For You

July 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

People, this is a difficult post to write. I am currently on day 6 of a 30 day cleanse (the whys and wherefores of which I’ll save for another day). Needless to say, cake does not feature as a central part of a detox diet, other than in cravings and dream-form. As such, trailing through the pictures of Suzanne Goin’s almond financier cake this morning is akin to a form of mild torture only made bearable by frequent trips to the almond butter pot downstairs. But I am prepared to put myself through this pain for you because, quite simply, you have to know about this cake. It’s a dream: a crumb that is miraculously both heavy from the almond meal and yet light from the egg whites all at once, and oh-so-moist from the eye-watering amounts of butter that go into the batter. Not just any butter, mind, but that which has been melted and browned with a vanilla pod until nutty and fragrant, leaving dark, fragrant flecks right through the cake.

On its own the cake is spectacular and I promise you will find yourself trying to slice off just a slither (no-one will notice) every half hour or so. But where it really shines is as a foil for the fruits of the season. The almond-butter-vanilla combination perfectly sets off stone fruits, figs, berries – whatever is good where you are right now. Goin recommends serving with nectarines and berries, which was sublime, but play around with combinations and see what shines – if you still have rhubarb in season I could see a warm dollop of compote working really nicely. A soft heaping of whipped cream or creme fraiche doesn’t hurt either.

Finally, the cake batter calls for 6 egg whites. Hello leftover yolks! This screams one thing only to me: ice-cream. I use David Lebovitz’s recipe for what I think of as the Platonic vanilla ice-cream from A Perfect Scoop which is also available on his website. If you’re going to have a vanilla ice-cream in your repertoire, make it this one. Of course, we have to try the ice-cream with the cake, and so another round of fruit, cream, cake combinations ensues. I implore you to go off and do the same: I’ll be dribbling from afar.

Almond Financier with Seasonal Fruits
Adapted from Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques

1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (260g) unsalted butter, plus a little extra for the pan
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup all purpose (plain) flour
3/4 cup confectioners’ (icing) sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup almond meal/flour (ground almonds)
1/4 tsp salt
6 egg whites (from large eggs)
2 tbsp honey

Lightly butter the sides and bottom of a 9 inch round pan. I also lined the bottom with parchment paper to be super cautious. (NB the batter will later rest in the fridge for an hour, so you can prepare the pan at that point if you prefer).

Place the butter in a medium saute pan. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use a small sharp knife to scrape the seeds and pulp onto the butter. Goin offers the great tip of running your knife through the butter to make sure every precious seed makes it to the pan. Add the vanilla pod as well and cook the butter and vanilla over a medium heat for about 8 to 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. You are looking for the butter to brown and smell nutty, but be careful not to burn it. Discard the vanilla pod (you can wash and dry and it and put it in your sugar jar to add fragrance). Set the butter to one side and keep it warm.

While the butter is browning, sift together the flour, confectioners’ sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the almond meal and salt and stir to combine well.

Beat the egg whites in a medium bowl until frothy. White the whites and the honey into the dry ingredients. Next, whisk the brown butter into the batter, and be sure to get all the little brown bits from the pan (these are the tastiest parts!).

Let the batter rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F/170C. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the sugar over the top. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the cake is a deep golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan. It will be springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the centre should come out clean. Cool on a wire rack and serve with fruits and cream (or ice-cream).



July 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m a bit short on time for this post but that’s fine, since devoting a long treatise to a dish which has to be one of the fastest, tastiest dinners out there would just feel all wrong. When the Momofuku cookbook published last year, this recipe was released in advance as a promotional stunt and, boy, did it fly around the web like wildfire. The story goes that Momofuku’s self-styled enfant terrible chef, David Chang, created this recipe as an homage to a cheap and tasty NYC Chinatown noodle dish, adding a bit of flair with suggested additions including quick-pickled cucumbers, pan-roasted cauliflower or toasted nori. With or without additions it’s full on culinary crack: savory, warming, simple. If you have the sauce ready-made in your fridge you can literally get dinner on the table in 5 minutes. Make twice as much as you think you want, eat it for dinner, then crave it for lunch the next day. The internet probably doesn’t need yet another person to tell you how good this dish is, but since it’s also vegan and we ate it on a Tuesday, I’ll consider it my prerogative.

Ginger Scallion Noodles
Adapted from Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan

For readers outside of the US: I didn’t take weight measurements of the ingredients when I made this sauce (sorry; was too busy making the most of it being a quick supper) but since the key thing is the proportion of each ingredient relative to each other, you should be able to figure out the quantities of the first three ingredients quite easily (just use a teacup if need be) and then season to taste with the remaining ingredients. I’ll update with weights the next time I make it.

To serve 2, with leftover sauce:

2 1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions (i.e. spring onions in the UK) (greens and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)
1/2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 1/2 teaspoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)
3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

6oz/170g noodles (ramen, soba or udon for example)

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Taste, and season to taste: you might also want to add a touch more vinegar or soy sauce to suit your palate. Ideally you should set the sauce to one side for about half an hour for all the ingredients to mingle but you can use it immediately and it will still be delicious. The leftover sauce will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

When ready to use, cook noodles according to the packet directions: normally they will take 3-4 minutes in boiling water. Toss as much sauce through the noodles as you like – I normally use about a cup of sauce to 6oz of noodles.

Go Fish

July 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

We all have our culinary demons. Rice that never fluffs, pastry that doesn’t crumble, poached eggs that are nothing close to spherical. Teeth gritted, numerous fonts of advice consulted, you try time and again to conquer those demons but success remains erratic and unpredictable and you start to avoid dishes that involve those components, or buy ready-made pastry, or buy a rice cooker. My personal one has been, for some time now, fish. Yep, just as broadly as that too – not specifically salmon, or shellfish, or grilled fish, but fish in all its permutations. Terrified of overcooking and serving dry and rubbery fillets, I normally end up with something on the plate that wouldn’t look out of place in a sushi restaurant, having then to return it to the pan for a second round of cooking, which results in the fillet being served in several chunks, with the other parts of the dish turning lukewarm in the meantime. And that’s if I even get to the point of having a piece of fish in the house to cook. Issues around fisheries and sustainability completely fog my mind and I’ve wasted many a half hour staring blankly at fish counters trying to figure out if it’s trout that should be farmed and not wild (yes) and if local farmed salmon is better than wild Alaskan salmon (no). At which point I generally pick up some chicken instead.

Enter, just in time, Becky Selengut and her recently published book, Good Fish. I’ve only cooked from it twice so far but I’ve read it cover to cover twice and it’s already changed the way I think about buying and cooking fish. First of all, sorry folks, but this is one for Pacific Coasters only. The book guides you through the choices that you have for sustainable fish if you are on the West Coast: it’s even slightly more geared towards the Pacific Northwest than California but the majority of the advice overlaps or is easily adapted. If you are in the UK I’d imagine Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher’s The River Cottage Fish Book would be a good alternative if you are looking to figure out these thorny issues with the Atlantic in mind.

Leaving all that to one side, the other reason this book has given me a confidence boost in the face of fish is that the advice on cooking techniques is so clear and direct. After the success of the halibut curry, where the fish is cooked from the residual heat of the curry alone (and comes out perfectly), I felt ready to have a go at pan frying some fish: my ultimate culinary demon. I had been eyeing up some McFarland Springs trout which, if I have understood correctly, is about as good as it gets when it comes to sustainability issues. I picked up two beautiful, soft pink, slender fillets, along with some green beans which I pickled the day before (don’t be scared – it’s an incredibly simple and effective method). Alongside would be a handful of thin-skinned fingerling potatoes, and a bunch of multi-coloured carrots, roasted together with a generous amount of thyme. The joy of this recipe is that all the accompaniments are pretty much ready in advance, leaving you with nothing to worry about but doing right by the trout. I let my pan be hotter than I would normally countenance. I resisted all temptation to poke or prod the fish while it sizzled away. The removal of the cooked fish did give me a smidgen of trouble as the pan I use for this kind of thing is a bit too high in the sides for easy removal and I was lacking a good offset spatula to assist. But even the ever-so-slightly broken nature of the fish couldn’t detract from the fact it was perfectly cooked and topped with a nutty coriander butter sauce worth of plate-licking. Most of all, it was, thankfully, a long, long way from somewhat raw salmon. The demon, if not quite entirely conquered, has been tamed.

Pan-Fried Trout with Dilly Beans and Roasted Vegetables
Adapted from Becky Selengut’s Good Fish

For 2

For the dilly beans:
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed
1 bay leaf
1 cup white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns

For the vegetables:
1/2 lb fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
1/4 lb carrots (approx – a little more would be fine), cut into large dice
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 sprigs thyme or lemon thyme

For the trout:
2 trout fillets, about 1/2 lb each
salt and black pepper
1 tsp unsalted butter
1 tsp high heat vegetable oil (grapeseed or canola for example)
1/4 cup dry white vermouth

For the coriander-lemon butter sauce:
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp ground coriander (ideally freshly ground from coriander seeds)

Begin by making the dilly beans in advance. They need to be prepared at least 24 hours in advance, but they are better for 48 hours of resting and you can keep them for up to 10 days in the refrigerator. Place the trimmed beans in a shallow heatproof container. Combine the remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the vinegar mixture over the beans while still hot and make sure the beans are fully submerged. Once the beans and vinegar have cooled, cover the container and refrigerate until needed. You’ll have more than you need but they are excellent alongside a cheese plate or tossed into salads so it’s worth making the larger amount.

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Place the potatoes and carrots on a sheet pan or in a baking pan. Toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out, placing the potatoes with the cut side face down. Tuck the thyme springs around the veg and roast in the oven, uncovered, for about 35 minutes, or until the vegetables are caramelised and tender. Discard the thyme and keep the veg warm while you prepare the fish. Put your plates in the oven at this point to warm too.

Season the trout fillets generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy saute pan over high heat. Add the butter and vegetable oil and cook the fillets with the skin side up for about 2 minutes. Flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Turn off the heat and remove the fish to the warmed plates with the veg alongside. Add the vermouth to the empty saute pan and stir to loose any trout bits and juices in the pan. Add the butter, lemon zest and coriander to the pan and swirl around for about 30 seconds, or until the butter is melted and you can just start to smell the coriander. Pour over the trout fillets and add the dilly beans to the plates. Serve!

The Colour of Summer

July 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

Sorbet used to perplex me. Why would you choose sorbet over ice-cream? There was no contest between a scoop of rich chocolate ice-cream (in a cup not a cone if you’re asking) and a hard, icy lump of sorbet. I just hadn’t had the right sorbet. This magenta-hued cherry dessert, for example, would be enough to convert the most fervent ice-cream fanatic. Full-bodied but not overly rich, sweet but not saccharine, it’s the perfect end to a warm summery evening.

I know I recently insinuated that the only sensible destination for full season cherries, other than straight from paper bag to mouth, was the clafoutis. I was wrong. Where the clafoutis cossets the cherries in its pale and elegant custard, this sorbet grabs hold of the cherry flavour by the scruff of the neck and turns the volume up to maximum, in such a startling way as to cause you to mix metaphors. And yet it too is elegant in its unadulterated cherry-ness, the only addition to the fruits being a touch of sugar to round out the tart flavour and a kiss of almond essence. I used a food processor rather than blender to whisk up the fruits and their syrup and ended up with flecks of cherry skin through the sorbet. I suspect the “proper” thing would have been to sieve out the skin but I love the flecks and the reminder of the centrality of the fruit. Which is what sorbet is all about. That said, if you choose to serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on the side, I won’t judge.

Cherry Sorbet

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s magnificent A Perfect Scoop (the only ice-cream book you’ll ever need)

2 lbs (1kg) cherries (full-flavoured, very dark cherries like Bings or Burlats)
1 cup (250ml) water
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp (180g) sugar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp almond extract (or 1 tsp kirsch)

Stem the cherries and remove the pits (as you will eventually puree the cherries you don’t need to do a neat job of this but it’s still a fiddly job – leave yourself more time than you think it will take). In a medium saucepan, warm the cherries along with the water, sugar and lemon juice until they are very soft and cooked through – about 10-15 minutes. You will end up with something that resembles jarred cherries in syrup. Remove from the heat and let set to one side until they reach room temperature.

Puree the cherries and their syrup along with the almond extract or kirsch until smooth, in a blender or food processor. Chill the mixture thoroughly – you will need to leave it in the refrigerator for at least 5 or 6 hours to be sure it is cold enough to freeze, then churn it in your ice-cream maker* as per its instructions.

*If you do not have an ice-cream maker you can put the sorbet mix straight into the freezer in a tub and then mix it by hand by stirring it with a fork every 15-30 minutes, moving the frozen edges into the softer middle until the whole mix is frozen. You won’t get quite as smooth a consistency but the flavour will still be excellent.

Love is in the Details

July 4, 2011 § 3 Comments

The other night we got around to watching Bertolucci’s adaptation of Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky. Since this is not a film blog I will only say two things: that the novel is far superior; and that it appears that this season’s Anthropologie lookbook was mostly based on Kit’s wardrobe in the film, which, since more or less undocumented on the web, you will have to watch to see for yourself. But I digress. The Bertolucci film makes you wait right till the very end before it hits you with the novel’s (rightly) most famous quote:

“Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

How many more times do you think you will cook supper in your life? Thousands, we hope. Maybe even tens of thousands if you’re really lucky, although on a busy Tuesday dinner prep can feel anything but luck to be in front of the stove. But how many more times will you, for instance, cook this specific dish of a halibut curry? Let’s say it blows you over (which it does) and you make it four or five times a year (that’s already a big repetition of the exact same recipe in our kitchen). Tastes change; fishery practices and guidelines change; you might take a dislike to dishes with coconut in the future. Realistically, I might eat this dish twenty times in my life at the absolute most. It’s torturous to go through the process of figuring this out: it seems futile even to try and put numbers on such everyday events when life spreads itself before you with all its permutations and possibilities. Surely the only sensible thing is to savour the dish as though this is the one and only time you will cook it, eat it, write about it.

There are two aspects of this recipe which you might be tempted to skip and the whole point of this vaguely digressive rumination is to pleed with you to go the whole hog with the details. The core of the dish is a thai-style green curry, chock-full of lemongrass, jalapenos, galangal, cilantro. The curry base is simmered with coconut milk until thick and perfumed, at which point you take it off the heat, add chunks of silver-fleshed halibut, and leave to one side while the residual heat gently cooks the fish through. I am a complete seafood novice (although trying to improve) and I promise it is impossible to overcook the fish in this recipe. It comes out soft and flaky, the perfect foil for the pale sauce. Sounds good, right? Well, it really is, but the dish only gets better if you go to the pains to make the garnish of chiles, red onion and lime. And the optional black sesame seeds? They really do add visual impact. If I eat this dish two or twenty times in my life I want it to be that version: the one with the pretty black flecks and the sharp crunch of the garnish. I don’t want it to be the half-assed version, because I couldn’t finish my email ten minutes earlier or contemplate chopping two extra vegetables. This is it, right now: cook like there’s no tomorrow.

Halibut Coconut Curry with Charred Chiles and Lime

Adapted from Becky Selengut’s Good Fish (watch this space for more on this amazing book)

Serves 4

2 jalapenos (remove the seeds from one or both if you want less heat)
2 stalks lemongrass, woody top half removed, chopped roughly
1/2 cup roughly chopped shallots (about 2 medium sized shallots)
1/4 cup cilantro stems (about 10 stems)
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp chopped fresh galangal or ginger
1 tsp coriander seeds, ground in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar
1 tsp cumin seeds, ground in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried tumeric (or 1 tsp grated fresh tumeric)
5 Kaffir lime leaves (or zest of 2 limes if you cannot get hold of these)
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock or water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 14oz can coconut milk
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 lb halibut fillet, skinned and cut into 1 inch cubes
black sesame seeds for garnish

For the topping:

1 tsp vegetable oil
4 Fresno chiles (red chiles), seeded and minced (you can sub jalapenos if you can’t get hold of red chiles)
2 tbsp minced red onion
1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves (1.e. a good handful)
2 limes, peeled and flesh cut into small dice

Combine the jalapenos, lemongrass, shallots, cilantro, garlic, galangal, coriander, cumin, salt, tumeric, and 1 of the Kaffir lime leaves in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend, using up to 1/4 cup (65ml) stock or water to help it become a smooth paste. You’ll need to scrape the bowl down a few times and run the processor for at least 3 minutes to get a smooth puree.

Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Add the curry paste and fry it for 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, and the remaining Kaffir lime leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for about 10 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, make the chile topping. Heat the vegetable oil in a small saute pan over medium high heat. Fry the chiles and onion until they are caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro and lime. Season to taste with salt and leave to one side while you finish the curry.

Add the halibut to the hot curry and turn the heat off. Let the residual heat gently cook the fish. It will be ready to serve after about 5 minutes. Divide between bowls, top with the chiles and lime and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve with rice.

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