Five Minute Photo Shoot: Fried Rice

Part of the reason I’m doing this blog is to help me improve my photography and styling skills.  To that end, I’m going to periodically feature a Five Minute Photo Shoot, which does exactly what it says on the tin.  The idea is to style and take a quality photo (probably most often of my lunch, since that’s when the light is best), in no more than five minutes.

I’ll give a description of what it is, but since my lunches are most often cobbled together from random bits in the fridge, it’s not really easy for me to provide recipes.  If you’re really interested in something in particular, let me know in the comments, and I’ll see what I can remember.

So, without further ado, here’s what I had for lunch today: fried rice with red onion, kimchi, and cucumber, topped with an over-easy fried egg and a dab of plain yogurt.

I love the way the runny yolk turns into an unctuous sauce for the rice.  I could eat this every day.

Buckeyes

Sometimes, despite my best intentions, little things in my life get put on extended hold.  Take, for example, the bag of buckeye centers that had been happily taking up space in my freezer for well over a month.

I had previously been merely aware of the existence of buckeyes, and knew of the delights inherent in dipping orbs of peanut butter, butter, and sugar into chocolate.  The knowledge, though, sat in the back of my mind alongside desserts like rice pudding and apple cobbler, comforting old favorites that are surely worth making and are certainly delicious, but that I’ve never actually gotten around to making in my own kitchen.

But after The Kitchn featured buckeyes in early December, I decided they’d be the ideal treat to pack up into darling little tins, tied with brightly-colored ribbons, and hand out as favors at the glimmering holiday party I’d be throwing.  There would have been music and snacks, and potentially streamers.

This party, of course, never happened.  Between finishing up A Bread A Day, the stress of being laid off, driving halfway across the country for Christmas, and everyone I know leaving town at different times, it just wasn’t meant to be.  So the buckeye centers languished, shaped and frozen, baleful globes eyeballing me as I tossed them aside in search of frozen bread or frozen onions.

And finally, as I knew it would, the food hangover that is January (and most of February) finally lifted, and I felt that it was safe to allow a few indulgences back into the kitchen.  Out came the buckeyes, and out came the dipping chocolate, and I now have a freezer full of buckeyes.  Eyeballing me.

Dipping things into chocolate sounds reasonably easy; and it is, if you know one or two small tricks.  One: use a coating chocolate, unless you really enjoy tempering your Callebaut.  Me, I have better things to do, so I use a kind of chocolate that specifically says it’s for coating.  It melts smoothly and easily, and will set firmly without having to worry about the chocolate going out of temper.  If it starts to set up while you’re working, you just heat and melt it again.  Easy!

Yes, there are a few extra multi-syllabic ingredients, which I usually try to avoid; but unless you want to dilute your nicest chocolate with paraffin, or spend hours getting the temper just right (repeatedly), I suggest a quality coating chocolate.  Try it if possible; if it doesn’t taste good to you out of the bag, it won’t taste good on your dessert.  In a pinch, Ghirardelli chips work reasonably well (and can be mixed in to improve the flavor of a lesser coating chocolate), but other brands of chocolate chips don’t melt smoothly.

The second tip for chocolate dipping is all about technique.  The idea is to have a thin shell of chocolate around the center, not an inch-thick coating to have to gnaw through.  To get an appropriately thin coating, dip the center into the melted chocolate, then kinda bounce it up and down rapidly in the chocolate, slowly drawing the center out of the chocolate as you bounce it.  A sort of capillary or suction effect happens when you do this, and any excess chocolate will stay in the bowl, and not clinging to your center.  Very little chocolate should drip off the bottom.

It takes just a little practice, but when you get it right, you’ll look like a professional chocolatier.  You can tell you’ve got it down pat when your buckeyes don’t have “feet”: that little pool of excess chocolate that forms around the bottom when you’ve got too much coating.  A little “foot” is inevitable and okay, as it prevents them rolling around; but if it looks like they’re sitting on a small plate made of chocolate, there’s a little too much coating.

One last tip for chocolate dipping: always melt more chocolate than you think you’ll need.  Trust me, it isn’t fun to try to dip centers into a tiny puddle of chocolate left in the bottom of the bowl.  Use a bit of depth, and your life will be much easier.

As a bonus, the extra melted chocolate can be used to make a simple secondary treat: chocolate krispies.  Add some Rice Krispies (how much cereal depends on how much leftover chocolate you have), and stir to coat.  You can either shape it into individual candies by dropping, or by spreading it out on wax paper into a flat sheet, and breaking or cutting into pieces.  It may not sound sophisticated, but I promise everyone will go absolutely nuts over them.  I like to flavor these by stirring a little peppermint oil (not extract!, it will make your chocolate seize up) into the chocolate before adding the cereal.  These are just as good with corn flakes, or any other crisp and mild-flavored cereal.

Buckeyes
Makes about 10 dozen 3/4-inch buckeyes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, well softened
  • 2 cups (about 16 ounces) smooth peanut butter (not organic or natural)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (16 ounce) box powdered sugar
  • 3 cups puffed rice cereal, such as Rice Krispies (optional)
  • 1 pound coating chocolate

Directions:

  1. 1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter, peanut butter, and vanilla until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar gradually, beating on low until incorporated.  The mixture will be stiff.  Add the cereal, and blend thoroughly to incorporate.  Cover the bowl, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  2. 2.  Roll the chilled mixture into small balls (using about 1 heaped teaspoon per ball), and place on a rimmed cookie sheet in a single layer.  Freeze the balls until hardened, at least 1 hour.  If not dipping immediately, transfer to a plastic zip-top bag and keep frozen.
  3. 3.  Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, or in the microwave, stirring occasionally to help melt.  Remove half of the centers from the freezer, and place a toothpick in each one.  Dip each ball into the chocolate, leaving a bit on top uncoated to give it the traditional buckeye look.  Quickly bounce the center up and down in the chocolate to remove any excess coating, and transfer to a wax-paper lined baking sheet to set either at room temperature or in the refrigerator.  Repeat with remaining centers.  When set, store in a wax-paper lined airtight container for a few days at room temperature, or for up to a few months in the freezer.

 

Notes:
1.   I prefer Skippy brand peanut butter for baking, but whatever brand you use, make sure it isn’t the kind (organic or natural) that separates at room temperature.

2.  I make my buckeyes relatively small; if you prefer larger ones, use about 1 tablespoon of the filling mixture for each one.

3.  The rice cereal is optional in the filling.  To me, “crunchy” is the noblest texture, and I like it nearly everywhere.  Besides, it gives you an excuse to have the cereal on hand to make chocolate krispies with the leftover melted chocolate.

4.  In step 3, I advise only dipping half of the centers at a time to keep them as hard as possible.  If the centers soften too much, the toothpicks will easily fall out, meaning that you will lose many centers into the morass of melted chocolate.  If that starts to happen, re-freeze the centers until hard enough to continue.

Mirliton Pickles

I’ve always been intrigued by mirlitons.  Between the puckered pear shape, the Granny Smith color, the summer squash flesh, and the single flat seed, you might not know quite what to make of one.  For many people, it probably falls into the category of “foods you’ve never bought because you don’t know what on Earth it is, or what on Earth to do with it”.

But if you’re from New Orleans, you and your Mama an’ dem can probably make plenty good use of a sack of mirlitons.  Alternatively known as chayote, cho-cho, alligator pear, or nearly a dozen other names, the so-called “mellyton” is often used in Cajun cooking, though it’s rarely served alone due to its mild flavor.  One favorite preparation of mine is to boil mirliton halves until tender (a surprisingly long wait, up to 45 minutes), then scoop out most of the flesh, and chop it.  These bits are used in a crawfish or shrimp dressing, which gets stuffed into the hollowed-out shells.  Baked until crisp on top, it’s one of the finer uses for a mirliton you’ll ever try, including cho-cho pie.

Coming hot on those heels, however, is the pickled mirliton.  I’m a huge fan of pickles generally speaking, but there’s something especially magical about the way a mirliton will transform in a bath of brine.  Other vegetables will typically retain their natural flavor when pickled; a carrot will taste of carrot, a cauliflower will taste of cauliflower.  But perhaps this is from a tendency to pickle those vegetables solo, and a mirliton naturally needs a bit of help to avoid blandness.  I have yet to see a pickled mirliton recipe that includes less than three other vegetables.

During the pickling process, the brine transfers a fair amount of flavor from the onions, carrots, fennel, and bell peppers directly into the mirlitons.  The result is that the other vegetables taste a bit muddled, though still crunchy and certainly good to eat; but the mirlitons! oh, the mirlitons!  They become vibrant and fresh, with a bouquet of flavors that is impossible to pin down, with a crisp crunch reminiscent of a stalk of celery.  How the mild, slightly-starchy thing turns into such a full-flavored and complex treat, getting increasingly better by the day, is a delight to behold.

Some like to peel the mirlitons before pickling, but I’ve never done so.  The skin is perfectly edible; besides, look at those puckered ends.  There’s no way I could be bothered with peeling around that mess, and there’s no reason you should either.

I feel I should warn you.  It might not seem like this recipe would make a lot, but it makes what I would describe as a “boatload” of pickles.  I estimate it’s about three quarts, but I could be way off.  Either way, you’ll be eating mirliton pickles for a while, so it’s a good thing they’re just as good in martinis and Bloody Marys as they are in tuna salad or on roast beef sandwiches.

Or, you know, straight from the jar, standing in front of the refrigerator.

[And now for the safety lecture and disclaimer: when making pickles, of course you’re supposed to sterilize all jars and bottles within an inch of their lives, then seal the jars by processing them in a hot bath.  Me, I’ve never done that, for two reasons.  First, pickles rarely last so long in my house that they’d have to be treated any differently than normal leftovers.  Second, I store my pickles in scrupulously clean jars in the refrigerator, and I’ve never had any strange creatures growing in my pickles (even the ones that I forgot about for several months).  Between a clean jar, the chill of a fridge, and a saline brine, contamination should not be a problem.  Of course, if you ever spot something fuzzy, funky, or otherwise uncool on your pickles, throw them out!]

Mirliton Pickles
Adapted from Marcelle Bienvenu, exact source forgotten with apologies
Makes about 3 quarts

Ingredients:

  • 3 to 4 mirlitons, seeds removed, sliced into batons
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into thin batons
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced (across the grain)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1 large fennel bulb, sliced thinly
  • 2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 to 6 dried chilies (optional, but highly recommended)


Directions:

  1. 1.  In a large bowl, combine the mirlitons, onion, bell pepper, carrots, and fennel.  Cover with cold water and several handfuls of ice cubes.  Place a plate on top to keep vegetables submerged.  Let stand for 3 hours at room temperature.  Drain well.  (This is a good time to sterilize the jars you’ll be storing the pickles in.)
  2. 2.  Combine remaining ingredients in a large non-reactive pot.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Let boil, covered, for about 5 minutes before adding the drained vegetables.  Turn off heat, cover, and let stand 5 minutes.  Arrange the vegetables in the sterilized jars, and cover with the liquid.  Seal the jars with the lids, and let cool at room temperature.  Store in the refrigerator, for at least 6 days before using.

Superbowl Party

As I mentioned previously, I could usually not care any less about the Super Bowl.  The actual game part, I mean.  The food and drink are where my attentions usually lie; so this year, when my hometown team went to their first Super Bowl ever, I knew a party was in order, and that I needed to pay extra attention to the menu.  What better homage to the Saints than a spread of New Orleanian food, shared with good friends?

Bowls of roasted chickpeas were of course on display, as promised a few days ago.  Unfortunately for my guests, I didn’t notice until after everyone had left that the previously-crunchy things had softened quite a bit while being stored in their plastic bags.  (Note to self: try everything I set out for a party.)  The flavors held up beautifully, but the texture was chewy where it should have been crisp, disappointingly so.

An old standard for football games, spinach dip, also made an appearance.  Paired with thick tortilla chips, the parsley- and scallion-laden dip was a fresh and familiar face; but this version scales down the dairy, typically so rich, into an item with a far more spinach-forward flavor.  (You’ll find a recipe for this below.)

One dish, familiar to some New Orleanians, but foreign to most of my guests, was a platter of mirliton pickles.  Also known as chayote, the mild-flavored mirliton is commonly used with shrimp or crawfish, and plenty of spices and aromatics.  Here, sticks of mirliton soak up the flavors of carrot, red bell pepper, onion, and fennel, transforming into crunchy and bold pickles that improve by the day.  (I’ll feature this recipe in the near future.)

The main entrée was a massive pot of smoked turkey and collard green gumbo, simmered for most of the day while I tidied up the apartment and prepared other dishes.  The robust depth of the turkey infused the entire pot with a richness that the collard greens matched beautifully, the hearty leafy green standing up to the silken body of the soup.

For dessert, chocolate tahini sablés begged to be served, but they took a backseat to the king cake, sparkling with colored sugar.

As is traditional, I hid a tiny plastic baby (representing, of course, the Baby Jesus) in one slice; but this one referenced the nickname lovingly bestowed upon the Saints’ quarterback, Drew Brees.  The Who Dat Nation has taken to calling him “Breesus”, so it was only natural that our party featured a miniature Baby Breesus in our king cake.

And if that joke makes you laugh out loud, then you are the Who Dat Nation.

Spinach Dip
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt, preferably Greek-style
  • 4 green onions, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely minced
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions:

  1. 1.  Thaw spinach at room temperature, or in microwave for 3 to 4 minutes at 40 percent power.  Squeeze the spinach dry of as much excess liquid as possible.
  2. 2.  In a bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.  Add the spinach, and toss together.  Serve at once, or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Notes:
1.  You can certainly make this by running all ingredients through a food processor, but I didn’t find it necessary.  Just be sure to chop the garlic and scallions finely enough that you don’t end up with large chunks in the finished dip.

Hot Sauce

If I may be accused of food snobbery, it is specifically in regards to one item: hot wings.  And really, there’s no good reason for it.  I am not one to shy away from butter-laden sauces, such as the hot sauce-infused one integral to the hot wing experience; and if you’ve ever seen me around a bottle of Tabasco or Sriracha, you know that’s not part of the issue either.  The wing is even my favorite part of the chicken; the invariably crisp skin, the middle joint with its silken flesh that always slides seductively from the bones (no matter how dry the rest of the bird), the miniature drumstick with its pleasingly small portion of meat.  Add the three together – butter, hot sauce, crisp chicken wing – and the result should be enough to win my heart for life.

But alas, for me there are simply old prejudices associated with that particular food.  I went to college in Alabama, you see, and have firmly connected the stuff with noisy hordes of young men and women, dressed in too-large T-shirts emblazoned with Greek letters, each indistinguishable from the next, all drunk on whatever was cheapest, shouting, “Oh my gawd, y’all, let’s go get hot wings!”

It would be enough even to turn me off Côtes du Rhône.

Understanding, however, that though they may be anathema to me, hot wings are nevertheless widely beloved and often served at Super Bowl parties nationwide.  So in the interest of bringing a little dignity to this food, I offer you a recipe for homemade hot sauce.  The chicken and the butter, I figure you can manage on your own, and there’s really not much else to it.

This hot sauce starts with dried piquin chilies, tiny little things that pack a surprising amount of heat.  This is about 1/2 ounce, or approximately enough to make your head explode.

I used half of this in the actual hot sauce, but found myself wishing that I had used the entire amount; the end result had a pleasant and slight burn on the finish, but the overall sauce was more condiment than powerful accessory to be used with utmost caution.  I typically prefer the latter; if you like the former, this is right up your alley.

Having said that, though, the mild nature of this hot sauce makes it ideal for hot wings.  You don’t exactly want to melt your face off with an entrée, so a milder sauce is perfect here.  For a more fresh and vibrant tone, I’ve added fresh peppers, three serranos, one jalapeño, and one Cubanelle.  The base of the sauce is a can of crushed tomatoes, while Worcestershire sauce and Asian fish sauce provide a robust depth that mimics the rich flavor of a long-fermented batch of chili peppers (as is often used in commercial hot sauces).

It might seem like there are too many chilies used, but I can assure you that the result is rather mild.  And besides, it’s called “hot sauce”, not “spicy tomato sauce”.  I’m sure you’re asking yourself if it’s really worth it, when there are about 10 million different hot sauces on the market.  Why bother?

Well, darlin’, if you’re anything like me, making your own hot sauce is just about the only way to elevate the basic hot wing, from its base reputation as 2 am post-keg-party fodder, to sophisticated and refined hors d’oeuvre.  Call me a snob, but that’s reason enough for me.

Hot Sauce
Adapted from White On Rice Couple
Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 ounce dried piquin chilies, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 fresh cubanelle pepper, seeded and chopped finely
  • 1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped finely
  • 3 fresh serrano peppers, seeded and chopped finely
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fish sauce, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 three-fingered pinch salt


Directions:

  1. 1.  Soak the dried piquin chilies in the boiling water for 20 to 30 minutes to soften.  Meanwhile, prepare the remaining ingredients.  When softened, drain and chop finely (wearing rubber gloves).
  2. 2.  Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and shallots.  Cook until just fragrant, stirring constantly, about 1 minute.  Do not let them brown.  Add the tomatoes, fresh peppers, bay leaf, and about 1/2 cup water.  Simmer over low heat until the peppers soften, about 30 minutes.  Add more water as needed to keep the mixture from thickening or drying out.
  3. 3.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Stir in the rice vinegar, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, and salt.  Let stand until cooled to room temperature, about 30 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf.
  4. 4.  Blend mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth, adding extra water as needed to thin to desired consistency.  Strain if needed.  Store in refrigerator.

 

Notes:
1.  Always wear rubber gloves when dealing with very hot chilies, such as piquin.  Thoroughly wash hands and all items that have come into contact with them.  Even with all this, avoid touching eyes for the rest of the day.

2.  If you like, you can add the stems of the fresh peppers to the mixture as it simmers (in step 2), to bring a slightly floral quality.  Remove with the bay leaf before puréeing.

Roasted Chickpeas, Three Ways

It’s Super Bowl time.

For me, this usually means that I get invited to a party where I care far more about the company, food, and drink than I do about the planned entertainment.  Though I do enjoy throwing parties quite a lot, I usually forget about this so-called “Big Game” until the last minute, and someone else has already claimed hosting duties.

This year, however, is quite another story.  I am from New Orleans, you see; and right now it doesn’t matter if you’ve ever even seen a football game before, if you’re from N’Awlins, you are damned excited about this particular game.  The Saints have never been to the Super Bowl before, and it would be a severe understatement to say that the city is fired up about it.  How excited are we?  This is how excited.  Five thousand men in dresses parading down Bourbon Street can’t be wrong, and you’re sure not going to see that in Indianapolis.

So, of course, I can’t let this one slide by without a celebration.  But typical fare at a Super Bowl party tends towards the “bar food” end of the spectrum; me, I usually serve something a bit more soigné than, you know, hot wings.

Not wanting to make my guests uncomfortable, though, I’m reluctant to serve the sort of food that I would normally turn to, things like precious canapés or anything with an adjective-laden name.  I mean, who wants to watch football with a cup of chocolate mousse balanced on his knee?  No, for this party, I need something that goes with beer.

Of course, there will be a main entrée, but people are going to want something snacky, something that can sit out all night, something starchy and bite-sized.  Chips or cocktail nuts would certainly fit the bill here; but they’re so incredibly salty.  I find that football goes best with a steady infusion of beer, and if I want to be standing at the end of the night, I don’t need anything to make me want to drink more.

Enter the recent darling of the food blogging world: the roasted chickpea.  Endlessly adaptable to any flavor you put with it, these little gems are just what I’m looking for: bite-sized, crunchy, starchy, addicting, and they can sit out for ages.  Oh, and did I mention that chickpeas are incredibly cheap?  Could it get any better?

Of course, I could never settle on one flavor, so I’ve narrowed it down to three.  I’ve chosen a range that I think will please all my guests, one way or another.  The first is inspired by the flavorings of a traditional béchamel sauce, using onion, white pepper, and nutmeg.  The onion is caramelized, bringing a dark sweetness, while the abundance of coarsely ground white pepper has a sharpness that cuts any stodginess.  In the background, the nutmeg scents more than it flavors, with a warming and seductive spice.

The second seasoning blend is a bit more familiar, a tried-and-true combination of lemon and thyme.  I use lemon zest for its floral qualities, which accentuates the citrus notes of the fresh thyme, while lemon juice blends with olive oil to make a sort of savory vinaigrette that soaks into the hot roasted chickpeas.  A bit of black pepper adds depth, but not enough is used to bring any heat.

For those who like a sweet-savory combination, the third seasoning combines smoky cumin, toasted lightly before grinding, with cayenne and hot paprika for heat, and cinnamon and brown sugar for depth and a light caramel flavor.  A pinch of salt here makes the flavors pop without turning things savory.

This is not the extent of my Super Bowl menu; I will talk about other foods as I’m able, but this might be early enough for you to get some use out of it for your own party.  Whether or not you use these flavor combinations, you can hardly go wrong with this idea.  Simple, endlessly customizable, and tasty as all get-out, roasted chickpeas are an excellent (and healthier) substitute for the typical cocktail nuts or chips that you’d otherwise be tempted to resort to.

Roasted Chickpeas
Makes about 2 cups

Directions:

  1. 1.  Drain and thoroughly rinse 2 cans of chickpeas.  Lay out in a single layer on a kitchen towel, and gently dry by hand, or let sit until dry.  Preheat oven to 350º F.
  2. 2.  Spread chickpeas in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast for about 1 hour, shaking occasionally, or until crispy and lightly brown.  Immediately remove from oven and toss with desired seasonings (variations follow).

 

Onion and White Pepper Seasoning
Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons whole white peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced small
  • 1 large pinch salt

Directions:

  1. 1.  Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add peppercorns, and toast until fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Remove from pan, and crush in a mortar and pestle, or with the flat side of a large knife.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Add nutmeg.
  2. 2.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in the same pan over medium-low heat.  Add onion and cook, stirring often, until onion has caramelized, turning brown and soft, 15 to 20 minutes.  Add to bowl with peppercorns and nutmeg.
  3. 3.  Toss hot roasted chickpeas with the mixture in the bowl, adding salt, and remaining olive oil (if needed).

 

 

 

Lemon-Thyme Seasoning
Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large pinch salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (to taste)

Directions:

  1. 1.  Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.  Add hot roasted chickpeas, and toss until coated.


Sweet and Spicy Seasoning
Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 large pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


Directions:

  1. 1.  Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add cumin seeds and toast until fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat, and grind to desired coarseness in a mortar, or electric spice grinder.
  2. 2.  In a large bowl, mix ground toasted cumin, cayenne, paprika, cinnamon, salt, brown sugar, and olive oil.  Add hot roasted chickpeas, and toss until coated.

 

Notes:
1.  For the most part, roasted chickpeas can sit at room temperature in an airtight container for several days.  (The onion-laden ones, maybe store in the refrigerator.)  If they go soft, just re-crisp them in a 350º F oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until they’re crunchy again.

Chocolate Tahini Sablés

I found myself the other day just a few ingredients shy of a dish that has been on my “to cook” list for some time now.  (Side note: said dish is supremely flavorful, and is now in the permanent file.)  As I walked to the store, my mind was buzzing, but not with visions of the promised lightly caramelized butternut squash, pungently sweet red onion, or earthy chickpeas.  No, my mind was focused on the tahini I was about to purchase, and on cookies.

You see, I had just made a batch of cookies to scratch a baking itch, and to provide a little midday relief for the sweet tooth that occasionally plagues me.  They were nothing out of the ordinary, just little chocolate chip guys with a small handful of steel-cut oats added.  Perfectly fine.  But as respectable as those cookies had been, they just didn’t ring my bell.  They were good, but not great.  Me, I want cookies to be unquestionably worth every calorie.  Good is not good enough; I want them to be friggin’ amazing.

And so, sub-par cookies tugging at my mind, I set out to buy tahini.  Since my last jar of tahini lasted me approximately five years (before I threw it out), I wondered what to do with the remainder of this jar.  Somewhere along the way to the store, the idea came to use it in cookies.  But not just any cookies, shortbread cookies.  And, ooh!, with chocolate!  Sesame seed butter and chocolate?  Yes, please.

I wasn’t sure where that idea had come from; but when I got home to search my saved recipes for shortbread, sure enough, there was a tahini shortbread recipe recently ripped from Food & Wine Magazine.  Of course.  How quickly I forget; luckily, my brain had filed that away for such a time as this.  The idea of tahini in a shortbread cookie, with a generous amount of salt, sounded like exactly what I was looking for.

But in my search, another recipe caught my eye (original source forgotten, a copy is here), one for shortbread in the French-style, known as a sablé.  This dough, however, used a hard-boiled egg yolk, of all unusual things to put in a cookie.  Being a sucker for unusual ingredients, it was impossible to choose between the two recipes, especially since the latter included a chocolate variation.

There was nothing to do but incorporate elements from both recipes: the egg yolk and cocoa from the one, the tahini from the other.  The dough tasted and smelled exquisite, redolent with the nutty aroma and flavor of sesame, rich with chocolate and a gluttony of butter.  Rolled in coarse turbinado sugar, the edges glistened.

The fragile texture was textbook sablé, crumbling at the merest pressure into the most beautiful sandy crumbs, and the generous pinch of salt in the dough lends an intriguing and almost savory note.  If I’m honest, I only wish the tahini flavor had held up in the oven a little more.  So sesame-forward in the dough, it seemed to succumb readily to the chocolate flavor after baking.  Rolling the dough in sesame seeds instead of sugar would accentuate it, of course; but I can’t imagine giving up that fantastic crunch of coarse sugar against melting sablé crumb.

As good as these cookies were straight from the oven, they’ve only improved after sitting for a day or two.  They seem to take on new complexity of flavor with every hour that passes, and the incomparable texture remains just as good.  With this recipe, the disappointment of sub-par cookies will never haunt you; these are absolutely worth every single calorie.

Chocolate Tahini Sablés
Makes about fifty 1 1/2 inch cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (5 ounces) tahini, stirred
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 7/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee
  • Coarse sugar (such as turbinado or demerara), for finishing

 

Directions:

  1. 1.  Hard-boil the egg by placing it in a small saucepan.  Cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil.  When the water reaches a boil, remove it from the heat.  Cover the pan, and let the egg stand in the water for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, fill a small bowl with ice water.  When the egg is done, transfer it to the ice bath, and chill for 5 minutes.  Peel, and discard (or eat) the white.  Press the yolk through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. 2.  Add the softened butter, tahini, sugars, and salt.  Using the paddle attachment, cream the mixture together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed.
  3. 3.  Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and instant coffee.  Add to the other ingredients, and mix on low until just incorporated, scraping the bowl once or twice.
  4. 4.  Divide the dough in half, place each half on a piece of parchment or wax paper, and shape each piece into a log about 1 or 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Wrap the paper around the dough, and twist the ends to seal.  Refrigerate until firm, 1 to 2 hours.
  5. 5.  Preheat the oven to 325º F, and position a rack in the center of the oven.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease it lightly.  Sprinkle a generous handful of coarse sugar on a flat surface (such as a cutting board), unwrap one log of dough, and roll it in the sugar until completely coated, pressing to adhere the sugar.  Slice the log crossways, and arrange the slices on the prepared baking sheet.
  6. 6.  Bake at 325º F for about 25 minutes, or until the cookies are set and no longer feel very soft when touched lightly.  Slide the parchment onto a cooling rack, and let cookies cool completely.  Repeat coating, slicing, and baking with the remaining log of dough.  Cookies will keep for up to a week in an airtight container at room temperature.

Notes:
1.  If you’d like to boost the sesame flavor, try rolling the cookies in sesame seeds instead of the sugar.

Kimchi

One of my favorite parts of eating Korean food (and I do love me some Korean food) is the kimchi that invariably comes with the bowl of bi bim bap, or plate of bulgogi.  Korean cuisine is noted for the number of banchan (loosely translated as “side dishes”) that are served, but kimchi is undoubtedly the most common, and is served at every meal.

Kimchi is most often made from Napa cabbage, and usually fermented, though there are a staggering number of variations that may or may not involve cabbage at all.  There’s even a variation called white kimchi that uses no chili at all, though kimchi is typically renowned for its tear-inducing level of heat.

There are different kimchis for the different seasons, and major differences between North Korean and South Korean kimchi, as well as town-specific varieties.  This version comes from Lillian Chou, former Food Editor of our dearly departed Gourmet Magazine, and is a fast and easy version that can be finished with minimal effort.  Rather than being fermented for days, this version is more of a pickle, needing only a few hours rest.  Though some might frown on the non-traditional method, the result is fresh and vibrant, tasting young and crisp.

I first tried this recipe last March, when I made a batch of steamed pork buns, and wanted a little crunchy spice in the filling.  I was so impressed with the ease and excellent results that I immediately made a second batch as soon as the first was gone.  For a couple of months, I artfully (and sometimes not so artfully) worked handfuls of kimchi into nearly every dinner, scrambled eggs were dotted liberally with the stuff, snacks consisted mainly of a small plate of kimchi, and I lunched more often than I should have on bowls of rice, shelled edamame, and kimchi.

And then, I suppose, I grew weary of it; like a record you listen to exclusively for weeks on end and then suddenly can’t stand even the thought of it.  My kimchi jar stayed empty, and I was forced to pack peanut butter sandwiches for lunch again.

But then, in the midst of a recent spate of single-digit-degree days, the hunger came upon me, and kimchi was the only cure.  One key ingredient to authentic kimchi is Korean chili pepper flakes; but unfortunately, I didn’t have any, and it was far too cold to venture out in search.  In substitution, I used a mixture of the more widely available crushed red pepper flakes and an Asian-style chili garlic sauce, which brought an appropriate heat with a greater depth of flavor than would be possible with only the red pepper flakes.

Mixed together with fresh ginger, garlic, and scallions, the chili pepper mixture tastes reasonably authentic.  I would describe the level of heat as “moderately burning”; enough to make your eyes water if you eat a handful, potent enough to announce its presence when used in small doses in cooking, but not so overwhelming as to obscure the flavor of the other ingredients.  Feel free to adjust the amounts used, based on the heat level of your chilies and personal preference.  You can always add more, but you can’t take it out.

The characteristically robust and slightly funky flavor of kimchi, usually achieved through fermentation, is here mimicked with fish sauce, giving a slight nod to the South Korean style which often uses anchovies.  An Asian pear grated into the mixture provides a light sweetness, rounding out the overall flavor without being insistent.

A batch of this kimchi will last about 1 month in the refrigerator, giving you ample time to use what may seem like a staggering amount, especially as a little goes a long way.  If you need inspiration for ways to use it up, a quick search online will turn up recipes for kimchi soup, kimchi stir fry, kimchi pancakes, or any number of entrées to serve with kimchi.

The process is extremely simple.  The cabbage is cut down to size.

It then gets tossed with salt, and is left to rest for 2 hours.

The salting process draws excess water out of the cabbage, meaning that your kimchi will stay crisp in the refrigerator for weeks.  Otherwise, the cabbage would quickly wilt and go mushy.

While the cabbage sits, the other ingredients are prepared.  Ginger and garlic get minced together.

Sesame seeds get toasted in a pan over medium heat until fragrant, only a minute or three.

I like to just mix everything together, though you can also purée the garlic and ginger with the other liquids to make a smooth paste if you like.  Me, I don’t like to do so many dishes.

Rinse and drain the cabbage, and give your hands a little workout by squeezing all the liquid out of it.  You can’t hurt it; it will still stay crunchy, though it looks wilted now.  Add to the other ingredients, and mix.  If you use your hands, you might want to wear rubber gloves so you don’t accidentally burn your eyes later when you rub them.  Tongs work just as well, though.

Taste it to make sure it’s spicy enough for you.  Be sure to store it in glass, or some other non-reactive container, that has a tight-fitting lid.  I use a tall 1 1/2 liter canning jar with a swing-top lid.  As the kimchi sits in the refrigerator, it will begin to ferment, and will start to smell a little more pungent; unless you like kimchi-flavored milk and butter, you might want to invest the seven dollars in a proper storage container.

Quick Kimchi
Adapted from Lillian Chou

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds Napa cabbage (about 1 large head)
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, crushed slightly with side of heavy knife or in mortar
  • 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Asian-style chili garlic sauce (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 bunch scallions, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 inch lengths (about 1 cup)
  • 1 Asian pear (about 8 ounces), peeled

Directions: 

  1. Quarter the cabbage lengthwise.  Cut crosswise into 1 to 2 inch pieces.  Toss with the salt in a large bowl and let stand for 2 hours, tossing occasionally.
  2. Rinse the cabbage very well with cold water, being sure to wash off as much of the salt as possible.  Let drain in a colander.
  3. While the cabbage drains, mince the garlic and ginger as finely as possible.  Toast the sesame seeds in a pan over medium heat for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant.  Chop the scallions, and peel the Asian pear.
  4. In a large non-reactive bowl, combine the garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, fish sauce, vinegar, chili garlic sauce, red pepper flakes, and scallions.  Using a coarse grater, grate the peeled Asian pear into the mixture, avoiding the core and seeds.
  5. Using your hands, squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the cabbage, and add to the other ingredients.  Toss the mixture well, and let marinate about 1 hour at room temperature.  The kimchi is now ready to serve, but will keep about 1 month in the refrigerator, and will increase in pungency as it sits.