Monday, June 30, 2008

Freaky Eggs


Things are getting freaky in the Red Ramekin kitchen. And no, this has nothing to do with food porn. Rather, it refers to the freaky eggs we recently purchased at our local, and until now seemingly unremarkable, Whole Foods.

It's about to strike midnight, and I was intending to save my blogging energy for tomorrow, but I had to get a quick word in about the alarming frequency with which we've been finding double-yolked eggs in this most recent dozen. We've only used four of them so far, and THREE, yes that's THREE (3) of them have been double-yolks!

I have always considered the double-yolk a rare and somewhat celebratory occurrence - something that happens once every year or so, at most. But right now I'm three for my last four. Is this normal? Have any of you, dear readers, ever had a similar experience? Or maybe there is some funky hormone circulating through my cage-free egg pool...

There is something oddly intriguing to me about the double-yolk phenomenon, so perhaps I am overreacting to this evening's excitement. It sure seemed exciting to crack open three of these anomalies in a row, though. Exciting indeed.

I wish I had a better picture, but alas, this is the type of experience to which even a great photo cannot do justice. Updates to come on the remaining eight specimens still left in the carton.



****Update: I'm now 5 for 6. Jonathan had "2" eggs for breakfast, both of which were doubles!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Butter Braid: Daring Bakers do Danish Pastry


It's hard to believe that it's already the end of June - almost as hard as it to believe how much butter is in the latest Daring Bakers adventure: the Danish Braid. Ok, there isn't really that much butter in this month's recipe, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Once again, I griped about making this month's Daring Bakers challenge recipe for about three weeks, and then, once I finally took the plunge, was extremely happy that I completed it and had the chance to learn something new about baking.

At this point, I see the Daring Bakers fulfilling two primary functions: 1) teaching me new baking techniques and 2) providing Jonathan with his monthly fix of butter-rich, white sugar-laden, refined flour-filled treats. And this month was no exception.


As is probably obvious from the platoon of pastry braids marching around the blogosphere, this month's challenge was Sherry Yard's version of the traditional Danish braid. A Danish braid is simply a gigantic Danish pastry, filled with some type of sweet and sticky filling, and (you guessed it!) braided. For those of you who aren't familiar with Danish pastry....um, hello? It's that sweet, sticky, buttery stuff you see populating every bakery case, ever. It's not quite a croissant - it has less butter (yeah, if you knew how much butter is required to make croissants, you'd never eat them again), and is made with yeast, so it's slightly breadier and not quite so flaky.

Although I have to say I'm usually grossed out by the limp little danishes I see in most bakeries, the homemade version is really beautiful. This particular recipe called for a cardamom- and vanilla-scented dough, and it smelled absolutely heavenly while baking in the oven. I have to say though, this type of pastry is not something I'd see myself making again. Although it turned out well, the richness of the dough and of the pastry itself is a bit overwhelming. One feels like it should be a decadent dessert, but it doesn't quite have the wow factor of something like chocolate cake or a really good brownie. And for a breakfast treat, I'd much prefer a more wholesome muffin or some homemade English muffins.


But then again, being a Daring Baker is really more about the process than the product, and I am very glad to have made my first laminated dough. A laminated dough is one that is made by encasing a block of butter in dough, and then folding, rolling, and chilling ad nauseum until you have a multi-decker sandwich (well, kinda) composed of thin layers of dough and butter. The idea is that the butter, when baked, allows for the flaky effect that you find in things like croissants and puff pastry. Oh, and a note about that butter: O. M. G. it was a lot of butter. In reality, two sticks of butter for a two gigantic pastries really isn't that astonishing, but when a recipe requires you to take that butter, beat it until soft, and then spread it all over the surface of your dough, it seems like a lot. This isn't butter that you cream with sugar and dilute with eggs. This is in-your-face, no denying it, boatloads of butter. But whatever. Half a pound here, half a pound there...it's just butter, right?



It's the butter, though, that makes the whole dough-making process a bit tedious, as it necessitates very careful chilling and rolling of the dough. However, I found the dough to be quite easy to work with, and didn't have any major butter-oozing incidents. Once you get used to working with whole wheat doughs, I guess anything white and buttery feels divine. Remember that French bread I told you about a while ago?


The entire Danish project was a two-day affair; I made the dough on day 1 and then assembled the pastry on day 2. We were provided with a traditional apple filling for the pastry, but I chose to fill mine with a cheese and blueberry filling. The cheese was a mixture of neufchatel, ricotta, egg yolk, sugar, and vanilla, and the blueberry was a simple sauce that I made by reducing some (frozen!) blueberries with a bit of sugar and citrus juice. I find that most commercial pastries are too sweet for Jonathan's and my tastes, so I used only a bit of sugar in the fillings, allowing their flavors (and not their sweetness) to stand out.

I'm happy to say that there were no major glitches during this challenge; my butter block stayed cleanly put in between my layers of dough, and, although the pastry didn't rise very much during the proof (before baking), it puffed up nicely in the oven and came out with a lovely crumb. As always, though, check out the Daring Bakers blogroll if you want to see some really outstanding pastry specimens.


The major downside of this challenge, I think, was the quantity of dough it yielded. I still have half of the dough in the freezer, and the braid that I baked was basically enough to feed all of Denmark for breakfast. I pawned off some of the braid on some unwitting dinner guests the other night, but there is still a hefty hunk of it in the fridge that Jonathan may or may not be up to finishing. I prefer to waste my calories on different types of treats, so who knows what the fate of my giant Danish braid will be.

As I said before, though, all in all, this was a welcome challenge and an educational one, to boot. Thanks to Kellypea and Ben, who hosted this challenge and chose the recipe. Now that I've crossed laminated dough off of my list, I'm anxious to see what my next Daring Bakers challenge will be. Oh, the calories...oh, the suspense!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Revelatory Fruit Cobbler


If any of you are food blog whores to the extent that I am, you are probably aware of the spike in fruit cobbler posts over the past week. A certain blogging group was assigned to make a berry cobbler, and thus all manner of cobbler-like creations have proliferated on the culino-blogo-sphere.

This post, though it deals with said dessert, is decidedly more interesting than any of the others I have read on the subject (not that I'm biased or anything...). This isn't because my cobbler is necessarily better than any of the others, but rather because my cobbler is the bearer of three important cooking revelations.


The first has to do with frozen produce, and in particular, frozen fruit. The argument I'm about to make is a contentious one, what with the popularity of locavorism, farmers' market-ism, and general food snob-ism. My claim is that for a fruit dessert like this one, it just makes sense to use frozen produce. Yep, like the kind that comes in a bag and that you find in the freezer section of the grocery store.

Gastronomical blasphemy, I know. Alice Waters, if you're reading this post, I'm sorry, but it's true. I used frozen fruit to make this cobbler, and nobody's going to make me feel guilty about it. It might be a different story if I lived in California or southern France, but here in Massachusetts, fresh summer fruit ain't cheap, and if I happen to get my grubby little hands on some, I'm probably going to eat it unadorned, straight from my eco-trendy canvas shopping bag, and with juice dribbling every which way.


When you live in the city, it isn't like you ever have an extra bushel of peaches on your hands that needs getting rid of, so why squander the opportunity to enjoy fresh fruit in its most natural form? Frozen fruit, while certainly not as delicious as fresh, is significantly cheaper, and, when mixed with all sorts of sugar-y, biscuit-y goodness (like in a cobbler, for example), makes a pretty good substitute for the real thing. Plus, the frozen stuff is pre-peeled and pre-chopped! In general, I enjoy doing the peeling and chopping myself, but sometimes a quick and easy dessert - one that can be whipped up in 10 minutes or so - is definitely in order. In this particular cobbler, I used frozen peaches, mangoes, and blueberries, and trust me, it was good. Really good.


Have I made my case? Have you had your frozen fruit revelation yet? Ok, here's number two: almond butter is my new secret baking ingredient. As Jonathan can attest, I'm an almond butter junkie. I scour the cabinets for stray cracker shards so that I can use them to scoop up the stuff straight from the jar. I spread it on anything non-liquid. I go through $7 jar after $7 jar. I especially like the "fresh-squeezed" variety, which my Whole Foods carries in the bulk bins section. They have a slightly scary-looking machine that grinds the almonds and poops out (I know it's gross, but really, that's what it looks like) the butter right into your eager plastic container.

This is the stuff that I wanted to bake with, because it is much chunkier and more solid than the jarred variety. In fact, when making the biscuits for my cobbler, I stuck it in the freezer beforehand and crumbled it into my dry ingredients just like you would butter. Almond butter, like any nut butter, is primarily fat, but the fats are healthier than those in butter, and it also packs in some protein and fiber, too. Also, it lends a lovely, fragrant flavor that I adore. I used almond butter in this recipe as the only fat - no butter at all - and I'm very pleased with how it came out. I can't wait to try some cookies (oatmeal chocolate-chip, perhaps?) with it.


Ok, third and final revelation: fruit cobblers are, like, the best summer dessert. Ever. Here are my top five reasons why:

1. It's ridiculously easy to make
2. It's ridiculously quick to make
3. It's ridiculously yummy to eat
4. It proves my claim about frozen fruit being a suitable substitute for fresh in certain fruity desserts
5. It's pretty


Convinced? In addition to the top five listed above, this dessert is also great because it is so flexible. You can use any fruit that is in season (or in stock in your freezer section), and you can jazz it up with a fancy biscuit topping, or jazz it down with some easy and relatively healthy, like the topping listed here. You can make it family style, in a big iron skillet:


Or you can make it cute and mini, in a ramekin:


However you choose to make it, it's sure to be delicious, light, and the perfect ending to any meal. A few notes on how I made this revelatory cobbler: My new apartment doesn't exactly have a microwave, so I defrosted my fruit in the skillet, keeping it covered and stirring every few minutes to ensure even heating. This kept the fruit really liquidy and juicy, which is perfect for the cobbler. After defrosting, I dumped everything into a mixing bowl to add the remaining ingredients. I do a pretty rustic cobbler, dropping the biscuit topping by the spoonful on top of the fruit before baking. This makes the undersides of the biscuits nice and gooey, but if you prefer, you can bake your biscuits separately and simply serve them with the cooked fruit. When it comes to choosing fruit for the cobbler, I like to have mostly fleshy fruits (not berries), and add a few berries, for color and texture. Berries generally need lots of sugar in baked desserts, but naturally creamy and sweet fruits like peach and mango don't.

This recipe can be used as a guideline; there are many substitutions that can be made. Also, any biscuit recipe will work here; the one I used is plain, healthy, and light. Really, there is no excuse not to try this out - you can't go wrong!


As-You-Please, Revelatory Fruit Cobbler

Fruit:
4-5 c. frozen (chopped, peeled) fruit (I like a mix of peaches, mangoes, and blueberries)
2 tbs. turbinado sugar (more if your fruit mix is berry-heavy)
1 tbs. flour
sprinkle each cinnamon, cardamom, and ground ginger

Biscuit-y Topping:
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. chunky, fresh almond butter, chilled
1 tbs. turbinado sugar
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

Defrost fruit, keeping it in its juices. Pour into a mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix until well combined. Spray an iron skillet (mine is about 6 inches), or 5 or 6 ramekins with cooking spray, and portion fruit into its vessel. Prepare biscuit topping: Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, mix buttermilk and extracts. Add cold almond butter to flour mixture, and use your hands to incorporate it until you have something resembling a coarse meal. Add buttermilk to flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Drop biscuit batter by the spoonful all over the top of your fruit mixture, spreading it slightly so that it isn't too thick. Bake the cobbler at 350 F until the fruit is bubbly and thickened, and the biscuits are cooked through and golden-brown, about 20-25 minutes.

Monday, June 23, 2008

More than One Way to Bake a Cracker


A hearty thanks to those who responded to my cracker plea - I'll be sure to try out some new techniques and keep you posted on my quest for cracker perfection. In the meantime, feel free to keep the suggestions coming!

Yesterday, amidst my griping, I promised to post about a successful cracker recipe; one that really has very little to do with my original cracker, but that is wildly delicious all the same. This isn't some kind of "accident" cracker though; I fully intended to make something different, mostly because I was getting frustrated with my failed attempts and was looking to branch out a bit.

While scouring foodblogsearch.com (my favorite website? perhaps...) I came across a recipe for imitation Raincoast Crisps on the blog etherwork.net. It just so happens that I sampled some Raincoast Crisps at Whole Foods recently, and, well, let's just say that I oversampled my welcome at the cheese counter. I was intrigued by the imitation recipe, and wanted to adapt it a bit to my tastes.


For some reason, pumpernickel also popped into my brain, and the cracker recipe I came up with is a marriage between the imitation Crisps and pumpernickel rye bread. The crackers are made similarly to biscotti (no matter how hard I try, I can't stop making biscotti!), but are sliced thinly and are decidedly savory, even with the raisins and a hint of molasses.

Sadly, the idea for including rosemary in these crackers is not my own; it comes from the recipe cited above. Although I was a bit skeptical about it, as I often am with rosemary, it adds a subtle piney flavor that really works well with the other flavors in the cracker. All in all, these are highly sophisticated, and highly delicious treats. I gobbled most of them up plain, and some with a slick of almond butter, but I think they'd be fantastic with cheese, too. Also, these fancy crackers did not cost me $5 for a measly box. Gotta love that.


Pumpernickel-Raisin Crisps

1/2 c. rye flour
1/2 c. white whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, finely crumbled
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1 tsp. caraway seeds, lightly crushed
1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
handful raisins
handful pepitas
3 grinds black pepper
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tbs. molasses
1 egg
1/4 c. water

Directions:

Combine flours, seeds, spices, cocoa, salt, baking soda, and pepitas in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk egg with water and molasses. Pour egg mixture into dry ingredients, and mix until dough forms. Dough should be fairly firm, and not too sticky. Form dough into a single log or rectangular shape. Bake at 375 F until firm and dry, about 20-25 minutes. Allow log to cool for a few minutes, and then slice as thinly as possible into cracker-crisps. Return slices to a baking sheet, and bake at 300 F for about 10 minutes per side, or until crisps are....crisp!

Crackers 101

Perhaps you think that the title of this post is an introduction for a little cracker-making tutorial, courtesy of the Red Ramekin kitchen. Indeed, I intended this post to be such a tutorial, but have, after a few failed attempts at making my own whole-grain crackers, admitted to myself that instead, the title of this post is really a plea to you, dear readers and fellow bloggers, for help.

Yes, I'll admit defeat if I must. In general, this blog is dedicated to cooking successes, mostly because I never make anything that doesn't come out spectacularly. Ok, maybe that's not quite right. But I usually can get it together after a few tries at any particular item. With these crackers, though, I think I could use a little advice.

The urge to bake crackers started on Saturday night, when I was at my parents' house. I pulled some Dr. Kracker-brand crackers out of the pantry for a snack, and fell in as much love as one can with crackers with these crunchy, seedy, slightly sweet morsels.

These particular crackers are 100% whole-grain, and have millet, poppy, and pumpkin seeds scattered across their tops. Back at home the next day, I went to Whole Foods to scout them out, and found them on the shelf - for a cool $5 per (rather small) box. I'll pay plenty for good food, but $5 crackers? Why not just make them?

So that has been my little project for the past couple of days, and I can't say I've had much success. I first tried a yeasted dough, but that yielded little pita-like puffs of softish dough. They were tasty, but not exactly crackers. I tried again this morning, using a baking soda-risen dough, but came out with basically the same result (huh? weird, I know...).

It seems obvious that my next attempt should forgo the rising agents altogether, but the Dr. Krackers include yeast, and I want something similar in both taste and texture. Any thoughts, readers? Have you ever made a bad-ass batch of whole-grain crackers? Also, when is the last time you heard the words "bad-ass" and "whole-grain crackers" together in the same sentence?

Luckily for you (and me!) I've managed to make a batch of delicious biscotti-like crackers, which, while nothing like the Dr. Krackers, are a suitable snacking alternative. I'll post about them soon, but in the meantime, help!

Friday, June 20, 2008

New World Quinoa Salad


So I've gone and made another grain-based salad for you, this one with my beloved quinoa. I know, I just posted a grain salad in the form of Argentine tabbouleh, but something about summer makes this type of food just the right thing for lunch or a mid-afternoon graze in the refrigerator. The grains make them hearty and filling, but the veggies and general coolness of it all keep them light and appetizing even when it's humid and 90 degrees outside. Which, inevitably, it is.

I created this salad mainly as a vehicle for some spicy, roasted pepitas that I made the other day. I've found recently that I really like pepitas, and was inspired by a recipe I saw somewhere to roast them with some lime, salt, and spice. They are pretty tasty on their own (in fact, so tasty that I'll even include the recipe in this post!), but I was hoping to incorporate them into a meal-type of dish, instead of just leaving them to be snacked on.


Eating pepitas puts me in a Mexican-New World-y kind of eating mood, so I decided to add them to a sweet potato-studded quinoa salad. I had originally planned to roast some sweet potatoes and top them with a pepita-based sauce of some kind...but the quinoa was calling out to me. In any case, I'm glad it was, because this salad was really delicious and pretty, to boot.

I chose to use my favorite white yams, along with black beans and roasted, sweet red onion. To really make it a New World salad, I should have added some corn instead of peas to the mix, but the flecks of cilantro didn't quite add enough green on their own for this to be considered a salad. Besides, I like peas more.


I dressed the quinoa very simply, with just some lime juice, a few spices, and a wee bit of olive oil. I suppose this is the juncture where I advertise my salad as a great alternative to potato salad for your next barbecue or picnic. Lately it seems that everyone has been suggesting hipper, lighter, healthier, and zestier alternatives to the much-maligned traditional potato salad. I personally don't see why potato salad has to be such an integral part of outdoor get-togethers, but if you do, then by all means use this delicious, healthy, potato-containing salad as a "substitute." Indeed, it's perfect for large-group entertaining, and can be scaled up almost effortlessly.

Just a few notes: I roasted my red onions, because I happened to be roasting some other vegetables and it seemed easy enough to toss a few onions into the mix. Roasted onions are gifts from the gastronomy gods, but you can also quickly saute them, or just toss them in raw, if you're into it. I find that boiling the sweet potatoes (after dicing!) is both quick and easy; just make sure not to overcook them, or else they'll get mushy. After boiling, I quickly drain and then season the sweet potato cubes with a bit of cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, salt, and pepper.


Oh, and the pepitas: they add an amazingly delicious crunch to this salad, which is why you'll see the recipe below. If you must, leave them out, but they look so pretty, and add another dimension (in flavor and texture) to the dish. Enjoy!

Chili-Lime Pepitas

2 c. raw, hulled pepitas
2 tbs. lime juice
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. (or more, to taste) salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Directions:

Mix lime juice, oil, and spices in a bowl. Add pepitas, and toss to coat. Spread in an even layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast at 375 degrees until golden, puffed, and fragrant. This takes about 10 minutes in my turbo-oven, so allow 15-20 in a normal oven. Check frequently, and stir to ensure even roasting.

New World Quinoa Salad

1 c. quinoa, rinsed
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 c. water
1 white yam, diced
1/2 c. frozen peas, thawed
1 red onion, chopped
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 handful cilantro, chopped
1/2 c. chili-lime pepitas
2 tbs. lime juice
drizzle of olive oil
cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, salt, and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Roast or saute the red onion. Meanwhile, boil the diced yam until just tender, about 8-10 minutes. Drain the yams and season to taste. Add 1 1/4 c. water and quinoa to a small saucepan and cook, being careful not to overcook the quinoa or let it burn. If needed, add extra water to the pan so that quinoa can cook completely. Let cool to room temperature before mixing with other ingredients. In a large bowl, mix quinoa, yam, onion, peas, and beans. Stir to combine, and then drizzle with oil and lime juice. Season to taste. Before serving, add cilantro and pepitas, and stir to mix, reserving a bit of each for a garnish, if desired. Tastes great chilled or served at room temperature.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Best Pasta, Ever


Recently there have been some major changes in the Red Ramekin kitchen, the most important being the kitchen itself. As I've mentioned before, Jonathan and I have recently moved to a new apartment, and we have a cozy new kitchen to which we are quickly growing accustomed. Another notable change is that the Red Ramekin kitchen now boasts its very own, cherry-red stand mixer. Yes, our lives are just full of excitement!

Seriously, though, this shiny new appliance has opened up a new world of culinary possibilities, and we are snatching up the requisite KitchenAid attachments to prove it. A recent acquisition is the pasta roller/cutter attachment, which was a graduation gift to me from Jonathan's mom, Donna. It's been sitting in the box for a couple of weeks, but last night we hosted a small dinner gathering and had the perfect chance to take it for a spin. And did it ever spin.


I've only made fresh pasta once before, and that was all by hand. In a kitchen with limited counter space, though, the machine really comes in handy, since it eliminates the step of rolling out the dough into a rectangle roughly the size of Rhode Island. The machine allows for slim, sleek sheets, and then cuts them into perfectly even noodles.


Last night I made whole wheat fettuccine, dressed with my delicious pea pesto. The recipe was very basic and contained only flour, eggs, salt, and water. The noodles, however, were unlike any I've ever had; chewy and surprisingly flavorful, and with much more gusto than ordinary dried pasta. The pea pesto was the perfect accompaniment, although I couldn't help sneaking some unadorned noodles from the pot, too. Even with just a touch of olive oil, they were wholly addictive. Indeed, I'd venture to say this was the best pasta I've ever had. Although Jonathan is anxious to try a more traditional white flour pasta, we were both thrilled by the whole wheat version, which had a texture perfect for sopping up a healthy glug of olive oil and any number of delicious sauces.


And of course, nothing impresses dinner guests more than a tangled nest of fresh pasta that goes from cutter to plate in a matter of mere minutes. I'm already looking forward to our next pasta night!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Zesty Argentine Tabbouleh


There are two things about the title of this post that should seem a little funky. The first is that the words "Argentine" and "zesty" rarely appear together in reference to food. I spent enough time in Buenos Aires to know that Argentine food, while many things, is certainly not zesty, spicy, fiery, or hot in any way. If you make it up north, near the Bolivian border, you might find a spicy empanada or two, but traditional Argentine food - criollo style - is pretty basic. Lots of pizza, pasta, empanadas, and bread. And dulce de leche. And beef. Lots of beef.

The second strange thing about the title of this post is that tabbouleh isn't often thought of as an Argentine specialty, zesty or not. Tabbouleh, in my mind, has always had a pretty specific definition - it's an herb salad (usually parsley) made with bulgur wheat, tomatoes, lemon juice, olive oil, and, sometimes, an onion. It is wildly delicious and healthy.


Which brings me back to this post on "Argentine" tabbouleh. While I was in Argentina, I often found myself hunting for foodstuffs that weren't bland or saturated in dulce de leche. I got sick of pizza and pasta pretty quickly, and huge slabs of grisly meat aren't really my thing. I tried an Indian restaurant in Buenos Aires once, and asked for my meal to be "as hot and spicy as the chef could make it," only to receive a limp-wristedly seasoned mess of dull, brown lentils. Most restaurants and corner cafes in the city boast similar menus populated by the afore-mentioned items, along with a few other things, like a tortilla de papas (potato omelette), or a "salad" (shreds of iceberg lettuce with some anemic tomatoes).

One day, though, I discovered what claimed to be a healthy, vegetarian restaurant. Could it be? A vegetarian restaurant in the steak capital of the world? Indeed it was. The place was small and cozy, and showcased some oddly-shaped and presumably whole grain loaves of bread at the bakery counter. I perused the menu, skipping over the ubiquitous "tartas" of spinach or corn and letting my eyes land on the tabbouleh. Starved for healthy food and whole grains, I ordered it.


What I got wasn't what I had expected: it had bulgur wheat, but instead of the parsley and tomatoes, it had chunks of carrot, green olives, and radishes. This certainly wasn't disagreeable, though, and I actually found my Argentine tabbouleh to be quite delicious.

So here I am now, in Boston, suffering through 90-degree heat and some nasty humidity. Weather like this puts me in the mood for cool salads and vegetables, and this morning, that Argentine tabbouleh popped into my head. I figured it was about time to recreate it, and eat it, fresh from the the refrigerator, with dinner.


I think I like this version of tabbouleh even better than the traditional version. The crunch and sweetness of the carrots, the bite of the lemon juice and radishes, and the meatiness of the olives all work wonderfully against the hearty backdrop of the cracked wheat. I've taken some liberties and added some zesty microgreens to the mix, which add both flavor and phytonutrients (don't know what they are, but don't they sound healthy?) to the dish. The whole thing comes together really quickly, and would be perfect on a picnic, at a barbecue, or for a summery lunch.

A few notes: I like to mix this salad only after the bulgur has cooled completely in the refrigerator. This prevents it from getting mushy or gummy, and ensures that the cracked wheat maintains is toothsomeness. To keep this dish authentically Argentine, I opted to use (gasp!) canned green olives. They're pretty pathetic on their own, but they have a mild earthiness that lends some body to this salad, and I actually really like them here. Go ahead and use your favorite green olive if you can't bring yourself to buy the can. But make sure they're green!


Zesty Argentine Tabbouleh

Salad:
1 c. bulgur wheat
2 c. boiling water
2 carrots
1 large scallion
4 radishes
1 oz. zesty microgreens (sprouts)
10-12 pitted green olives, from a can

Dressing:
juice from 1 lemon
1 shallot, minced
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
pinch cumin
generous pinch dried thyme, crumbled
generous sprinkling smoked paprika
plenty of salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Prepare bulgur: pour 2 c. boiling water over 1 c. bulgur wheat and cover. Let rest for about 30 min., or until most of the water is absorbed. Drain any excess water, and refrigerate the cooked bulgur while you prep the vegetables. Chop carrots, radishes, and scallion into small pieces, and mix together in a large bowl. Roughly chop the microgreens and the olives, and add them to the bowl. Mix in the cooled bulgur. To make the dressing, whisk together all of the ingredients, then pour over the bulgur mixture. Stir thoroughly to combine. Adjust for seasonings and either serve immediately or refrigerate.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Momentous Pea Omelette


Apologies again for the slow posting on Red Ramekin lately. As I mentioned in my previous post, Jonathan and I have just moved, meaning that things like buying trash cans and assembling book shelves have been taking precedence over cooking delicious meals. Now that we are settling in, though, the whole cooking routine is reasserting itself.

Adjust to my new kitchen will be a bit of a challenge; now that we are in a one bedroom apartment, we have a one bedroom-sized cooking space, meaning, essentially, that it is ridiculously small. We were very spoiled on Ellery Street, with its gleaming (ok, not exactly gleaming) expanses of counter space and surplus of cabinets. The new kitchen is all about, well, let's call it "space efficiency." At least it has a dishwasher.


I am exaggerating a bit, because the apartment itself is very lovely, and the kitchen is indeed usable, as I found out last night when I cooked my first real meal here: Indian lentils, chicken curry, roasted potatoes and cauliflower, and a peach-cherry crisp for dessert. I was cooking for three people, but I still think we'll have leftovers for a few days.

Instead of sharing that meal here, though, I thought I'd share my first homemade lunch in the apartment, which seems like a rather momentous event. Although we've been grocery shopping several times already, it still seems like the fridge and cabinets here are pretty bare, so I wanted something that utilized some staples and was quick and not-too-involved.

I also had some beautiful pea tendrils on hand (not exactly a staple, but whatever), and wanted to use them. Pea tendrils, by the way, are crunchy and pea-flavored (surprise!) greens that sell for the likes of $20 per pound (I was unaware of the price when I bought them). A little goes a long way though, and if you've never tried them, they are worth the splurge. A quarter-pound amounts to a large-ish bagful.

In any case, I decided on a pea omelette with a pea tendril salad, dressed simply with balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. I had envisioned the omelette as a sort of crepe-like blanket for the salad, so I wanted to make it thin and open-faced. A good non-stick pan is essential for this, as the thin omelette is quite delicate.


My pan is about 8 inches or so in diameter, so I used just 1 egg + 1 egg white, in order to make it thin enough that the top would be set without having to flip the whole thing. You can adjust the amount of egg according to the size of your pan and your omelette-flipping abilities.

This lunch was very light and tasty, and would go perfectly with some bread, cheese, or fresh fruit. I ate mine warm (I was hungry!) but it would also be great at room temperature or even cold. Nothing too fancy, but it works, and looks pretty and springy to boot! The recipe below is more of a guideline; you can use whatever toppings/fillings you have on hand. I do love peas, though.


Open-Faced Pea Omelette with Pea Tendril Salad

1 egg + 1 egg white
Splash of milk or water
Handful frozen peas, defrosted
1 scallion, chopped
Salt, pepper, and seasonings, to taste
1 c. or so pea tendrils or other spring greens
Salad dressing of your choice (I used vinegar, salt, and pepper)
Non-stick cooking spray

Directions:
Beat egg lightly with a fork, and add splash of milk, salt, pepper, and any other seasonings. Mix in peas and scallions. Heat pan over a gentle flame and spritz with cooking spray. Pour in egg mixture, and stir a bit. Let the omelette cook undisturbed, being careful not to scorch the bottom. In the meantime, dress your greens. When omelette is just dry on top, slide it out of the pan and onto a plate. Top with salad and serve, or fold in half and serve the salad on the side. Serves 1.