I like it. For example, pastry cream often uses egg yolks with cornstarch for thickener because cornstarch does not not lump when added to hot liquid; however, it can break down with prolonged cooking.  Richard’s version opts for flour instead, which makes sense since this pastry cream cooks twice.  His should hold up very well and continue to maintain mass at room temperature or cold.

I’m impressed with Richard’s brilliant crust solution, too. Rather than a labor intense, buttery pastry, he elects to use the whites left from the custard.  He cleverly incorporates them into a light, resilient cookie/cake-like base. The first thin layer is baked just to set, the filling is added, remaining dough is spread on top and it is given a final bake.  Simple enough.

Basque Gateau

I decided to give it a try.  Here are a couple of notes:  I further simplified Richard’s custard by using double the vanilla extract, rather than soaking a vanilla bean (which I was missing) for an hour in hot milk.  It also makes twice as much as needed, but that’s fine; it came in handy.  I also dabbed a small amount of cherry jam on the baked bottom crust before the pastry cream. It appears that cookie/cake dough is quite scant.  However, it blends beautifully with the pastry cream and works out fine.

Basque Custard Cookie Cake

So, there you have it.  I will definitely make this Basque Custard Cake again. (Actually, I did make it again. It was easier the second time with remaining custard and refined method. I kept my fingers off of it and it was just as good the next day!)  The cherry and custard combo gives it real character, but you could use either.

I dare you to eat just one piece—evidently, I practically polished an entire cake by myself!

Basque Custard Cookie Cake

Inspired by Michel Richard, Baking from the Heart

Ingredients
Pastry Cream
2 cups milk
pinch salt
½ cup sugar,  divided
2 tsp vanilla extract, divided
4 large egg yolks, room temp
⅓ cup flour
1 Tbsp butter
Cookie Dough
4 Tbsp butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 large egg whites, room temp
½ cup AP flour, plus 1 Tbsp
½ cup cherry jam, optional

Instructions

1. Make Pastry Cream
In 4 cup microwaveable measure, heat milk in microwave with salt, and ¼ cup sugar for 2-3 minutes to dissolve sugar, add vanilla extract.
In small mixing bowl, beat yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar until thick and pale yellow, 2-3 minutes.  Mix in flour.  Gradually pour in the hot milk and whisk to incorporate.
Pour the mixture into a small pan, set over medium heat and continue whisking as it thickens to avoid lumps and curdling.  Reduce to medium low and cook 2-3 minutes, whisking to keep smooth and not curdle. Off heat stir in butter and remaining vanilla. Scrape into a bowl and cover top with film. Chill 2-3 hours until cold, up to 1 day ahead.  You should have enough for 2 cakes.

2. Make Dough
Preheat oven to 350-375°F. Thoroughly butter and flour 9″ tart or springform pan.
In mixing bowl beat butter, add sugar in 3-4 batches, beating well after each addition until light. Beat in egg whites one at a time, incorporating after each. Stir in flour to just combine and form a soft batter.

3. To Bake
Spoon enough batter to thinly cover bottom of pan, about ½ cup spread ⅛” thick.  Bake 10-12 minutes, until dough is firm to touch, and edges turn golden brown.
If using preserves, randomly dot spoonfuls onto crust spreading away from edges. Top with cold pastry cream, leaving ½” border at edge.
Carefully spoon remaining dough evenly over all, spreading to cover cream and fill in border edge.  Bake 25-35 minutes, rotating pan until golden brown.  Cool completely on wire rack.  Release cake from pan and slice into wedges.  For best flavor, allow to come to room temperature for 1 hour prior to serving.  Cover and chill for storage.   Serves 6-8