Consider this post another chapter in my quest to identify ways to use excess sourdough starter when I do my weekly feeding. I’ve made cake, crackers, and biscuits so far. Unlike fresh starter, the pre-fed starter doesn’t contribute much to rise. Its role instead is flavor.

Thinking about Thanksgiving, I recently made popovers and thought I’d share the results with you so you could put them on your clients’ Thanksgiving menus. Who doesn’t adore airy popovers? Along with the intriguing sourdough flavor these have, I’ve added something a little extra: everything topping–you know, the topping you find on bagels. You can find everything seasoning online at King Arthur Flour and locally at Trader Joe’s. If you’re not a fan, no worries. You can leave them naked and dunk into a gravy or sauce. You can make them a little sweet by topping them in cinnamon sugar. You could also top them with finely chopped toasted nuts with or without sugar. Be bold! Or not if you or your clients are purists.

The other delightful aspect of these popovers is how ridiculously easy they are to make. You’ll heat up milk until it’s just warm–not hot! Then you’ll combine the milk with eggs, the sourdough starter, and a little salt.

Whisk in the flour–but don’t over mix. Even a few lumps are just fine. This batter is very forgiving. Notice I used the word batter, not dough. This mixture is very loose–like heavy cream. Don’t worry. It’ll work just fine.

It’ll start baking in a very hot oven. After 15 minutes you’ll turn down the heat and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes. Try as hard as you can to time this with when you want to serve the popovers because these guys are best eaten right away. But, get this, I froze what I couldn’t eat immediately. When I wanted one, I pulled it out of the freezer and let it defrost, then heated it up in a 350° oven for about 15 minutes. It was still delicious.

If you are going to add a topping, melt butter in a wide little bowl just before the popovers come out of the oven. Then pull them out of the cups, dip, and roll.

Everything Sourdough Popovers
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 6 popovers

Ingredients
8 ounces milk
3 large eggs
4 ounces sourdough starter, fed or discard
¾ teaspoon salt
4 ¼ ounces all-purpose flour
¼ cup melted unsalted butter
¼ cup everything topping (available from Trader Joe’s or King Arthur Flour)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450° and add muffin or popover pan.

Warm milk in the microwave or a small saucepan until it’s just warm to the touch.

Combine warm milk with eggs, sourdough starter, and salt. Gradually whisk in flour until it just comes together. Don’t worry about eliminating all lumps.
The batter will be loose, about the consistency of heavy cream.

Remove hot pan from the oven and spray it thoroughly with non-stick pan spray or brush generously with oil or melted unsalted butter.

Pour batter into the popover cups about ¾ of the way up. If you’re using a muffin tin, fill all the way to the top. Space the popovers around so each one is surrounded by empty cups to allow the popovers to expand while they bake.

Bake popovers for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 375° and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove the popovers from the oven. Dip the top into a small bowl of melted butter and roll in everything mixture. Serve immediately or cool and freeze. To reheat, defrost and place in oven at 350° for about 15 minutes.

Will you be making a baked side for Thanksgiving? What is your go-to recipe?

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I love winter squashes and have written about them a lot over the years. There are so many unique varieties that are so beautiful and versatile. The dense flesh transforms into perfect creamy soups for chilly days–and you can even make the soup in the squash itself. Roast them and, as you chefs well know, you get some magnificent sweet flavors that stand on their own, can be part of a stew, or can be turned into filling for ravioli. The baseball-sized ones are a perfect chalice for stuffing. They’re a one-dish meal. And, hey, I love chomping on roasted seeds.

Making stuffed squash is pretty easy and, of course, you can riff on any ingredients that sound great to you or your clients. When I made my dish recently I chose acorn squash for stuffing and farro as my grain but rice, quinoa, barley… any of them will be wonderful. You don’t have to include meat, but I enjoy a flavorful sausage. Instead of pork, I went with sweet Italian chicken sausage. I had a box of crimini mushrooms, onions, garlic, and a package of Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio Shredded Cheese Blend, which is made up of asiago, fontina, parmesan, and mild provolone. Perfect. For me, sausages, mushrooms, onion, and garlic are a winning combo. You could also include sautéed spinach, pine nuts, raisins…the list is endless. You can add herbs or spices, but I think the Italian sausage has enough in them already and didn’t want to mask those flavors.


The first thing you do is par-bake the squash after cleaning it. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, pull out the seeds and then scrape the hole with a spoon to remove all the remaining fibrous material. Then put the squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet and add water to surround the halves up to about a quarter inch. Cover them with foil and bake in a 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until they are easily pierced by a fork.

While the squash is cooking you’ll make the filling. Put up your grains to cook. Chop your vegetables and fruit–I like adding apple or persimmon or citrus or pomegranate seeds to a savory filling. Then start sautéing.

I’ll give you a marvelous tip on sautéing mushroom slices that I learned from Alice Waters on a show she did many years ago with Julia Child. Leave them alone. That’s it. Add them to a hot pan with olive oil, spread them single layer, and just let them be until they brown. Then flip them over and leave them alone again. By not constantly stirring them you end up with beautifully caramelized mushrooms that taste phenomenal.

So, sauté the mushrooms and put them in a bowl. Sauté the onions and garlic, then add the diced apple and let them just brown. Add the sausage after removing the casing and poke it into small chunks as the meat cooks. When the sausage is browned, you’ll add back the mushrooms so the flavors can meld. Put the mixture back in the bowl, add your cooked grains and the cheese and mix well. The cheese will melt a bit to bind the ingredients. By then the squash should be cooked and out of the oven. Now some people scoop out the flesh, chop it up, and add it to the filling. Go ahead. I chose to keep it intact. Either way, rub a little olive oil on the inner surface of the squash and then fill the squash “bowl” with your very fragrant filling. Top with some more cheese and put them back in the oven (yes, keep the water in the pan) uncovered. You’ll cook the squash for another 15 minutes. Then serve or cover and refrigerate, then reheat before serving.

Stuffed Winter Squash with Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, and Farro
Serves 4

Ingredients
2 round(ish) winter squash, about the size of a baseball
3 to 4 cups of cooked grains
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet Italian or spicy Italian sausage (about 8 ounces), casing removed
1 firm apple (I like Granny Smiths for this), peeled and diced
Olive oil for sautéing and to rub the cooked squash
1 cup shredded cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the squashed in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. You can reserve them to clean and toast as a snack. Using a spoon, scrape the remaining fiber off the surface of the squash flesh. Place all four halved cut side down on a baking sheet. Add enough water to rise about a quarter inch along the sides. Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, until a fork easily pierces the skin. Remove the squash from the oven and turn them cut side up. Reserve.

While the squash is baking, make the grains and the stuffing. To make the stuffing, add oil to a pan and turn on the heat to medium. Add just enough mushrooms to cover the bottom of the pan in one layer–you may have to sauté them in a couple of batches. Let the mushrooms cook on one side without disturbing them. As they shrink, they’ll brown. Then flip them over and let them cook on the other side until done. Add them to a large mixing bowl. Add more oil to the pan and sauté the onions and garlic until they turn golden. Add the diced apple and let them also cook to a golden color. Then add the sausage.

Crumble it as it cooks and let it cook until the pink of the raw meat turns to brown. Add back the mushrooms and stir together briefly. Put the mixture into the mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Add the grains and two-thirds of a cup of the grated cheese to the stuffing mixture and stir together to thoroughly combine the ingredients. By now the squash should be out of the oven and ready to be stuffed. Rub a little oil on the cooked flesh. Then scoop the mixture into the hollow of each squash half. It’s okay if it overflows a little. Top each half with the remaining cheese.

Return the squash to the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately–or you can let it cool and refrigerate covered. Before you’re ready to serve it let it come to room temperature and then put back in a warm oven to reheat.

How do you prepare winter squash? Do you have a favorite? 

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How do you and your clients feel about garlic? I’m an admitted fanatic. I just love the stuff. I also love ginger. Several years ago I wrote about grating and freezing ginger so it would always be on hand and I wouldn’t have shriveled roots that would inevitably be tossed. It’s been a great kitchen short cut as well as a waste reducer. Then I came across a piece in Bon Appétit extolling garlic season. Test kitchen manager Brad Leone offered up a wonderful garlic and ginger paste that combines the two with olive oil. He puts the paste in ice cube trays to freeze and then stores them in plastic freezer bags. Well, I was on it. Only instead of the ice cube trays, I used a small cookie scoop and froze the little flavor bombs on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, then popped them into a freezer bag. They’re remarkably versatile and so handy. You can use them to do a stir fry, make a vinaigrette, or add to soup or stew.


I happened to have bought a Cornish game hen, which I defrosted. Initially I was just going to roast it with garlic salt, smoked paprika, lemon juice, and olive oil. It’s sort of a lazy go-to for me for poultry. Then I recalled my ginger-garlic flavor bombs. Eureka! I took out half a dozen of them to let thaw and considered what else would work. I remembered the most marvelous chicken recipe in Deborah Schneider’s book, Baja! Cooking on the Edge. Her marinade of garlic, chipotles in adobo, salt, and oil is a classic in my cooking repertoire. So, I modeled a very different sauce on the concept. This one is made up of ginger, garlic, shichimi togarashi (a vibrant Japanese seasoning containing chili pepper, black and white sesame seeds, orange peel, basil, and Szechuan pepper), lime zest and juice, salt, and olive oil. It’s just a bit chunky, even pureed. Slather it all over the hens and let it penetrate the birds for at least a couple of hours but up to overnight.


In the past I’ve grilled Deb’s garlic chipotle birds and you can do that with this recipe, of course. But on this Sunday night I chose to roast the hen in my oven. I enjoyed it with small red, purple, and white potatoes rubbed in olive oil and garlic salt, with the hen resting on a pile of fresh baby spinach, dressed with its juices and a good squeeze of lime. The hen burst with bright ginger and citrus flavors and each bite ended with a bit of a kick of heat from the togarashi. After marinating for five hours, the flesh was moist, but the skin was perfectly crisp. And with the leftover marinade I gave a punch of flavor to a salmon fillet.

Ginger-Garlic Flavor Bomb Cornish Game Hens
Serves 2

Ingredients
6 ginger-garlic flavor bombs (directions on Bon Appétit), thawed
1/4 teaspoon shichimi togarashi
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of half a lime
Pinch of kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Cornish game hens, trimmed and halved or quartered

Directions
In a small prep food processor or a blender, combine the first six ingredients and puree. You should have about a half a cup of marinade.

Slather ginger-garlic mixture all over Cornish game hen halves. Place in sealable plastic bag and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to overnight.

You can grill the hens or roast them in the oven. To roast, pre-heat oven to 375˚. Roast hens skin side up for an hour or until the skin is brown and juices flow clear.

What is your go-to marinade? What are your favorite flavor combinations?

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Given that I have diabetes, macaroni and cheese isn’t on my list of dishes to make. I love it–who doesn’t–but like pizza it’s the poster dish for all I shouldn’t eat. But when my neighbors decided to have a potluck alley party I was in need of a dish that both adults and kids would love. What better than mac ‘n cheese?

Because I’m not an old hand with a favorite dish, I consulted various people in my circle and was told that a chef friend of mine had made a stunning one recently. I texted her, asking what her key ingredients were. Her answer? Heavy whipping cream, sharp white cheddar and manchego cheese. Oh, and bacon.

I was with her up till the bacon. I love bacon but I felt it was just one ingredient too many for what I wanted to do, especially if kids were going to eat it. After all, they were likely fans of the blue box. I went shopping for ingredients and found that heavy whipping cream–at least at Trader Joe’s–was ridiculously expensive. Since most people use milk for mac ‘n cheese, I compromised with half and half.

Then there was the actual how-to. I’m curious, chefs, about how you create or adapt a recipe for a favorite dish about which people have so many strong opinions. Do you turn to the dish you grew up with and modernize it via technique or better ingredients? (For instance, my grandmother made beautiful pies and taught me how to make them–but as an adult I rejected her margarine in favor of butter. No doubt margarine was cheaper and made more sense for her Depression mentality, but today I want the real deal.) If  you live in another region from where you grew up, do you look at the ingredients in a traditional recipe and adjust it for your new locale to be able to incorporate its fresh, local ingredients? Do you adjust for dietary restrictions? How about techniques that make the process go faster? Say, instead of mashing soft cooked ingredients through a chinois to create a sauce, just pureeing it all in a blender? Please write and let us know your strategy for recipe creation!

But back to the macaroni and cheese. You’d be surprised at how many different techniques there are for making it. Yes, I know, your mom or grandma’s is the best, but, whoa, there are a lot of contenders out there. After spending perhaps too much time looking through cookbooks and online to get a better sense of what’s involved I was drawn to two approaches by two big names: Alton Brown and Martha Stewart. By then it was easy enough to sort out the basics and create my own version using the best of what I found. A little less cooking of the pasta here, the spice combo there, tempering eggs, adding a panko topping.

Well, it all came together in a bubbling, rich, creamy casserole with a crusty top and lots of flavor. And, friends, I had very little left over to take home. I’ll remember it fondly when I munch on a green salad.

Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 12 to 16

Ingredients

1 pound elbow macaroni

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

6 cups half and half

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup yellow onion, finely diced

1 bay leaf

2 large eggs, beaten

12 ounces sharp white cheddar, shredded

12 ounces manchego cheese, shredded

Topping

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup panko bread crumbs

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish and set aside.

Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook 2 to 3 minutes less than the package directions. (The pasta will finish cooking while it bakes.) Transfer to a colander, rinse under cold water, and drain well. Set aside while making the sauce.

While the pasta is cooking, in another pot, melt the butter. When it bubbles, whisk in the flour and stir for 1 minute. Stir in half and half, salt, nutmeg, ground pepper, cayenne pepper, onion, and bay leaf. Temper in the eggs by stirring in a little of the milk mixture to the eggs and then adding that mixture to the sauce. Slowly stir in ¾ of the cheese. Whisk constantly until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove from heat and remove bay leaves.

Stir the macaroni into the sauce. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Mix together the remaining cheeses and sprinkle evenly over the mixture.

Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter for the topping in a sauté pan and add the panko crumbs. Stir until coated. Top the cheese-covered macaroni with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 45 minutes uncovered or until brown on top. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

What was your most successful reinvention of a favorite recipe? How did you go about changing it up?

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Last Call for Summer: Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho

Filed under: Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , September 10, 2018

The calendar may say September, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate a sudden shift in the weather. In San Diego, heat waves will continue well into October–and I’m betting that’s no different across the country. So, to help out you and your clients endure those sudden blasts of rising temperatures and humidity, here’s a dish that will make you sigh in relief–and it brings together savory and sweet: Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho.

When I came across this gazpacho in Serious Eats I immediately felt refreshed–and bet you will, too. Instead of prepping a hot soup that you can then chill, here’s a cold summer soup that requires only the patience of waiting for flavors to come together in the fridge, not of schvitzing over a hot stove. The big activities are roughly chopping the fruit and vegetable ingredients and, after they have been mixed together with salt and marinated for an hour to bring out more flavors, puréeing them into soup in your blender. So easy!

So, what besides the watermelon makes this gazpacho unique? Well, first, let’s not under rate the value of the watermelon since who doesn’t love a cold slice in 90° temps plus high humidity? Add that splendid sweet juiciness to a traditional tomato soup and you’ll be sighing in happiness. But the other factor is the substitution of toasted almonds for bread. Now we have a light, low-carb summer soup that adds nuttiness and creaminess.

Like a little heat to offset the sweetness? Me, too. So I added a couple of seeded Serrano peppers from my garden to the soup. It won’t blow your top, but it will give your mouth a little zing, along with the acid of the sherry vinegar.

Top this light soup with crema, sour cream, or, as I did, some crumbles of goat cheese.

Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho with Toasted Almonds
Adapted from Serious Eats
Yield: 2 quarts

Ingredients
6 cups watermelon, roughly diced
2 medium tomatoes, roughly diced
1 medium cucumber, roughly diced
1/2 medium red onion, roughly diced
2 Serrano peppers, seeded and roughly diced
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
1/3 cup crema, sour cream, or goat cheese
Additional diced vegetables for garnish (optional)

Directions
1. In a large bowl combine watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, peppers, toasted almonds, kosher salt, and pepper. Set aside to marinate for about an hour.

2. In a blender, working in batches, purée the vegetables and their liquid until smooth and creamy. Transfer the soup into a large bowl. Whisk in the sherry vinegar and olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper (and even the sherry vinegar, if necessary, to balance the acid).

3. Cover soup and chill in refrigerator at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. Taste and further adjust seasonings if necessary. Ladle soup in bowls and garnish with the crema and diced vegetables.

What are your favorite end-of-summer, no heat dishes to make for clients? What’s your go-to dish for yourself and your family?

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For years I’ve been making pickles, mostly dill pickles. I never really thought of it as “fermenting.” But I recently researched and wrote a story on fermenting vegetables for the San Diego Union-Tribune. It was then that I realized that fermenting was exactly what I was doing. Perhaps you’ve been doing it too. Or, perhaps you’ve been curious about it and intrigued enough to want to do it for clients–perhaps as a gift of a healthy snack.

Thanks to my friend Curt Wittenberg, a scientist who has been fermenting everything from beer to sauerkraut and has been my guru through this, I decided to branch out and pickle some vegetables I had  using a salt brine. (Pickling with vinegar is just pickling.) And that’s what I did last month with a simple quart of vibrant purple cauliflower, a pretty red and yellow stripped bell pepper, huge jalapeños, and lots of garlic cloves. I kind of had the makings of a giardiniera so I thought I’d use the seasonings for that: black peppercorns, dried oregano, celery seeds, and red pepper flakes. No olive oil, though.

And, by the way, this is the perfect post-farmers market shopping project. Do it with your kids or grandkids. Hey, it’s a science project!

I had forgotten that several years ago I had contributed to a Go Fund Me for a little company called FARMcurious that was creating a fermenting set, with lids, stoppers, and airlocks. The set locks out air–and mold and yeast–and provides an escape for carbon dioxide. As a funder, I got one and put it in my garage–and it just became part of the landscape of the shelves. But no more. I pulled it out and was almost ready. But in interviewing Curt I realized I needed two other tools I didn’t even know existed (I had jars): glass fermentation weights, to make sure the vegetables stay covered by the brine, and a vegetable tamper, which you use to cram as much produce into your jar. I ordered those from Cultures for Health.

The process is simple. Chop up the vegetables to the size you like. Make a salt brine of water and salt. Make sure everything you touch–from the jar to the fermenting set to the tamper to the weights–is perfectly clean. Then start filling the jar. Add your spices first, then the vegetables. You can layer them by vegetable type or mix them up. I layered these. Tamp them down. Then add the brine. Top with the weight (and carefully pull out any little random pieces of vegetables or spices. Screw on the lid of the fermenting set. Set it out on your kitchen counter, away from direct sun, and let science do its work.

That’s it. If you don’t have a fermenting set, no worries. I never used one before and have been making pickles for seeming centuries. Instead use a clean lid and “burp” the jar, meaning slightly loosen it and then tighten it again once a day for the first few days. This lets that carbon dioxide escape.

Here’s a quick note from Curt about the proportions for the brine and vegetables. In short, it’s kind of improvisational. It depends on the size of the vegetable pieces and their density. So, he suggests having an extra bottle or bottles in different sizes in case there’s overage. You can always rummage around your fridge and add more vegetables if you didn’t prepare enough for another quart jar. And save any excess brine to add in case some bubbles out of the bottle or to add after you remove your pickle pebble and want to start sampling.

After a few days or up to 12 days (I pegged it for five days, at Curt’s advice, given the hot weather), unscrew the fermenting set and replace it with a regular screw-on lid and refrigerate. Then eat! Add these to a sandwich or a cheese or charcuterie platter–or just snack on them.

So, here we were on Day 1. I was hoping: A) No mold develops and B) It tastes terrific. I expected that those vibrant colors of the first day would fade but with luck/science, the colors would be replaced by big flavor.

Instead, I was surprised to find that the purple from the cauliflower leached through the mixture to create a jar of fuschia pickles. And they are wonderful. Crunchy and briny, but with the essence of oregano coming through. I love snacking on them, even the slices of jalapeños. In fact, they turned out so well I made a second jar with conventional cauliflower and sans the peppers for my mother, who is tickled with them.

Fermented Giardiniera
Adapted from Curt Wittenberg’s Lacto-Fermented Mixed Vegetable recipe
Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Approximately 1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
6 black peppercorns
4 or more peeled garlic cloves
1 cup cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 red pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 large jalapeños, thickly sliced

Instructions
To prepare brine, warm 3/4 cups of water, add salt, and stir to dissolve. Add 3/4 cups cold water to bring brine to room temperature.

In a quart jar add the oregano, red pepper flakes, celery seeds, peppercorns, and the garlic cloves. Fill jar with vegetables, leaving about 1 ½ inches of headspace. Pour brine over all, just covering the vegetables and leaving the headspace. Top with the glass fermentation weight.

Cover jar with lid and airlock, if using, or tight lid. Ferment at room temperature for 3 to 12 days. If using a tight lid, be sure to burp the jar by slightly loosening the lid and then tightening it again daily for the first few days of fermentation.

Once the vegetables have developed the desired acidity, move them to cold storage.

Have you gotten into fermentation? What do you make and what advice do you have for beginners?f

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It’s fig season and if you and your clients are like me you consider figs to be rare and wonderful things that should be enjoyed as much as possible while they’re around.

Now I know personal chefs aren’t usually focused on desserts, but for those of you who have clients who want dessert from you or who cater dinner parties, I hope you’ll try these Orange Poached Figs with Vanilla Custard Sauce. This custard is cooked stovetop. It’s more labor intensive than simple baked custard and you’ll get a bit of a steam facial but the flavor and texture are so marvelous it’s worth it–and can be done in advance if you’re entertaining, then put together when you’re ready to serve it.

To make this delicate sauce you’ll be using a double boiler. To avoid it curdling cook the custard over, not in, the boiling water in the lower pot so it won’t get too hot. Stir the mixture constantly. Cook only until the custard leaves a thick coating on the back of a metal spoon, then remove it from the heat to keep it from cooking. If worst comes to worst and you see streaks of scrambled eggs, you can either pour it through a fine sieve into a bowl or pour it into a blender jar and process it until it’s smooth again, then return it to the heat.

For the figs, poaching is a dream. You can riff on the liquid flavorings–using red or white wine or a dessert wine or water and juice or even balsamic vinegar. Add sugar, perhaps herbs, vanilla, or citrus zest. I focused on orange, with a syrup made of cointreau and orange zest. The flavor perfectly complements the vanilla custard sauce. Combine the ingredients, bring to a simmer for five minutes, then add the figs and simmer for another five minutes. If necessary turn the figs as they’re cooking to be sure the figs poach evenly. Then remove the saucepan from the heat and let the figs cool in the syrup.

When serving, quarter the figs and place them on a plate with a lip and spoon the custard around them.

Orange Poached Figs with Vanilla Custard Sauce
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 cup orange liqueur
Zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups water
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 vanilla bean, split
8 fresh figs (I used brown turkey figs)
2 cups milk
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt,
Seeds scraped from 1-inch length of vanilla bean

Prepare figs first. To make poaching liquid combine liqueur, zest, water, thyme, and vanilla bean into a non-reactive medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for five minutes.

Add figs to the syrup and continue simmering for another five minutes, periodically turning the figs to ensure they cook evening. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the figs cool for about 10 minutes in the syrup. Then remove to a plate. You can save the syrup by straining it into a container.

Prepare the custard by bringing water in the bottom of a double boiler to the boil. In the top of the double boiler scald the milk. Then slowly stir in the egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Stir the mixture constantly over (not in) the boiling water. Once it has thickened enough to coat the back of a metal spoon remove the custard sauce from the heat and continue beating to release any steam. Stir in the vanilla seeds. Pour into a dish and chill in the refrigerator.

To plate the dish, quarter the figs to show off their interior. Place two each flower-like on a plate with lips or shallow bowl. Carefully pour the custard around the figs.

Do you have a favorite recipe for using figs? Please share!

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Chefs, what vegetables are you growing this summer? In my garden I’ve been growing two varieties of sweet Italian peppers: Jimmy Nardellos and Marconi Reds. Both are considered frying peppers, although the Marconi Red–yes, singular; so far I’ve only gotten one–is at least three times the size of the Jimmy Nardellos.

These are what you could call “wash and wear” peppers. They don’t need skinning. They barely need seeding. Put them on the grill, chop and add to a sauce, add raw to a salad, pickle them, or sauté and add to eggs or a quiche or wherever you enjoy a pepper.

I decided to culture bend and create a lovely summer appetizer I call Sweet Italian Peppers and Goat Cheese Toasts–and want to share it with you as an easy and really tasty dish you can create for catering gigs. This doesn’t call for a strict recipe. All you’ll need are olive oil, the sweet peppers, a red onion, garlic, sea salt and pepper, a baguette or long loaf of Italian bread, and a creamy cheese.

Slice the peppers into thin strips. Slice the red onion. Mince the garlic. Sauté them in olive oil until they’re soft and just beginning to caramelize, then season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Want to change up or deepen the flavors? Add capers like I did. Or add toasted pine nuts. Add currants or diced dried figs. Or basil leaves. Or sauté a small amount of fennel root. Or a dash of sherry vinegar or dry sherry or your favorite red wine or balsamic vinegar.

Okay, once you’ve cooked up the peppers, turn on the broiler. Slice the bread in half lengthwise and into individual pieces (about 2 1/2 inches in length), then place in the broiler cut side up for just a few minutes. While the bread is lightly toasting, break up the cheese. It could be mozzarella or ricotta or panela, or–as I used–chevre (remember, I already acknowledged culture bending).

Pull the bread out of the oven and top with the pepper mixture. Then dot with the cheese. Put back under the broiler for about 3 to 4 minutes until the cheese begins to melt or darkens. Remove from the oven to plate and serve.

Have extra pepper mixture? Don’t toss it! Leave it for your clients to add to scrambled eggs. Or a tomato sauce. Make polenta and top each serving with a spoonful. Stir it into pasta. Just don’t waste it!

Do you have a much-loved go-to summer appetizer you make for clients? Please share!

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Peach Tomato Panzanella

Filed under: Cooking Tips,Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , July 30, 2018

I don’t know what kind of steamy swampy weather you’re enduring right now, but in San Diego, where Candy, Dennis, and I live, it’s been pretty hot and humid. Just the thought of standing over a stove or turning on the oven makes me sink onto my couch in front of a blasting fan. It’s forced me into a chill–salads and summer soups and smoothies. If you feel the same way–along with your clients–here’s a dish you’ll love and that you can make for clients and their special events. And the only heat involved comes from toasting bread.

I’m talking about panzanella. But not your traditional panzanella. This one marries peaches and tomatoes.

Now you may wonder why peaches and tomatoes? But they actually pair beautifully together. And peaches are perfectly lovely in a savory dish. Is it authentic panzanella? Well, consider this, the “pan” is panzanella means bread. Food experts, including one of my heroes, J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats, put it this way: “Panzanella is not a tomato salad with bread; it’s a bread salad flavored with vegetables.” I’m going to extend that to fruit. I doubt he’d mind.

There are a couple of tricks to making this salad that I picked up from López-Alt. First is that instead of letting the bread sit out to get stale, try drying it in the oven, tossed with olive oil. What you’ll have are magnificent large croutons that will soak up the vinaigrette and vegetable/fruit juices, yet still remain crispy. It makes for a great bite.

The other is to chop your tomatoes (if you use them), toss them with salt, then drain the juices into a bowl with a colander. This will increase your juice yield, which you’ll want when you make the vinaigrette.

Everything else is easy peasy. While the bread is toasting, make your vinaigrette, chop the peaches and basil. Once the toasted bread has cooled it’s time to put it all together. Then let it rest for half an hour so the vinaigrette can penetrate the bread and the flavors come together.

One other thing I learned–on my own. It doesn’t make for great leftovers unless you’re fond of soggy bread. The next day, facing leftovers, I just picked around the bread and ate the tomatoes and peaches. My suggestion? Add just enough of the croutons for the servings you plan to eat at that meal and save the rest for possible leftovers and add them at that point.

Peach Tomato Panzanella
Adapted from J. Kenji López-Alt’s Classic Panzanella Salad
Serves 2 to 3

Ingredients
1 pound tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ pound rustic bread, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 3 cups bread cubes)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (2 tablespoons for the bread)
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large ripe peaches, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons capers
¼ cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped

Directions
Place tomatoes in a colander over a bowl and toss with kosher salt. Place on counter at room temperature to drain for at least 15 minutes. Toss periodically during that time.

To toast the bread, pre-heat oven to 350°.  Place rack in center position in oven. You can also do this in a toaster oven. Toss bread cubes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crisp and firm but before they brown—about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

Remove colander from the bowl with tomato juice. Place the colander with the tomatoes into the sink so it won’t drip on the counter. Add the shallot, garlic, mustard, and vinegar to the bowl with the juice and mix. Gradually whisk in the remaining olive oil until it emulsifies. Season vinaigrette with sea salt and pepper to taste.

In a serving bowl mix together the toasted bread, tomatoes, peaches, capers, and basil. Add vinaigrette and toss to coat all the ingredients. Season again with sea salt and pepper. Let rest 30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally until dressing is completely absorbed by the bread.

What’s your go-to hot weather dish? 

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Looking for a no-cook option for creating a brunch for clients? Then you’ll want to make gravlax. It’s easy to make, a rich and briny alternative to lox or smoked salmon, and perfect for these hot summer days when you don’t want to get near an oven.

First let’s tackle the difference between lox and smoked salmon. Lox is cured salmon, preserved with salt. But back in the day in places where salt was a scarce resource, the fish was smoked. According to Jewish food historian Gil Marks in his “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” during early 1930s America cured salmon fillet became known to Eastern European Jewish transplants as lox. This is the Americanized spelling of the Yiddish word laks, or salmon, itself from the German lachs–and the Swedish gravlax. See where I’m going with this?

Skip ahead past the ways shipping and refrigeration technologies evolved and made intense brining to preserve the fish unnecessary and you have a lightly salted preservation method, which resulted in a smoother, milder tasting fish. What evolved for lox was a method that could include light brining or dry curing in salt and perhaps brown sugar before then cold-smoking it. This method doesn’t cook the fish the way warm-smoking does. The result is a delicate slice instead of flaky flesh.

While we’re here, let’s also address the difference between lox and Nova. Lox became known as the curing style that was wet-brined with no additional smoking or cooking. Nova, with its origins in salmon from Nova Scotia, became known as the method discussed above: mild brining in salt, water, and perhaps brown sugar, then lightly cold-smoked for up to 24 hours. Lox, as anyone who tastes it knows, is the saltier of the two. And, as Marks notes, it’s less expensive because it’s easier to prepare. Today, the terms are largely interchangeable since most of the lox sold today is actually prepared Nova style with cold smoking.

Now to gravlax. Here’s a brined salmon dish that anyone can make with just a few key ingredients. This Scandinavian cured salmon is primarily different from Eastern European lox thanks to the inclusion of dill. Look up recipes for gravlax and you’ll find all sorts of intriguing variations. But what doesn’t change is the salmon belly, salt, and dill. Lots and lots of dill. And time–48 hours in the refrigerator.

You can sweeten it a bit with sugar. You can add vodka to the brine. You can add pepper. You can also add complementary spices. I add fennel seeds and grains of paradise, a cool variation on peppercorns, with a floral scent and flavor.

Here’s how making gravlax works:

Buy the freshest 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of salmon belly you can. Most recipes will call for it to be skin on. I accidentally found myself with a big piece that was supposed to be skin on but wasn’t. It turned out fine.

Make sure you or your fishmonger pulls out all the pin bones in the fish. Then in a bowl mix up your cure: salt, sugar, spices. Mine is a mixture of lightly toasted, then crushed fennel seeds and grains of paradise along with sea salt, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. And have on hand bunches of dill. I also had Absolute Citron vodka to add a distinctly citrusy Scandinavian flavor.

Place half of the dill fronds in a baking dish just large enough to hold the fish. Then sprinkle half of the cure on the dill and place the fish on top and press down gently. Sprinkle the vodka over the top of the fish and then the rest of the cure and the rest of the dill. Cover the fish with plastic wrap.

Now you have to weight it down so the curing mixture will penetrate into the fish. So place another, slightly smaller, baking dish on top of the wrapped fish and a couple of cans into that dish. Refrigerate overnight. After 24 hours, remove the weights and flip the fish over so the cure will penetrate the fish evenly. Put the weights back on the fish and everything back into the refrigerator.

Once the 48 hours has passed you can remove the fish from the refrigerator, remove the weights and unwrap the fish from the plastic. Don’t worry about any liquid that’s accumulated. That’s exactly what you want. Discard the dill and rinse the fish with cold water, removing the salt, sugar, and spices. Pat dry.

Now comes the fun part. You’ll need a knife with as sharp an edge as possible because you’re going to slice the gravlax very thinly at a sharp diagonal. If you have skin on the fish, slice away and off the skin. You can plate the slices in straight lines or as rings. Sliced lemon goes nicely with it, as does diced red onion and capers.

And then we return to our initial conversation. Bagels and cream cheese? Sure, it’s grav”lax” after all. But, how about some marscarpone cheese and black bread for a change?

Gravlax
Serves 8 or more, depending on how many other dishes are served

Ingredients
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon grains of paradise (you can substitute with black peppercorns)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup sea salt
2 bunches of dill
2 tablespoons Absolut Citron vodka (or regular vodka)
1 1/2 to 2 pounds salmon belly, pin bones removed

Preparation
Lightly toast fennel seeds and grains of paradise. When cool, crush them together in a mortar and pestle.

In a bowl mix together the fennel seeds, grains of paradise, both sugars and salt.

Place half of the dill fronds in a pile the size of the salmon in a baking dish just large enough to hold the salmon. Sprinkle half of the curing mixture on the dill. Then set the fish on top. Sprinkle the vodka over the salmon and then press in the rest of the cure. Top with the remaining dill fronds to cover the fish.

Cover the fish with plastic wrap. Place another, smaller baking dish on the fish and put a brick or two cans into that dish.

Refrigerate for 24 hours, then remove the weights and turn the fish. Put the weights back on the fish and refrigerate another 24 hours.

When you’re ready to serve, remove the fish from the refrigerator, remove the weights, and remove the plastic wrap. Discard the dill and rinse the fish under cold water, then pat dry.

Using a very sharp knife, slice the gravlax as thinly as you can at a diagonal. If the salmon still has skin on it, slice away from the skin and discard the skin once the salmon is sliced.

Serve with lemon, diced red onion, capers–and a whipped cheese–on brown bread, pumpernickel, crackers, or a bagel.

What’s your favorite hot weather dish for catering brunch? 

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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