Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Seared Polenta with Mushrooms and Red Cabbage Parsley Caper Slaw

From start to finish, this polenta dish is quicker and easier to prepare than mashed potatoes. I can attest to that, because I made mashed potatoes the other day and between peeling, steaming, pressing the buggers through my small ricer, and then seasoning them copiously, I was exhausted. Polenta, on the other hand, is super fast and easy to prepare even though it appears fancy and even somewhat complicated. Score!

Simple yet totally impressive dinner, anyone? Here ya go!

While I was making this, I was thinking about the people in my life who feel that cooking is an insurmountable task that they'll never be able to master. I also thought about all the culinary "rules" that lead us astray, and man, I got really T-O'd. 

Don't rinse mushrooms (fyi, you can totally rinse mushrooms and they won't absorb the water, the issue is that wet food doesn't brown well, so just dry them well before cooking or just rub them clean, whatever you want is fine!). Baking is an extremely difficult "science" (kinda but not really, get over yourselves, baker elite!). Blah, blah , blah, you get my gist. 

Chefs all over the world are celebrated every day for challenging food norms and previously held notions about what ingredients to combine, what techniques to use, and even what constitutes food! Yet here we home cooks are, often paralyzed by fear. My question is, WHY? Why can they do whatever they want while we feel so afraid of breaking the "rules"? Let's stop all that nonsense, shall we? 

Most often, when I talk with people who feel as though they burn water, what I glean is that they're afraid of food to some extent. Forgive what I'm about to say (or don't), but to cook well, you've gotta make food your bitch. You can do so with complete respect for your ingredients too. Yeah, really!!!

You do this by seasoning like you mean it. Adding plenty of herbs, spices, salt and pepper to every element of a dish, at every stage, will result in delicious meals. And taste your food. You have got to taste everything to make sure it tastes good and is seasoned well enough. That seems so simple yet oddly enough, it's the most oft forgotten step in cooking. Confession: In my cooking school final, I forgot to season my rice. Mortifying but true. 

In addition to seasoning and tasting, of course, selecting quality ingredients is also very important. It's a trick that anyone can master, so long as you just start paying a little more attention at the grocery store or farmer's market etc. Quality doesn't always equate to expense either, just select the best looking, freshest and best smelling of what's available. Finally, cook your ingredients so you build flavor, for example, start by sweating or browning your aromatics (onion, garlic, carrot, celery etc.), toast your spices, give the ingredients their chance to shine. 

Bottom line, everyone has the capacity to be a good cook. All you need to do is get into the kitchen and practice AND stop worrying about all the supposed "rules". These same rules make people think that 
dumping food out of a box or can is easier than makin food from scratch, which, most often, it is not. 

So, in food and in life, let's jettison all the rules that no longer serve us. Buen provecho, friends!

Polenta Cakes with Mushrooms and Red Cabbage Slaw with Parsley and Capers

6 cups water
2 cups polenta (Bob's Red Mill was used here)
1 Tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 Tablespoon salted butter
up to one cup cheese of your choice, I used aged provolone but goat cheese is excellent too (optional)

Line a glass baking dish with foil and grease with olive oil. 

Bring the water to boil and add the salt and pepper. Add the polenta and cook, whisking continuously so there are no lumps, until thick. Large bubbles will begin to pop up to the surface and sputter. Stir in the cheese, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Pour the polenta into your prepared pan, smooth it on out, and let it cool/solidify for about half an hour. While it's cooling, make the mushrooms and slaw.

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced or cut into rings 
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
about 1lb button mushrooms, or mushrooms of your choice, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon salt
freshly cracked pepper to taste (I did about 30 turns)
1/4 cup red or white wine (good enough to drink) or just water or broth
parsley, roughly chopped for garnish (optional)

Saute on medium until everything is softened and wilted. Add a bit more red wine or water at the end to deglaze the pan. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Cut of the heat and cover to keep warm.

Mustard Balsamic Vinaigrette
2 Tablespoons dijon or spicy brown mustard (I like any country style dijon or Gulden's)
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon (scant) olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
*Note:  To save dishes, make the vinaigrette in your big salad bowl first, then add your slaw ingredients on top and toss everything together. You can always dress a slaw in advance, as doing so will tenderize the cabbage and infuse it with flavor, so this is a great side-dish to bring to a potluck or picnic!

Red Cabbage Slaw with Parsley and Capers
1 small head red cabbage, sliced thinly
1/2 small red onion, sliced into thin rings
2 Tablespoons capers
1 Tablespoon caper juice
1 cup roughly chopped parsley (set some aside for garnish)

To finish: Cut the polenta into rounds or squares. Heat a frying pan over medium/high heat and drizzle with olive oil. When the pan is nice and hot, add the polenta round/square and sear until browned and warmed through on both sides. Place the polenta on top of a bed of the slaw, and top with the mushrooms and garnish with chopped parsley. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Meatless Grilled Reuben

Recipe test for Food52:

Cows everywhere, rejoice! This vegetarian "Reuben" is quite possibly better than the real thing. Gooey Swiss, tangy red cabbage, creamy dressing, garlicky mushrooms and crisp, buttery rye make this sandwich utterly irresistible. Thanks to Brussels Sprouts for Breakfast, I have now been ruined for all other sandwiches and I'm OK with that!

I tested this recipe for the excellent website, Food52. It was created by Brussels Sprouts for Breakfast (please take a moment to thank her for the gifts you are about to receive!). The recipe below is an adaptation of her amazing original!

Vegetarian "Reuben" Recipe Test
Adapted from Brussels Sprouts for Breakfast on Food52 
(Makes enough for 2 sandwiches but you will probably (read definitely) want to double this.)
4 slices seeded rye 
4 slices baby Swiss cheese 
14 button mushrooms, sliced somewhat thickly, so they retain their meaty texture
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/8 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
2 heaping Tablespoons prepared horseradish
1/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar, like Bragg's
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 Tablespoons salted butter
extra virgin olive oil 

3 Tablespoons mayonnaise (I used Hellman's)
2 Tablespoons course Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons sweet pepper relish (like Howard's, my family favorite)

Measure out all of your ingredients and set two large sauté pans on the stove.

In Pan One: Heat a drizzle of olive oil over a medium flame, then add the mushrooms, garlic, a pinch of salt and about 20 turns of freshly cracked black pepper. Sau
 for 8-10 minutes, until the mushrooms are browned, being careful to keep the heat low enough that the garlic doesn't burn.

In Pan Two: Heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium/high heat then add the red cabbage, apple cider 
vinegar, horseradish, a good sprinkling of salt and about 20 turns of freshly cracked black pepper. Sauté until wilted, about 6-8 minutes. If it's still very firm after you sauté it, cut off the heat and cover the pan for a few minutes so the cabbage can wilt in the residual steam.

Dressing: While everything is cooking, combine the mayonnaise, course Dijon and red pepper relish. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. 

To Assemble: Generously butter one side of two slices of bread with about 1 Tablespoon of butter each. Place the bread, butter side down, then proceed as follows...
  • Dressing 
  • Mushrooms
  • Swiss
  • Red Cabbage 
  • Swiss
  • Final slice of bread
Turn the flame to medium/high and place a heavy pan or weight on the top on the sandwich. Toast until the butter has melted and the bottom slice of bread is browned and crisp. Smear a generous amount of butter on the top slice of bread and flip the sandwiches, weighing them again. 

For a nice crispy crust, cook each sandwich for 4-5 minutes per side. Watch for smoke as grilled sandwiches can burn very quickly!

Eat it while it's hot, then lick your fingers clean and stare at the second sandwich longingly while silently willing yourself not to eat it!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Less Fussy Jacques Torres-esque Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are insane! 

They have a perfectly crisp outer shell that protects an irresistibly gooey and yet fluffy interior. The flaky sea salt results in a crazy salty/sweet explosion and makes these the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever made. Jacques' recipe calls for refrigerating the dough for 24-72 hours before baking, but I baked off a few right away to see what they’d come out like, and they were amazing. 

Instead of refrigerating the dough, I rolled it all up into 3 ounce balls and froze them. Then I baked a few off the next day to do a taste test and those were even better than the non-chilled ones, so chilling of freezing is advised! I’d say either way though, you have a hell of a cookie here! Thanks to the wonderful Cannella Vita for introducing me to these perfect cookies, and to Jacques Torres for making them in the first place. 

I adjusted the recipe slightly to make it a bit less fussy (and because I’m impatient AND because I didn’t have cake flour). As I said, I loved these but I may try to reduce the white sugar to 2/3 cup and maybe even use salted butter next time to see how that comes out. There are so many slightly different versions of Jacques' recipe online. My version seems much fluffier than most, based on the photos I've seen, but I love it.

Less Fussy Jacques Torres-esque Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups minus 2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
1 2/3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 ounces bittersweet or dark chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli)
1 1/2 cup walnut halves and pieces (optional)
flaky sea salt for sprinkling

Sift the flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt together and set them aside.

With an electric or stand mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and sugars together for about 4 minutes until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat for another minute. Incorporate the dry ingredients on low speed, or with a spatula/spoon, and then cut in the chocolate chips and walnuts. My dough was rather dry, so I popped it out of the bowl and kneaded in the chocolate bits and walnuts briefly at the end. 

Roll the dough into 3-ounce balls and then flatten to about 3/4 inch thickness (I got 28 cookies total). Set each on a cookie sheet then chill the whole sheet in the freezer for about an hour (see frozen cookies below!).  

Once they’ve hardened, put them in baggies and bake ‘em when you want ‘em, like with my Whole Wheat Cardamom Snickerdoodles! Again, if you want to just bake them before chilling or freezing, go for it! 

On baking day, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a siltpat and pull out however many cookies you want from the freezer. Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of sea salt and bake until just golden. 12 minutes was perfect in my oven. Cool briefly on the pan, then transfer to a rack to finish cooling (if you don’t eat them all up while they’re still hot, that is!) Eat them with milk to temper the sweetness.