Going with the flow

I’m still using Imperfect Foods for bi-monthly deliveries. They are on time with reliably packed seasonal produce and products—a pleasure during this Covid debacle when shopping is frequently less than enjoyable.

Key cooking options recently got down to a small bunch of leeks and one sweet potato. It looked like it was time for a nutritious soup. I’d put my Zen on and shoot for uncomplicated {Sweet} Potato Leek Soup—and see what happened.

Sweet Potato and Leeks

Oops, as I started peeling the sweet potato I discovered it was white inside. What? Apparently this sweet potato variation can be drier and less sweet than its redder cousins. Okay, fine.

With so few ingredients it’s hard to screw up this soup. I did add a touch of flour to stabilize the soup, just in case it turned grainy. Most important, the leeks need to cook 30 minutes to soften and release their full sweet-herbal flavors. For stock base, I opt for chicken broth, but I suspect a good vegetable broth would be just as good.

The cubed sweet potato is hard but cooks fairly quickly. The only other seasonings used were herbs with the leeks, nutmeg with the sweet potato, salt and white pepper. When ready, an immersion blender quickly pureed it all.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although I was prepared to thin it with milk or stock, I kept it slightly thick. Ah, yes. The soup was creamy and delicious with soothing herbal notes and a touch of sweetness (likely more so with a red sweet potato). It needed no tweaking.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup

The garnishes also took on a life of their own. I especially liked it swirled with salted Greek yogurt and threads of green onion.

On another occasion, for textural interest, I dusted the top with dukkah (below), a favorite of Yotam Ottolenghi.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup with Dukkah

Dukkah is a nutty Egyptian mix laced with coriander, cumin and sesame seeds that I learned about on his MasterClass. Oh, yum.

Dukkah mix

The point is, any type of potato will work here, just go with the flow… it’s even good straight up in a cup—fast, filling, and refreshing.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients
1 Tbsp coconut oil or butter
3 small leeks, mostly white parts, clean well, trim and slice
½ tsp thyme and/or savory
1 bay leaf
salt and white pepper
1 Tbsp flour
2-3 cups chicken broth, divided
1 medium sweet potato (any kind!), peel and small chop
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 cup evaporated or whole milk approx., optional
Finish: plain yogurt light salted, green onion slivers

For Dukkah mix: 1 tsp coconut oil, 2 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp white and or black sesame seeds, ⅔ cup total any combo slivered almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and or pistachios. Each ½ tsp paprika, dried oregano or sage, and sumac if available. Optional ½ tsp salt and/or sugar. (see below)

Directions

  1. In soup pot heat the oil over medium add the leeks and toss; then the spices. Cook 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, blend in the flour and cook 2-3 minutes.
  2. Stir in 1 cup stock, simmer to thicken. Add the potato cubes and nutmeg; stir in more stock to cover. Simmer the vegetables until soft, 20-30 minutes.
  3. Carefully puree with an immersion blender until smooth; adjust seasoning. Set aside until ready to serve soup.
  4. To finish, heat the soup mixture. If desired, stir in milk to thin; avoid boiling. Finish with salted yogurt, green onion or dukkah. Serves 4
Dukkah

inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi

  1. In a small skillet, heat coconut oil over medium/high heat, add the coriander and cumin seeds and cook until aromatic, 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add sesame seeds and toss until toasted scents begin to develop. Add nuts of choice. As mix begins to toast, add paprika, oregano or sage, sumac if available. Adjust with a pinch of salt and/or sugar as needed to balance. Toss until well toasted but not burnt. Let cool.
  3. Process briefly in food processor into a coarse blend. Cool and store well covered, the blend holds well.

Smoking Light

I finally buckled and bought a small grill/smoker.  This little guy is the compromise I’d been dreaming about: a compact heavy duty grill geared for smoking.  Turns out, this odd-duck is the cast iron smoker box add-on to Char-Griller’s large premium model.  Their baby version is also designed as a stand alone tabletop grill.

Char-Griller Table Top Grill

I’ve been running it through its paces and yes, it holds optimum temperatures of 250-275°F.  Using the the offset smoking method, coals are fired up in a lower ash box opposite the main grill side. Two vents channel smoke up and around the food, constantly wrapping it in warm smoke.

I’m not interested in smoking food for hours on end, but I do want it thoroughly smoked and safely cooked within a reasonable amount of time. There’s a delicate balance between duration of time and establishing the proper interior heat for adequate smoking.  When planning for thorough cooking of most foods, the 250-275°F range seems to be it.

Acceptable internal meat temperatures can actually differ from traditional gauges and guidelines, such as cooking poultry until 165°F.  It’s been proven that holding meat at a prolonged lower cooking temp is perfectly safe, if it is held for a prescribed period of time.  For example with chicken, the USDA says that bacteria like salmonella is eliminated and chicken is safe once it fully reaches 145°F and is cooked at that temperature at least 13 minutes longer.

That’s more information than you may want. Especially if you have an electric or propane grill that monitors all of that for you.  But this approach works for the minimalist in me.

In my opinion chicken thighs are an ideal solution for a ‘smoking light’ session. With the bone-in and skin on they need little more to produce perfect packages of moist, blissful meat graced with just enough skin for those who may deem it important.

Thighs ‘Smoked Light’

My approach for smoked chicken thighs includes brining. A flavored salt solution acts to purify, moisturize and enhance the thighs. It gets the job done in four hours, but may be held longer with a saltier outcome.  If concerned, just dilute with more water.

After the brining, thighs air dry for 4 hours to aid in smoke adherence and absorption. To counteract flabby or rubbery skin, try a quick sear in a hot pan prior to smoking. Another solution is to sear them on the grill, but fat dripping onto coals also means flare ups and heat acceleration.

No time to brine? Try a light rub on the thighs prior to placing them on the grill—with a water pan below.  A simple rub with paprika and slight pop of sumac is included; it will punch up the flavor yet allow the smoke essence to flourish.

For smoke flavoring, I soaked a combination of mesquite and apple chips for 30 minutes and drained them well before placing them in a smoker box on top of white charcoal.  The coals  were replenished once to maintain the grill’s interior temperature.

After 1½ hours cooking time, thigh internal temperatures ranged from 145 to 155°F.  Within 15 minutes, temperatures maintained and stabilized from 148-155°F throughout.  The thighs had a beautiful burnished color and were firm when pressed.

Smoked Chicken Thighs

Done to perfection!

Smoked Chicken Thighs

Ingredients
4-6 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
Brine
2 cups water divided
2 cloves garlic, smash and sliver
1 Tbsp each sea salt and granulated sugar
½ tsp peppercorns
bay leaf
Optional Rub
1 tsp each salt, white pepper,  sweet or smoked paprika, ⅛ tsp sumac

Directions

  1. Brine: combine 1 cup water and ingredients, bring to boil to dissolve salt and sugar. Add 1 cup cold water to the brine and set aside to cool.
    Wash the thighs and trim excess skin and fat. Place in zip lock bag covered with brine. Marinate 4 hours; it becomes saltier the longer it brines.
    Remove the thighs from brine, pat excess liquid.  Air dry on a rack for 4 or more hours in fridge. Bring thighs to room temperature before smoking.
  2. Soak chips: soak wood chips in water for 20-30 minutes, drain well and place in smoker box if using.
  3. Prepare the smoker:  ignite coals. Add a water pan below the offset smoker grill side and spray the grill. When coals begin to turn white, top with chips/smoker box.
  4. Optional thighs sear:  heat skillet to medium high and coat it with oil. Sear skin sides only.
  5. Optional rub:  If using rub, apply just before placing on grill.
  6. Smoke the thighs: when interior smoker temperature reaches 250°F place the thighs on the grill. Close the lid and set vents partially open for draft.  Smoke the thighs for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until 165°F internal temp, or a sustained overall internal temp of 150°F for 5 minutes.

Note:  to maintain a steady heat level check coals 30 minutes into smoke, if dwindling add a few more hot coals to bed.     

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.

Mole, please

With the changing seasons I’m already thinking of more robust meals and nothing makes my heart beat faster than a high flavored mole, the national dish of Mexico. This unique dish is a throw back to esteemed concoctions originally made by the Aztecs and later nuanced by the Spanish nuns of Puebla.

Mole!

A traditional mole sauce can vary in color from red to green and in-between, depending on what it contains and where it is made, but often includes a range of chiles, nuts, seeds, spices, fruits, and even chocolate.

With all of these moving parts, this complex labor of love can require a day or longer to create—thus, it is often held for special occasions. Once prepared, the triumphant sauce is simmered with chicken, turkey, pork, or beef and served with plenty of warm tortillas, local vegetables such as chayote or squash, and rice.

North of the border, we are more likely to come up with a compromise meal solution that’s attainable in far less time—but just as festive. We could 1) devise our own “simplified” sauce, perhaps include dried chiles, spices, peanut butter, and chocolate, 2) run to the closest local Mexican market for their prepared house blend, or 3) pull out a jar of Doña Maria Mole, a dense paste found at your local grocery store.

Doña Maria Mole Sauce helps makes an impressive meal—even mid-week.  I still like to dress it up with more garlic, chile powder and seasoning before adding the mole base. It needs copious thinning with stock or other liquid and then the sauce is simmered briefly to blend flavors.

Turkey Mole

Browned-off portions of chicken, pork, or beef—or my favorite, turkey breast—are added to the sauce and simmered until tender. If you have an Instant Pot, this entire project can be accomplished in about an hour.

As you would expect, mole actually improves overnight, and reheats beautifully.  The sauce thickens mightily and goes much further than you would expect. Like a good soup, extend with more water.

Mole, please

EZ Turkey Mole

Ingredients
turkey breast, 2-3 lbs. boned, with skin (or equivalent cut-up chicken, pork or beef)
½ tsp both salt and pepper, or more
1-2 Tbsp canola oil
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup liquid: coffee or water
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup prepared mole blend (such as Doña Maria Mole Mexican Sauce)
3-4 cups approx., stock or water to thin
1-2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds, ½ cup cilantro

Instructions

  1.  Season the turkey breast with salt and pepper, heat the oil in a pot over medium high and brown the breast on both sides,10-15 minutes total. Transfer to a holding plate.
  2. Reduce heat to medium/low. If necessary add enough oil to yield 1 tablespoon in pan. Stir in spices, then the garlic; cook until fragrant, 30-60 seconds. Add liquid, stir to loosen and combine pan drippings. Blend in the tomato paste.
  3. Stir in the mole base adding enough liquid to thin into a medium sauce. Adjust seasoning and bring to a simmer; it will continue to thicken as it cooks. Return the turkey breast (and any accumulated juices) to pot.
  4. Set Instant Pot for 20-30 minutes (9 mins/pound) with 10 minute release, or simmer on the stovetop 45-60 minutes, until tender.
  5. Adjust seasoning, it may need a touch of orange juice or sugar. Serve sliced portions with sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds and fresh cilantro. Pass warmed tortillas. Serves 4.

Tomato Sauce, Keto-style

When my daughter Shannon recently sent her favorite recipe for Five Minute Keto Pizza I was off and running.  She has long been a keto fan, and a terrific source of the latest information.

Ketogenics is not new; it was developed nearly 100 years ago at the Mayo Clinic as a treatment for epilepsy.  It has gained a huge following by those interested in weight loss or other heath issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, epilepsy, and more. The keto diet focuses on the restriction of carb-rich foods, forcing the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates, resulting in a metabolic state of ketosis.

Turns out the pizza crust is made with eggs for protein, psyllium husk for fiber, and Parmesan cheese. The blended mixture thickens to form a bread-like base when cooked in an oil lined skillet for a couple of minutes.  Rao’s Tomato Sauce and mozzarella cheese are spread on and quickly broiled. Its fast!

No doubt this is a good recipe for those seriously interested in adhering to the keto program as ingredients and quantities are set out to meet specific criteria. On the hunt for psyllium husk, I found a small vaguely marked bag in the back of a cupboard.  I wasn’t sure if it was a powder form or whole, and this matters when it comes to the gut and intestinal processes.  I set it aside for later.

I turned my attention to the sauce;  as a recipe developer this looked like a good challenge.  Unlike other fruit, tomatoes are considered keto-friendly, thanks to their low sugar net carb status. Who knows what Rao had in mind, but I could surely make a homemade tomato sauce that stays within keto boundaries—and acceptable to me.

I zeroed in on Bagna Cauda, the incredible “hot bath” from Italy’s Piedmont region traditionally made with copious amounts of olive oil plus butter. It’s simmered with loads of garlic and anchovies and served as a hot dip, fondue-style. I would begin there. For a win/win, I’d cut back on the oil and butter and substitute a heritage tomato such as a San Marzano or Oregon Spring.

There are so few ingredients in this sauce, each one is important.  It needs a fruity, full flavored extra virgin olive oil, at least 1 clove garlic per serving, and red pepper flakes for a hit of heat. The anchovies give a mysterious umami boost, any fishiness fades to the background, and it’s not too salty.  The tomatoes should be thin-skinned, meaty, low in acid, with few seeds. If using a canned San Marzano, look for one with no sugar added.

Simple Tomato-Bagna Cauda Sauce

As the bagna cauda base and tomatoes simmer away, they break down together and develop into a richly rounded sauce. Serve with chicken, fish, pasta, or pizza.

Tomato-Bagna Cauda Sauce

Ingredients
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, mash and mince
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
8 anchovy fillets, dice
4-6 large heirloom tomatoes such as San Marzano, chop
salt and pepper
1-2 Tbsp fresh basil, torn

Instructions

  1. Heat a wide pot over medium-low, cook olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and anchovies. Slowly cook; mashing the anchovies until melted, smooth, and aromatic, 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, partially cover set to a low simmer an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until thick. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in fresh basil. Makes 2 cups or more.

 

Five Minute Keto Pizza

Source: Ruled.me
Ingredients
2 large Eggs
2 tbsp. Parmesan Cheese
1 tbsp. Psyllium Husk Powder
1/2 tsp. Italian Seasoning
Salt to Taste
2 tsp. Frying Oil (I use bacon fat)
1.5 oz. Mozzarella Cheese
3 tbsp. Rao’s Tomato Sauce
1 tbsp. Freshly Chopped Basil

Directions

  1. In a bowl or container, use an immersion blender to mix together all pizza crust ingredients.
  2. Heat frying oil in a pan until hot, then spoon the mixture into the pan. Spread out into a cirlce.
  3. Once edges are browned, flip and cook for 30-60 seconds on the other side. Turn the stove off, and turn the broiler on.
  4. Add tomato sauce and cheese, then broil for 1-2 minutes or until cheese is bubbling.

Forbidden Rice for Everyone

Here’s a rice with benefits worth knowing about. Yes, rice is a staple in much of the world—it comes in a variety of strains from white, to brown, and even black.  I’m late coming to the rice party, perhaps reluctant, in thinking it lacked nutritional value. That was until I became acquainted with black rice.

Forbidden Rice

Black rice, often referred to as Emperor’s Rice in China, harkens back to ancient times when it was prized for its medicinal attributes and thought to contribute to longevity.  So rare, it was reserved as tribute food for those of the highest status.

Times have changed and these days strains of black rice are available throughout Asia—where it is recognized as a source of anthocyanins, those coveted antioxidant wielding phytochemicals found in blueberries and acai. Interestingly, its black color transforms into a muted purple when cooked.

Black rice is considered a whole grain since the husk and germ remain in tact. It has more fiber and protein than brown rice and is also gluten-free. Studies have found black rice may reduce cancer, act as an anti-inflammatory, and even help with memory functions. Its toasty flavor and chewy texture are reminiscent of wild rice.

On the stove top, black rice can take up to an hour to cook, but I’ve come up with a more efficient method. I discovered Forbidden Rice from Lotus Foods, a heritage black rice that cooks in 30 minutes and now available in most well stocked markets.

Soaking rice also reduces cooking time. It’s worth noting than many sources believe the addition of an acid such as lemon juice during the soaking process is helpful in removing phytic acid, which can inhibit mineral absorption.

Steamed Forbidden Rice

In tandem with presoaking, steaming black rice in the Instant Pot or other pressure cooker can cut cooking time down to a mere 12 minutes. Once the pot is disconnected, a 6 minute natural release of pressure has just enough residual heat to finish the cooking process and allow a brief rest to separate and swell the rice.

Zucchini Rice Patties

The prepared rice is ready to use in any recipe calling for cooked rice. Forbidden Rice is not regarded as a sticky rice, but it does hold together when necessary. Here, Zucchini Rice Patties assemble quickly for a  tasty appetizer, a nutritious side dish, or entrée. They shine with a squeeze of lemon, or dress them up with raita or other light yogurt sauce.

They are even good the next day topped with an egg.

Zucchini Rice Patties

Ingredients
1 medium zucchini or summer squash, (1 generous cup, grated)
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp green onion, fine chop
2 Tbsp parsley or 1 tsp fresh minced thyme, dill or fennel fronds
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp each salt and pepper
1 cup cooked black, brown, or white rice (see below)
¼ cup flour + ½ tsp baking powder, approx.
2-3 Tbsp vegetable oil

Instructions

  1. Place grated zucchini and salt in a strainer lined with paper toweling or a coffee filter to draw out excess liquid. Let drain 30 minutes and squeeze well.
  2. Combine the zucchini with green onion and herbs; add the egg, salt and pepper. Lightly blend in the rice. Stir in enough flour and baking powder to thicken and bind.
  3. Divide heaping tablespoons into 6-8 rounds and shape into patties.
  4. Heat skillet over moderate heat with enough oil to coat bottom of pan. Add patties, gently flatten and cook 3 minutes per side until lightly browned. Drain on toweling. Cook in batches if necessary. Makes 6-8 patties.
  5. Serve with lemon, raita or yogurt herb sauce.

To presoak Forbidden Rice
1 cup Forbidden Rice
1 cup water
1 Tbsp lemon juice (optional)
Rinse and drain rice.
Combine lemon juice and water and pour over the rice.  Cover and let stand 7-8 hours. Use as is or rinse and drain.

To cook soaked Forbidden Rice in Instant Pot
1¾ cup water, divided
pinch salt
Lower trivet into liner; pour in 1 cup water and set pot to Sauté Normal to begin preheating.
In a heat proof dish or steamer, spread the soaked rice in bottom and add a pinch of salt; barely cover it with ¾ cup water. Cover with foil or a lid and set on trivet.
Seal pot and manually set to Hi Pressure for 12 minutes. When complete, turn off pot and disconnect; let pressure release naturally for 6 minutes. Carefully remove lid and lift out cooking container.
Fluff rice with fork and proceed as needed. Yields 3-4 cups.

This is a mouthful

I finally came up with a smoked salmon pizza that makes sense.  I love the idea but have been stuck on a Nova salmon approach for so long, I missed the obvious.

I had to get beyond the New York Nova style salmon,  the cold smoked process that we think of with bagels and lox. In my mind, this equated to adding salmon after baking the pizza to preserve its delicate smoked essence.

Well, of course. Here in the Pacific Northwest, hot smoked salmon is king. That smoking process delivers a bolder, firmer, deeply smoked salmon that’s unflinchingly good, whether hot or cold.

Once out of that box, a concept finally emerged,  a hot smoked salmon pizza with a buckwheat crust topped with toasted onion rings.

Smoked Salmon Pizza, Buckwheat Crust, Toasted Onion Rings

I’d retain some elements associated with traditional Nova, but for this pizza I’d veer off with a buckwheat infused crust.  I’d keep it simple with a light white sauce and bites of the hot smoked salmon graced with toasted sweet onion rings, capers, dill and rosemary.

There’s nothing complicated with any of these moving parts, but they do require a little advance work.

The buckwheat crust brings a toasted nuttiness which is lovely with the salmon.  I often use buckwheat in baking as an alternative to whole wheat and stock a small amount of the flour purchased in bulk for occasional use.

Buckwheat Pizza Dough

The crust is the usual pizza dough here, substituting ½ cup buckwheat flour for ½ cup AP, if no buckwheat go with wheat flour if you have it.  Since the dough only needs a few minutes to rise and pats out like a dream, I tend to continue on and prebake 2 medium crusts (or 1 large) because they freeze so well. This way, finishing a pizza can be done at my own speed rather than futzing with dough at the last minute.

For the onion, I opt for sliced sweet onion which is not caramelized in the true sense. Rather, the rings are kept as intact slices and laid onto a flat skillet with a light coating of butter and evoo. The slices are left to toast undisturbed, then flipped over and browned a little longer for a total of 10-12 minutes.

Toasted Onion Rings

The sauce is essentially a light Mornay enriched with a little Asiago cheese and a dollop of thick yogurt. It’s flour base provides stability for the yogurt— which holds beautifully and supplies a creamy bright edge rather than richness.

The pizza makes a superb dinner with salad. As you would expect, it is delish the next day for breakfast.

Smoked Salmon Pizza with Buckwheat Crust & Toasted Onion Rings

Ingredients
1-2 tsp evoo for pan
1 recipe Quick & Easy Pizza Dough
½ cup buckwheat flour (or whole wheat flour)
5 oz hot smoked salmon
Toasted Onion Rings
2 tsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 sweet onion, slices
Cheese Sauce
2 tsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp AP flour
¼ tsp each salt, ⅛ tsp white pepper
2 Tbsp Asiago or Parmesan cheese
½ cup liquid: stock, water, etc.
½ cup milk
⅓ cup thick yogurt
Finish
½ cup Asiago or Parmesan, grated
¼ tsp or more coarse ground pepper
2 tsp capers, drain
2 tsp mixed fresh herbs: rosemary and dill

Directions

  1. Prepare dough, substitute ½ cup AP Flour with ½ buckwheat flour. Let rise 10-20 minutes. For medium pizza, use ½ recipe. For large pizza, use entire recipe.
  2. To toast onion, heat butter and olive oil over medium/low heat in wide skillet or on a griddle. Lay sliced rounds of onion into pan and toast until golden; carefully turn and toast second side, for a total of 10-15 minutes. Remove rings, cool on plate and set aside.
  3. For Cheese Sauce, in small saucepan heat butter and oil over medium/low heat. Add the flour, salt, and pepper and stir for 3-4 minutes. Add the cheese to melt and then stir in ½ cup liquid to dissolve flour, then add the milk, stirring to create a sauce. Stir in the yogurt, combine and heat briefly. Adjust seasoning and set aside.
  4. Shape ½ the dough with oiled hands onto oiled 9-10” pizza pan or pat out all for 1 large crust. It can be prebaked at this point, see dough recipe.
  5. Spread the dough with Cheese Sauce.
  6. Divide the salmon into chunks and arrange evenly oven the sauce. Drape with onion rings.
  7. Sprinkle with ground pepper, grated cheese, capers and herbs.
  8. Bake 425-450°F until bubbly and top begins to color, 18-25 minutes. Makes 1 medium/large pizza

Ready when you are

If you happened to read the preceding post, you know that this past St Paddy’s Day took a turn and the usual corned beef and cabbage evolved into homemade pastrami.  It wasn’t until well into the pastrami making process that I began to consider new accompaniments.

A peppery rub and time in the smoker had altered this corned beef so greatly that thoughts of traditional boiled vegetables seemed horribly wrong.  Rather, the deli side of the pastrami emerged far more intriguing. As I continued to tinker with the pastrami, visions of an upgraded deli potato salad took form… one with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, carrots and fennel.

pastrami mixed grill deli plate

Pulling it all together, I’d keep it simple (famous last words): throw on a few stashed Red-Hot links during the smoking stage for a little variety and transition to an easy mixed grill. Maybe include some pickled items—no horseradish here, I’d pull out a delicious stone ground mustard.

The trouble with roasted vegetables is that they take so long to actually roast. I decided to help them out by briefly precooking the potatoes, carrots and fennel in the microwave (the fennel really works here). Then, when convenient finish them in a hot oven.

roasted potatoes, carrots, fennel

To be honest, I added a tangy spoonful of aioli to the dressing, rather than garlic and 1 tablespoon of the mayonnaise. It makes a dramatic difference if you have it; but the standard formula works well, too.

Roasted Potato Salad

As with many potato salads, this one improves when made ahead for flavors to fully develop. It will last 3-4 days in the fridge—good on a deli plate whenever you are ready.

Roasted Potato Salad

Ingredients

4 Yukon Gold potatoes, skin on
3 carrots, peel
½ cup fennel stems and fronds, chop
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
em>Dressing
2-3 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, crush
2 Tbsp plain yogurt
1-2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 small stalks celery, chop
2 green onions, chop
1 Tbsp fresh fennel fronds, light chop
1 Tbsp capers
1 tsp lemon juice or caper juice

Instructions

  1. Cut potatoes in chunks, place in microwaveable bowl add 2 Tbsp water, and a pinch of salt. Cover and steam for 2 minutes. Place in colander to drain. Repeat next with carrots and fennel.
  2. Distribute the semi-cooked vegetables on a lined baking sheet, toss with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 425°F for 20 minutes; turn the vegetables . Set broiler to 450°F and cook 5-10 minutes longer until cooked and beginning to brown. Remove and cool.
  3. Meanwhile prepare dressing: combine the mayonnaise, garlic, yogurt and mustard to taste. Add the celery, green onion, fennel fronds or 1 tsp fresh thyme, and capers. Point up with lemon or caper juice, season with salt and pepper.
  4. Place the cooled vegetables in a medium bowl, toss with dressing to coat well. Best made an hour or more ahead. Serves 3-4.

Pastrami making in the small kitchen

At my house, St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally celebrated with corned beef, cabbage, and all the trimmings. Since this year’s invasion of the coronavirus is like no other, I went off in a completely different direction. This year I tried my hand at pastrami making.

I began without much of a clue.  All I really knew was that corned beef and pastrami were similar, but I wasn’t certain how they differed. Turns out, pastrami has evolved, but not via Ireland. They are both frequently brined with spices, but pastrami further includes a final rub and smoking process.

Historically, pastrami’s roots stem from the Ottoman Turks where mutton, goat, and beef were preserved in salt and rubbed with spices. It made its way via the spice route to Romania where it became a favored process in preserving goose. When immigrating to America, Romanians brought the technique with them. Ultimately, it would transition to cheaper beef cuts, and pastrami would become a staple in New York delicatessens.

Notoriously tough brisket and rounds of beef require long cooking to tenderize.  Because I wanted a firm but not mushy texture for slicing, this was a major factor in my pastrami making.  Rather than the usual boil, I elected to steam the meat in the multicooker at high pressure.

With that settled, I selected a thick 3½ pound corned beef brisket that would fit in the pot I had available. No boiling meant I would first need to desalinate. I settled on 4 hours of presoaking time, with a change of water every hour. The brisket was then sealed in the multicooker and steamed for 90 minutes.

Uninspired steamed corned beef

Meanwhile, I developed a rub that would flavor the meat prior to the final smoking process. I toasted and ground black peppercorns, coriander and mustard seeds. After that, ground coriander, mustard and smoked paprika, garlic powder, sugar and salt were also added for faster absorption into the meat.

Rubbed corned beef

When cooled, I pressed the rub into the meat and let it air dry. Then, it was loosely covered to protect but allow air circulation—and refrigerated overnight. I turned the meat 2-3 times, and by the following afternoon it was ready to smoke.

I packed my tiny grill with a supply of coals for indirect heat and 2 foil wrapped pouches of wood chips for smoking.  After 30 minutes and a couple of turns on the grill, I moved the remaining coals about and gave the pastrami a final 5-minute sear.

Homemade Pastrami

This is where I failed.  I could not leave it alone.  It looked good but I wanted to see what it was doing inside!  So excited, I grabbed a serrated knife (what was I thinking?) and nearly ripped it apart.  Yes, it was so good, I kept at it and hacked away!!

(Sigh) Lesson learned. Let it rest, as you would a fine steak, and then cut.  With all that cooking, it will be cooked, and very nicely done!

Pastrami from Brined Corned Beef

Ingredients
3½ pound package corned beef (uncooked)
 Pastrami Rub
2 Tbsp mixed peppercorns
2 Tbsp whole coriander seeds
2 tsp whole mustard seeds
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp brown sugar

Instructions

  1. Soak the corned beef.  Cover corned beef with water; soak 4-6 hours, change water 2-3 times.
  2. Trim. Remove all but ⅛” fat layer and any silver.
  3. Steam. In multicooker, pour in 1 cup water, add trivet and place meat on rack. Set to Hi Pressure, steam 90 mins. Rest 10 minutes and release pressure. It should be fork tender,  internal temperature at least 145°F (steamed in PC, likely 200°F. )  Drain and cool.
  4. Rub & Refrigerate. Press moist meat surfaces liberally with rub; less on thinner areas. Refrigerate 1-2 days, let air circulate.
  5. Smoke the pastrami. Create a bed of coals around the perimeter of the grill. Makes 2 small foil packets of wood chips and poke a few holes. When coals are hot, place the packets against the coals. Cover and and allow smoke to form.  Add beef and smoke approximately 30 minutes over indriect heat.  Move coals to center of grill, and sear the meal well for 5-8 minutes.
  6. Rest.  Let pastrami rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.  Refrigerate and seal well. It is even better the next day.

 

    

Freekeh Friday

I’m big on freekeh. I’m impressed by this ancient grain’s natural abundance of sweet mild flavor, protein, fiber, and vitamins. These days I’m on the lookout for more ways to incorporate it in my meal plan—especially on Fridays, my favorite day of the week.

Freekeh cooks fast, it has a slight chewiness and readily absorbs flavors, which actually makes it a viable alternative to ground meats. If you think about it, one reason why chili is so delicious is due to fat from the meats included—which further drives and elevates the various chile flavors.

For an acceptable chili substitute, I want one that cooks in a fairly short amount of time and delivers big flavors. With that in mind, I begin by sautéing onions and garlic in rich olive oil, then introduce levels of flavor from a range of chiles including adobo, canned Ortega chiles, smoked paprika, and chile powder. Precooked freekeh is added to absorb these flavors, backed up with tomato product and pinto beans.  It then simmers for 20-30 minutes to bring it all together.

4-Alarm Freekeh Chili

Good news. This 4-alarm chili is healthy and tastes delicious, plus it’s filling and easily digested. It does not make as much as a traditional batch of chili, but a little goes a long way and it is easily doubled.

I really like the chili spread on tostadas and topped with whatever else is on hand.

Freekeh Tostada

I learned this trick while living in Mexico—I was set free once I discovered that Mexican home cooks do not cook their own tostadas. They purchase precooked tostadas for everyday meals (they would use refried beans). Now I regularly stock a package for quick meals and snacks.

So, layer it in a bowl or try it on your own tortillas. You don’t need to wait for Friday to enjoy this chili.

Four-Alarm Freekeh Chili

Ingredients
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chop
3 cloves garlic, mash & mince
1 Tbsp each chile powder and smoked paprika, 1 tsp ground cumin
2 chipotles in adobo, mince; 1-2 Tbsp canned chopped Ortega chilies
3-4 cups cooked cracked freekeh*
15-oz can crushed or diced tomatoes
15-oz can pinto beans, drain
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp cornmeal
1 cup water

Instructions

In a soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in hot oil. Add the chile powder, smoked paprika, and cumin and cook until aromatic. Add the chipotles and Ortega chilies and toss to combine.

Add the cooked freekeh, stir and cook for 5 minutes to incorporate flavors.  Add the tomatoes, pinto beans, Worcestershire, cornmeal, and water.  Bring to a boil and reduce to low. Simmer partially cover for 20-30 minutes until thick.  Adjust seasoning.  Serve 4

To precook freekeh:  Bring 1 cup cracked freekeh, pinch of salt, and 2½ cups water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, simmer 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes; drain if needed.  Yields 3 cups, approx.