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.

 

Rabbit Hole Rewards

It always mystifies me how recipes evolve.  It’s like falling into a rabbit hole and not wanting to come out.  Of course, with a blog named Culinary Distractions, that is not a big reveal.

If you happen to read the previous post, you’ll know this one is inevitable. The major reason for the dulce de leche preparation was to have a supply available to test this idea.  Before that, it all started because I had too much buttermilk.

Old-fashioned tapioca made with toasty sweet dulce de leche seemed a perfect match with the creamy tartness of buttermilk.  But I was wary of buttermilk in tapioca pudding.  The pudding must simmer in order to cook the pearls and thicken it, and the heat could cause the buttermilk to separate in the process.tapoica cooking

When I realized I could use less buttermilk and simply add it once the pudding had thickened, the idea finally came together.  Tapioca is fine without the addition of egg, but even a little makes a difference, even one yolk.  Cooking the egg yolk too long is also problematic, but incorporating the yolk once the tapioca thickens would add just enough egginess to do the job and lend a thick creamy mouth feel.  After that, the buttermilk could be heated to blend flavors, but not boiled.

tapioca spoonSo here it is, I’m out of the rabbit hole, back in the sunlight enjoying the rewards of a lovely discovery.taapioca partial glass

Dulce de Leche Buttermilk Tapioca

Old fashioned tapioca gives pearly thick results blended with the sweet-tart combination of dulce de leche and buttermilk.

1/3 cup pearl tapioca
2 ½ cups milk
1/2 cup dulce de leche, depending on preferred sweetness
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Soak the tapioca in 1 cup milk for 1 hour.
  2. In a heavy medium pot over medium-high heat, combine the tapioca mixture, dulce de leche, the remaining 1 1/2 cups milk, and salt.  Whisk to incorporate the dulce de leche and bring mixture to a simmer.  Reduce heat to low and cook until mixture thickens, pearls swell and become translucent, 10 to 12 minutes; whisk frequently to keep the bottom from sticking and scorching.
  3. Temper the egg yolk by mixing a bit of the hot mixture into it and adding it back into the pot.  Continue whisking, about 1 minute. Add the buttermilk and cook until it returns to a simmer, approximately 1 minute longer.  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
    Cover the surface with plastic wrap and let cool.  Serve warm, room temperature or chilled.  It will thicken substantially as it cools.  Store in the refrigerator up to 3 days.  Serves 6

As a pudding, sprinkle with fresh grated nutmeg.  Thin it and use it as a warm sauce over fresh fruit or cake.

Savoring Shades of Clafoutis

Here’s a simple solution for an easy stylish entree when you may have little more than a fresh vegetable and a few basic staples like eggs, flour, and milk.

No, it’s not a quiche.  If you have had a Toad in the Hole, the famed Brit treatment for sausage baked in a popover-like shell; or a Dutch Baby, where fruit is cooked in a heavy skillet then covered with a light batter and baked in a hot oven until puffy; then you get the idea.

It is shades of clafoutis, that wonderful French dessert featuring cherries, plums or other seasonal fruit, nestled in a crepe-like batter and baked until light.  Although it deflates as it cools, it still retains enough puffiness around the edges to form a shell to hold the dense egg-bound interior.

In this case, I collected a savory assortment of vegetables including a few mushrooms, a leek, and a lovely small head of lacinato kale.  Also known as black kale, it is not as tough as many varieties, slightly sweet and has a pronounced earthy flavor. Savory Clafoutis

But it doesn’t matter; the idea is to round up enough produce to yield about 4 cups when lightly cooked.  If you happen to have a lovely bunch of kale worthy of showcasing, that’s great, too.   Ham, prosciutto, or other cured meat also makes a nice addition.

The trick is to begin by roasting onion slices in a hot oven until they take on color.   The hot dish is removed from the oven and the prepared vegetables are immediately layered on top, the batter is poured evenly over the top and it is returned to the hot oven.   This technique causes the batter to quickly rise in the hot oven and continue to expand until golden brown and puffed.  I like finishing the top with a grating of Parmesan cheese.

For those who have tried only fruit clafoutis, a vegetable variation may be difficult to imagine.  There is an unexpected intensity that occurs from suspending and enveloping the savory additions in their creamy crepe interior, and definitely worth trying. Savory clafoutis slice It’s one my Breakfast All Day favorites―just as worthy of a leisurely brunch as a mid-week meal.  Enjoy hot or room temperature and refrigerate the rest; it reheats beautifully for a light lunch or snack.

Savory Clafoutis with Kale and Mushrooms

Crepe bound veggies laced with prosciutto and baked until puffed and golden brown

Ingredients
Vegetable-Prosciutto Medley
1 – 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 small leek, cleaned well; white and tender green sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ cup prosciutto, sliced
8 oz crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
¼ tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper
1 tsp each fresh rosemary and thyme or ½ tsp dried
½ tsp dried fennel
3 cups lacinato kale, approximate; stemmed, cut into large chop
 
Onion Base
1 white onion, peeled, halved and sliced vertically
 
Batter
¾ cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs lightly beaten
¾ cup milk

½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions 

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. For the Vegetable-Prosciutto Medley: Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in sauté pan over medium, add the leek and stir occasionally until it begins to soften, 5 to 8 minutes; add the garlic and the prosciutto and toss occasionally stir until aromatic, about 2 minutes.   Stir in the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, herbs and fennel and cook until most of the liquid has been release, 5 to10 minutes.  Add the kale, stirring until it begins to wilt and remove pan from heat.
  3. Meanwhile rub a pie plate or other similar ovenproof dish with a little of the olive oil. Add the sliced onions, drizzle with olive oil and distribute them evenly in bottom of dish.  Bake in 425 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until they begin to take on color.
  4. Meanwhile prepare the batter:  combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl and make a well in the center.  Combine the beaten eggs and milk and pour into the flour mixture, beat until well blended.
  5. Remove the onion from the oven and cover with the vegetable mixture. While still hot, quickly pour in the egg batter and return to oven.  In about 15 minutes rotate the pie plate to brown evenly and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top.  Bake a total of 20- 25 minutes, until golden and puffy.
  6. Serve immediately, while fully raised. It will deflate somewhat but still remain puffy.  It is also good served at room temperature.  Serves 6

Migas on my mind

For one of my last breakfasts in Texas, nothing seems more appropriate that a full spread of migas. A local tradition in the Austin area, the popular Tex-Mex version should not to be confused with Spanish migas, which features bread crumbs sans eggs, and could rate another post entirely.

Migas
Tex-Mex Migas

As with anything this sacred, everyone has their own preference as to how it should be prepared, and/or their favorite hangout for a quick fix.

Migas is pretty much your basic scrambled eggs, but then it is what you add to it that matters.  Some say tortilla chips should be used, along with onions, pepper, and even salsa. (Of course, there are those, too, who adamantly argue that chile con queso must be made with Velveeta cheese.)

migas spoonI’m a purist and prefer corn tortillas cut into strips and fried until they begin to crisp.  These are added to the eggs along with other vegetables and topped with cheddar or Monterey jack cheese.  Salsa and cilantro are considered prerequisites, too ―along with refried beans and flour tortillas.

Clearly, migas is not something for everyday eating, and neither is a hamburger with French fries; but when you want it, you’ve got to have it.

Migas

Suggested by Homesick Texas.com

Ingredients
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 corn tortillas, cut into strips
¼ cup onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
4 eggs
2 tbsp water
Salt and pepper
½ cup cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
½ cup salsa, or more
¼ cup cilantro

Directions 

  1. Over medium high heat add the oil to frying pan; when hot add the tortilla strips and cook 2-3 minutes until they begin to crisp; remove to drain on toweling.  Pour out any excess oil.
  2. Lower the heat to medium and add the onion and jalapeno to the pan, cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Beat together the eggs and water, season with salt and pepper.  Add to pan, top with tortillas strips.  Let set on bottom, gently stir until curds form.  Taste again for seasoning.  Sprinkle with cheese and cook to melt.
  4. Top with salsa and cilantro and serve hot. Yield:  2 servings.
  5. Serve with refried beans, flour tortillas, extra salsa and cilantro on the side.

Bananas for Blondies

Blondies.  Are they nothing more than brownies missing their chocolate?

I suspect that simplistic notion comes from the brownie loyalists:  a faction that believes brownies belong in a category by themselves. For them, a good brownie is no more than chocolate sullied with a bit of flour, sugar, and egg to keep it together.

It is pointless to try and sway the chocoholics of the world into considering much beyond hard core chocolate; they are quite happy with their lot.

But for those of us who appreciate full-flavored blondies and the possibilities they suggest, there are plenty of options, like coconut-chai, peanut butter, raspberry swirl, or pumpkin blondie.

Or, how about a banana blondie?  There is the prerequisite flour and eggs, but it also includes browned butter, brown and granulated sugars, plus it’s moistened further with a couple of ripe bananas and laced with a touch of nutmeg―then it is all finished with a buttermilk glaze and candied-spiced pecans.Banana Blondies A

Perhaps not addictive, but certainly delicious: tropical undertones, caramel complexity, nuanced and nutty, reminiscent of buttermilk doughnut… more than a non-brownie.

Banana Blondies with Buttermilk Glaze

Ingredients
2 1/4   cups  flour
3/4      tsp  nutmeg
1          tsp  baking powder
1/2      tsp salt
10       Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4     cup granulated sugar
3/4     cup light brown sugar
2         large ripe bananas, cut up
2          eggs
2         tsp  vanilla
Buttermilk Glaze
3/4      cup sugar
1/4      tsp  salt
1/3      cup  buttermilk
2        Tbsp  butter
1       Tbsp corn syrup
1/2    tsp vanilla
1      cup  candied pecans or walnuts (4 oz)  lightly chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line and spray 9×13″ pan.  Position rack in lower 1/3 of oven.
  2. Combine and whisk dry ingredients and set aside.
  3.  Melt the butter until it is bubbly and slightly nutty; in mixer, combine butter and sugars.  Beat in banana until smooth.  Add eggs one at a time, scrape down bowl and add vanilla.
  4. With spatula, stir in flour mixture; do not beat.  Spoon into pan, spread gently.
  5. Bake for about 30 minutes, until top is light brown and tester comes out clean.  Pour the Glaze over hot blondies.  Yield:  18 approx.

Glaze:  In a small pan, bring all to a boil except vanilla; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Pour evenly over hot blondies. Sprinkle candied nuts over the moist glaze.

Allow to cool completely before cutting.  Store covered at room temp for 3 days, or freeze up to 3 months without nuts.

To Waffle, or not to Waffle?

This week I have been completely distracted by Daniel Shumski’s very entertaining cookbook, Will it Waffle?  He sets out to prove that given enough determination, just about anything can be cooked in a waffle iron including meatballs, kale and pierogi.

Cheese QuesadillaWhen it comes to playing with food, I love nothing more than a good challenge, too.  But first I had to locate a loaner waffle iron, since I had given up mine long ago.

Once that was accomplished, I started out with Cheese Quesadillas and was immediately impressed.  So easy, so fast, so many possibilities!

I should have taken a breather and regained my senses, but I was ready to tackle some sort of cookie.  Daniel shows off brilliantly with his Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies and based on the photo, even with odd waffle marks they look pretty amazing.

I decided to try an old standby, Peanut Butter Cookies.  As I laid four rounds of cookie dough onto the hot bottom grid, I wondered if I might have a Belgian waffle iron—with very big indentations.  Not so good for 2” cookies.  The first batch cooked uneven, with some under cooked and some burnt.  I decided to cut my losses.  I quickly fired up the oven, marked the remaining rounds with their traditional hatch marks, and called it good.  Note self:  for any real work-out, forget the Oster Belgian Waffle Maker; it has its limitations.

With that learning curve behind me, thoughts of waffling continued to percolate.  No question, when you introduce sugar, the direct heat causes fast browning; even with medium heat, three minutes is about tops for cooking time.  Further, incorporating a batter base into the mix binds ingredients and also helps slow the browning process.

That’s when the Waffled Frittata began to make complete sense…waffled frittata

Start with a small amount of batter, whisk in a couple of eggs, add some sautéed vegetables, and in no time you’ve got two nicely cooked, puffy vegetable frittatas.  They are even tasty as a sandwich filling.   Frittata sandWhat’s next?

Waffled Frittata

Ingredients
Egg Batter
¼ cup all purpose flour
½ cup milk
1/4 tsp salt and pepper, each
2 eggs, beaten

Vegetables
1 tsp butter
2 Tbsp onion, chopped
2 Tbsp pepper of choice, chopped
1 cup baby Portabella mushrooms, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ tsp dried mixed herbs
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp red pepper flakes or black pepper
¼ cup chopped parsley

Non-stick spray for waffle iron

Directions 

  1. Prepare egg batter by combining the milk with the flour, salt, and pepper with a whisk until smooth. Beat the eggs well and whisk them into the batter until well blended.  Allow to stand while preparing the vegetable for the frittata.
  2. For the vegetables, in a medium non-stick pan, melt the butter, when bubbly add the onions and cook to soften; add the pepper and cook an additional minute. Stir in the mushrooms, then the garlic and herbs, toss well.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until the liquid is released from the mushrooms.  Cool briefly and stir in the parsley.  Combine the cooled vegetables with the egg-batter mixture.
  3. Heat a waffle iron to medium and spray well with non-stick spray. Sit the vegetable-egg mixture again; with a ½ cup measure or ladle, pour in enough to evenly distribute and cover the grids.  Close the cover and cook about 3 minutes, until the frittata is golden brown.  Remove and repeat.  Yield:  2 – 6 to 7” round waffled frittatas.