The Mind of a Chef

Call me a creature of habit, but it seems that about once a month I make a frittata of some sort.  It’s usually on the weekend, but more important, it is the reassurance of knowing I’ve got my buddy in the fridge for back up during the week.

One of the most versatile of dishes ever, the frittata is equally welcome hot, warm, room temperature, and even cold.  Designed for portability, a wedge makes a convenient hand-held lunch on the run, or a simple dinner with salad.  Little mouth-sized portions make flavorful bites with drinks.

So, it’s no surprise that my mind tends to wander in terms of would that work in a frittata?  With a little manipulation, the answer is usually yes.  Here’s my latest frittata creation, and the answer is yes, absolutely, to all of the above mentioned applications.

This all began when a friend brought over beautiful sprigs of soft sage from their garden. I set them aside to dry, knowing they would come in handy very soon. When I spotted a small pristine head of cauliflower at the farmers’ market, I paused over it quizzically. My mind slipped into frittata mode.  With sage and what else?

Let’s face it, much like a white canvas, cauliflower needs help. My mind kept going… there were a couple types of blue cheese rumbling in the cheese bin and I probably had a little ham in the freezer.

Back at home I sliced the cauliflower and broke it into smaller pieces.  The idea here is to give the cauliflower more flat surfaces to brown and intensify flavor. The cauliflower was briefly blanched in boiling water,   quickly cooled to stop the cooking, and well drained—to avoid any mushy/sogginess later.

When I was ready to prepare the frittata it was a mere matter of browning onion and cauliflower, then adding the sage and ham. A combination of bleu cheese and creamy gorgonzola was scattered over the cauliflower and ham for a brief melt into the action below.

The eggs, milk, and seasoning were poured over the cauliflower mixture and allowed to set up in the pan and lock everything in place.  A quick run under the broiler puffs the frittata and browns the top. This is one serious frittata, she grins.

Cauliflower-Ham Frittata with Sage-Gorgonzola Cheese

Ingredients
1 small head cauliflower, ½” slices, broken in florets and blanched @ 3 minutes, drained
1 tablespoon combination evoo and butter
½ onion, chop
¾ teaspoon dried sage, crumble
½ Anaheim pepper, seed and chop
¼ lb. smoked ham, ¾ cup cubes
½ cup combo gorgonzola and bleu cheese, in pieces
6 eggs
¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Directions

  1. Heat 9” or 10” oven-proof skillet over medium heat with olive oil and butter. Sauté the onion until soft, add the sage and continue until onion begins to color.
  2. Add the cauliflower and continue cooking, gently tossing until it begins to brown.  Add the Anaheim pepper and the ham, and cook a couple of minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, add the milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour over the eggs.
  5. Tilt the pan, loosen the eggs from the bottom with a spatula and let eggs run into the bottom of the pan.  Continue to turn the pan and allow the eggs to flow to bottom of the pan and the egg mixture begins to set.
  6. Run the frittata under the broiler until it begins to puff and the top begins to brown in places. Release frittata with from pan with a spatula and slide onto a plate. Cut into portions and serve hot or room temperature.  Serves 6.

Little Black Dress of Desserts

We love our nuts in the Pacific Northwest, especially hazelnuts. When you throw in a little chocolate even the French would agree life doesn’t get much better.

Here’s a chocolate-nut torte I have been making for so long, I have no record of the original source.  What I do know is this combination has been making folks happy for quite a while.  A chocolate center is surrounded by a bottom citrus laced cookie crust and crowned with a gooey, crunchy, layer on top.

choc-nute-torteIt is easy on the cook because it is made in three simple steps.  The crust is a snap with the help of a food processor. It’s pressed into the bottom of a springform or other easy access pan and briefly baked until set.

Hot out of the oven, a few handfuls of excellent chocolate are scattered across the crust, left briefly to melt, then spread evenly across the bottom.

Meanwhile, the top layer is whizzed up in the same food processor bowl. A couple of eggs are whipped well, brown sugar, a few dry ingredients are added to stabilize the batter, and chopped nuts are thrown in to pull it all together. In the blink of an eye, it is spread over the chocolate and back in the oven it goes for a brief 20 minutes.

Beyond this simple execution, the torte is nearly indestructible—especially if kept in its protective pan for transport. It does not need to be refrigerated for a day or so. Take it down the road to a potluck or dessert at a friend’s house. Unmold to a platter, give it a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar, and finish with a sprinkling of nuts. You’ve got a dessert for all occasions.

Chocolate Hazelnut Torte

Ingredients
Crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled butter, cut up
1/2 package semisweet chocolate chips (6 oz.)
Filling
2 large eggs
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts or walnuts, chopped (6 oz.)

Additional:  powdered sugar for dusting,  toasted nuts for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. For crust, combine flour, sugar, grated rind and salt in food processor; cut in butter and whirl until crumbly.  Press evenly on bottom of 8″ or 9″ springform or tart pan.  Bake at 375° F for about 10 minutes, until firm to touch.
  3. Sprinkle with chocolate chips, let stand 2 minutes to melt the chocolate; spread evenly over the crust with spatula.
  4. For filling, beat eggs until frothy; add sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla, and stir until smooth.  Fold in nuts.  Spread over chocolate.  Bake at 375° F for 20 minutes longer, until the top is firm and golden.
  5. Cool completely.  Remove from pan and dust lightly with powdered sugar and top with nuts. Store in cool place up to 24 hours, do not refrigerate.  Serves 8.

An Honest Loaf

Playing with my tiny slow cooker is much like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.  You never know what you are going to get.

Yes, it’s definitely the surprises that keep me coming back.  If you are a fan of the English muffin loaf style of bread or New England brown bread, then take a look at this chewy, highly nutritious, richly flavored brown bread.  Did I mention easy?brown-bread-slice

Its unusual approach begins by soaking rolled oats in yogurt for several hours. Once the baking soda and flour mixture is combined with the yogurt mixture the batter goes wild. Random baby bubble emerge during the baking process to create a moist and fascinating texture.

The brown bread element comes chiefly from a hint of buckwheat flour. I keep a small stash on hand for its dark robust characteristics that make everything taste better—from noodles to crepes and breads. Of course, whole wheat or rye flour will work, too.  An addition of egg helps to stabilize and provide a hint of richness to a seemingly bland composition. oat-brown-breadThere’s enough sweetness from the brown sugar to tie it all the together, admirably offset the tang of the yogurt, and complement the oats, buckwheat, and whole wheat flours. Once ingredients are combined, the results are somewhere between a dough and a batter: there is no shaping, just carefully spoon it into the pot.

It may seem silly to be ‘baking’ in a crock pot, but I love the idea of using a mere 95 watts of power to create a substantial loaf in only two hours. Since this is not a firm dough, I butter my 2-quart crockery pot and run two folded strips of parchment crisscrossing in the bottom and up the sides to act as handles for lifting out the bread.

A common problem with bread baking in the slow cooker is that the top does not brown. One solution is a quick toasting under the broiler, which seems at odds with the whole premise. Instead, for an inviting crunch here, I opt for a light dusting of grainy cornmeal in the bottom of the pot and a sprinkling across the top before baking.

Oat Brown Bread

Inspired by Fix-It and Forget-It, Baking with your Slow Cooker by Phyllis Good

Ingredients
1/2 cup yogurt
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 egg
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup mixture of buckwheat and whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons coarse cornmeal for dusting

Directions

  1. Combine yogurt, milk, and oats; cover and chill for 6 to 8 hours.
  2. In a mixing bowl combine egg, oil, and sugar with yogurt; blend and mix well.
  3. Combine the flours, baking soda, and salt and stir into the liquid.
  4. Preheat 2-quart crock pot set to high; butter the crockery liner and fit it with 2 strips of parchment crisscrossed and running up the sides. Dust the bottom with cornmeal.
  5. Pour batter into the crockery pot liner and sprinkle top lightly with cornmeal. Cover the top with 3 layers of paper towels tucked under the lid to absorb moisture.
  6. Bake for about 2 hours rotating liner every 30 minutes to brown evenly, until bread pulls away from sides and tester inserted in middle comes out clean. Lift out with parchment straps onto cooling rack. If it sticks, run a knife around edges. Let cool before slicing.  Yield: 1 small loaf.

Fluffy Scrambled Eggs in a Flash

Given a breakfast choice, I tend toward poached or soft-boiled eggs, but easy scrambled eggs have their place, too. Especially if they are moist and creamy.

I suspect I’ve been influenced by my dad who preferred his scrambled eggs gently cooked in a double boiler, untouched by the heat of the simmering water below. In this slow luxurious process they gently form moist, fluffy, glistening curds. They were always outstanding, but it could have been due to the generous amount of butter and cream he used.scrambled-eggs

In my microwave tinkering, I have discovered this highly satisfactory version of scrambled eggs. Even though they are cooked on high heat, the practice of brief heat spurts followed by gentle stirring seems to make a difference. The curds don’t have a chance to form dry blocks of lifeless eggs.

The results: an individual portion of soft, moist, glistening egg curds made in two minutes. Please note that microwaves vary, use this as a guide and adjust accordingly. Also, suggestions for larger quantities follow.

Personal Fluffy Scrambled Eggs

Adapted from Not Your Mother’s Microwave Cookbook by Beth Hensperger

Ingredients
½ teaspoon butter, melted in a microwaveable mug
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk or water
dash salt and pepper
optional: 1 teaspoon chopped green onion, 1 teaspoon grated cheddar cheese

Directions
1. Spread the melted butter around the interior of the mug.
2. In a small mixing bowl beat the eggs with liquid, salt and pepper and pour into the buttered mug.
3. Microwave uncovered on high for 45 seconds. Remove and stir with fork, mixing the set portions from the outside edge into center, then pushing the center back out to edge.
4. Microwave on high another 30 seconds, then if using add the onion and part of the cheese and stir gently.
5. Resume cooking for 20 seconds more, give a light stir and top with more cheese. Eggs should no longer be runny, but moist, glistening and puffed. Let stand 50-60 seconds to firm the eggs.
Yield: 1 serving.

Note: For larger quantities, use 2 tablespoons liquid per egg. Add herbs, meat, cheese, vegetables etc. 30 seconds before the eggs are done and still runny. Cook 4 eggs for 1 3/4 – 2 minutes, 6 eggs for 2 1/2 – 3 minutes.

Clafoutis Calling…

Hello?

If you are new to this site, then you wouldn’t know about me and clafoutis and that I can’t say no. I have zero resistance.

Clafoutis

Clafoutis

As far as I am concerned it is good morning, noon, and night. And that is likely what will happen today… since dessert is still on the horizon.  What’s not to like about a silky crepe-like batter poured over fruit and baked in the oven until puffed and golden?  I’m still confounded by the magic that occurs when these two components meld into one blissful package and blossom into a creamy light filling afloat with fruit—snugly surrounded by its own self-imposed crispy light crust.

Today’s version was not planned.  It merely seemed like a good idea to use up the few pieces of lingering fruit: a couple of peaches and a pear and then fill in the gaps with a handful of dried fruit, which happened to be prunes softened in orange juice.  A slight touch of almond in the batter and a handful of almonds sprinkled on top manage to make this taste like I started with a plan.  Oh, my.clafoutis slice(640x457

Well, I’ve got to go now, the clafoutis is calling me…

Mixed Fruit Clafoutis with Almonds

Ingredients
1 pound ripe juicy fruit, peel, pit, slice or quarter; or a combination using partial dried fruit
1-2 tablespoons juice or brandy, depending on quality of fruit
3 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup flour
pinch nutmeg, or complementary spice
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk, warm
1 tablespoon butter plus more for dish baking
1/4 cup almonds, sliver or slice, or other complementary nuts
To finish:  1 tablespoon sugar for dusting on top

Directions

  1. Butter an oven proof shallow 9″ casserole dish, quiche dish, or pie plate.
  2. Toss the dried fruit with juice or brandy, microwave briefly until hot and let stand until needed.
  3. Prepare batter. Warm the milk and the butter together. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until frothy, sprinkle in flour, spice, extract, and whisk until smooth. Gradually add warm milk mixture, whisking until well combined. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Distribute the fruit evenly in the baking dish.  Pour the batter over the fruit and scatter almonds on top.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, until puffed and brown. Sprinkle with granulated or powdered sugar.
  5. Serve warm or room temperature with a spoonful of ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.  Cover and chill for storage.  Serves 6

Note: if using apples or other firm fruit, begin with a quick sauté in 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon of sugar and toss until slightly softened.

White Truffles: Oh, my…

In Oregon’s emerging truffle industry, I feel like a newcomer to the party.   Admittedly, this truffle season I finally experienced my first cooking session with these quirky characters, legendary for their aphrodisiacal attributes.

At my local Roth’s market, I spotted a small collection of the knotted balls of excess on display, marked $199 lb.  According to “D”, our produce manager, the white truffles were provided by a reliable local purveyor who’s very tight lipped about their actual location in the wild.  At that price, he should be.

Oregon White Truffle

Oregon White Truffle

“D” suggested shaving them over a light pasta dish.  With white truffles, it seems much of their musky ephemeral garlic-like attributes are linked to their aroma, which can be fairly fleeting.  Thus, peppering the top of the dish, allows the most extreme up-close-and-personal olfactory sensation.  Since the heat of the pasta would cause the aroma to drift upward, salad would be deferred to a later date.

Truffles have an affinity to butter and cream, too.  Many of the dishes from Italy’s Piedmont region and specifically Alba, where truffles go for thousands of dollars a pound, are prepared quite simply.  Often pasta is tossed in a butter sauce seasoned with Parmesan.  Fresh truffle is then shaved on lavishly in front of the salivating guest.

My solution was a little different.  I took my old Pasta Carbonara, deleted the bacon, sautéed local mushrooms in a small amount of butter, tossed in the hot pasta, and added raw egg with Parmesan cheese to make a light sauce.

Pasta with White Truffle

Pasta with White Truffle

Into the bowls it all went.  A razor-sharp grater of some sort is necessary to shave truffles as thin as possible: my handy garlic shaver worked like a pro.  Oh, my…

Mushroom Carbonara with Truffles

3 Tbsp. butter, or part EVOO
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, flattened
6 oz. wild or domestic mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2-3 leaves sage, chopped, or 1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 lb. linguine, cooked in salted boiling water until al dente; reserve 1 cup pasta water
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 white truffle, gently wiped clean

  1. In a large sauté pan, heat the butter, add the shallot and garlic and cook until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, herbs, salt and pepper, and sauté until the mushrooms soften and begin to release their juices.  Remove the garlic.
  2. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and add half of the Parmesan cheese.
  3. Over moderate heat, add the hot pasta to the mushroom mixture.  Reduce heat, pour the egg-cheese mixture over the pasta and toss to coat well.  It will make its own sauce and have shiny appearance, if it looks dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.  Sprinkle in the remaining Parmesan cheese and a grinding of freshly ground pepper.  Portion into pasta bowls. At the table, shave fresh truffle over the tops of the pasta.  Serves 4

Pear-Gingerbread Dutch Baby

If you haven’t had your fill of gingerbread yet, here’s an easy breakfast or sweet treat that should do the trick with very little effort.

Pear-Gingerbread Dutch Baby

Pear-Gingerbread Dutch Baby

This oven pancake is similar to the old-fashioned Dutch Baby, made famous by Oregon’s own James Beard, a legendary cook who recognized and promoted the 20th century American food movement.  Both Jim and Julia Child were big believers in educating home cooks in the value and use of fresh local foods and neither would shy away from generous amounts of cream or butter. By today’s standards, many of Beard’s dishes may seem heavy-handed, but he innately knew how and what makes food really shine.

In many ways the Dutch Baby is a crepe on steroids. In this case we use the blender to quickly blend the basic egg, flour, and milk concoction along with a mild blend of traditional flavorings:  molasses, a bit of brown sugar, and a hint of warm spices.

In a waiting hot skillet, we begin by quickly softening pears or apples in a bit of the pan’s butter. The batter is poured over the fruit into the hot skillet—to give it a quick start—and then it’s popped into the oven to continue baking and rising.

Much like a soufflé, once removed from the oven it also deflates fairly quickly, as well.  But that will not affect the flavor or the end result of this delicious baby.  It is even good with cranberry chutney and a slight drizzle of agave nectar.Ginger Baby cut up

Pear Gingerbread Dutch Baby

Inspired by a Smitten Kitchen recipe by Deb Perelman

1         ripe pear or large apple, cored and sliced, skin optional
2         tbsps butter, divided
2         lrg eggs
1         tbsp dark brown sugar
1         tsp unsulfured molasses
1/3      cup all purpose flour
1/4       tsp baking powder
1/4      tsp cinnamon
1/4      tsp ground ginger
1/4      tsp ground allspice
1/8      tsp salt
1/3      cup milk
To finish: confectioners’ sugar, maple syrup, or heavy cream

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a blender, beat the egg until pale and light.  Add all ingredients through milk, but not butter, and blend well.
  3. In a 9” skillet over medium heat, warm 1-2 tsp butter and swirl up sides to coat the pan; add the sliced pears to the hot skillet, cooking just to release juices, 1-2 minutes.  Arrange the pears spoke-style in the pan with narrowest ends toward the center.  Increase heat to medium-high, add remaining butter around edges and pour the batter into the hot skillet.  Bake in hot oven 15-20 minutes.   Serves 2.
  4. Slide onto a platter and dust with confectioner’s sugar.  Serve with syrup or heavy cream.