Thursday, April 30, 2015

Salsa Quemada (Roasted Tomato and Tomatillo Salsa)


Mexican food is one of my favorites to make and to eat. Whether it's the authentic stuff, or the Americanized versions of the authentic stuff, it's definitely high on my list for Global cuisines. In fact, my favorite go-to random meal to make when I'm not really in the mood to cook, or have a craving for Mexican (which is all the time, by the way), is bean and cheese quesadillas with pickled jalapenos. They make my world a better place!

With that said, and with Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, I can't think of a better time to discuss a new cookbook on the market devoted entirely to Salsas and Moles. The book is written by Deborah Schneider and published by Ten Speed Press. Chapters range from Classic Table Salsas, Hot Salsas (or really hot sauces), Mole and Enchilada Sauces, Salsas for Tacos, and Chunky Salsas and Botanas.

Each recipe includes a "Serving Ideas" notation, which is really vital to the book since its purely focused on the salsas themselves and not the creation of the entrees. For example, there are several recipes that state they would be excellent used for enchiladas, but there is no base enchilada recipe.

You would simply follow the basic steps for making enchiladas (found elsewhere, but even Schneider includes very basic steps in her "Simple Things to Do with Salsas" section--page 21 in the book) but use one of these sauces that suggest enchiladas as their use. There's always more than one serving idea for each recipe, so your options on how to use this book are limitless.

Schneider also notes that in Mexico is very atypical to just nosh on salsa and chips the way we do in America. With that said, you can still enjoy the salsas in this book that non-traditional way, as a dip, but they can (and probably should) be used in a variety of other ways. Additionally, most salsas are not intended to be super spicy. In fact most are quite mild, but spice levels can easily be adjusted per personal preference when making homemade salsas.

You may need to go online or to Mexican markets to source some of the fresh or dried chiles mentioned within the book, but Schneider includes some links for online vendors as well as a guides for both fresh and dried chiles from hottest to mildest. You can substitute chiles called for in certain recipes with others with similar levels of spice (or more or less). They will yield different results, but really all salsas are indicative of the cook, not just the recipe, so it's perfectly okay to tweak some ingredients to make the salsas your own.

I'm really anxious to try my hand at making homemade mole at some point. It's a tedious process with a laundry list of ingredients, but I definitely plan to dive into mole production at some point in the near future. Moles in this book range from a Quick Mole, to Red Chile Mole, Mole Poblano, Mole Pipian, Mole Negro, and Mole Verde. It's also interesting to learn that chocolate is not typical in all moles, a fact I never knew. Only three of the moles in this book contain the decadent ingredient.

My mole escapades will have to wait until a later date. In the meantime, I experimented with some of the easier and less time consuming recipes within the book.

First, I actually made the Mojito Salsa from the Salsas for Tacos chapter. I didn't actually use it for tacos, but rather to serve with grilled pork chops. It was very citrusy and absolutely delicious, featuring lemon and orange juices, garlic, cilantro and a jalapeno (originally it called for half a serrano, but I had jalapenos on hand).

It was really runny though, and would definitely drip out of a taco if that was its purpose. Otherwise, my family really loved it and it was super easy to throw together in the blender in a matter of minutes--no cooking required! I would definitely make it again.

Mojito Salsa still a bit frothy from the blender

The very first recipe in the book caught my eye the moment I opened it up. Salsa Quemada is a very easy to make Roasted Tomato and Tomatillo Salsa. The ingredients are dry roasted in a cast-iron pan lined with foil and then later blitzed to create a beautifully charred salsa.

It's also very easy to make but requires a little extra time to watch and occasionally rotate the ingredients for an even char. I recommend using silicone-edged tongs so you don't accidentally rip the foil.

We enjoyed this smoky and tart salsa with tortilla chips (the American way), but Schneider also suggests serving it with eggs, tacos, quesadillas, grilled meats, and more. I used a slightly less spicy jalapeno in place of the serrano(s) and even removed the seeds because I didn't want it too spicy for my family.

It was actually quite mild, especially since everything is roasted, and that mutes the spiciness of the chile. You can definitely include the seeds yourself, or even bump it up to two chiles if you want something with more zing.

This salsa was well-worth the effort, and just may be my new favorite--although I still have so many other recipes to try from the book, so I can imagine there will be many favorites before I know it!

I love exploring the world of Mexican salsas, as well as expanding my palate to try some of the different chiles discussed in the book. I'm definitely looking forward to spending more time within the pages of Salsas and Moles, and would happily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Mexican cooking and wants to expand their repertoire to include fresh, homemade salsas for any occasion.

Salsa Quemada (Roasted Tomato and Tomatillo Salsa)
Makes 3 cups
(From Salsas and Moles)

6 medium tomatillos, husked, washed, and dried
3 medium roma tomatoes, washed and dried
2 large cloves garlic, unpeeled (I used 3 because garlic rocks!)
1 or 2 large serrano chiles, with stem(s) (I used a jalapeno, which is slightly less spicy than a serrano and yielded a fairly mild salsa)
1/4 white onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced cilantro

Turn on the fan over the stove. Line a large cast-iron skillet with a piece of aluminum foil and set over high heat. Place the tomatillos, tomatoes, garlic, and chiles directly on the foil and roast without moving too often until the garlic is just softened, the chile has streaks of char and is softened, the tomatoes have a good char on all sides, and the tomatillos are soft and starting to bubble (It took me about 20 to 25 minutes total). As each is cooked, remove from the pan and set aside to cool. The garlic will be done first, and the tomatoes will take the longest.

When the tomatoes are well blackened and begin to slump, return the tomatillos to the pan if need be, wrap the tomatoes and tomatillos in the foil, lift out of the pan, and set aside until cooled. Transfer to a food processor, along with any juices that run out as they cool. (Leave the black bits--they add flavor.) Peel the garlic, stem the chile, and add to the food processor along with the onion and salt. Pulse until well combined and mostly smooth--you want a bit of texture. Add the cilantro last, pulse briefly, and taste for salt again.

Serving Ideas: This salsa is fantastic on eggs, tacos, quesadillas, or grilled meats, or add to rice or soup. Use it as a base for spicy chicken tinga (stew) or a shrimp saute.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee


I'm a year-round iced coffee drinker. To be honest, I generally prefer iced lattes to iced coffee because they taste less bitter, and I don't even feel the need to sweeten them. The one exception to my latte-specific love is cold-brewed iced coffee.

My good friend Sydney introduced me to cold-brewed iced coffee during one of my visits to see her in New York City. She keeps a pitcher of this cold-brewed iced coffee in her fridge at all times. It definitely has less of a bitter edge than typical iced coffee. I don't even sweeten it, whereas I normally would with iced coffee.

The coffee she uses, which I now use for the coffee concentrate, is Trader Joe's Organic Fair Trade Breakfast Blend. It's sold in whole beans, but there are coffee grinders at the store which you can use to grind it yourself. The grounds need to be coarse (or even "coarse for French press" depending on the options on the grinder).

One of these 14 ounce coffee canisters is enough to make three batches of this coffee concentrate. Since it's a concentrate, it's very strong and definitely needs to be watered down before you drink it.

Before straining

During straining

After straining

The plus is that it won't be watered down simply by adding ice, since it's already so concentrated. Using about equal parts of the concentrate and milk (or water if you prefer your iced coffee black) is a good ratio, but at the end of the day, adjust it to your preference. I actually go a bit heavier on the coffee concentrate than on the milk.

Although I wouldn't keep this coffee concentrate in your fridge indefinitely, it easily lasts for up to a week, although you may finish it before then if you're an avid coffee drinker. And since it's so easy to make, with little to no effort, you can whip up a batch any time you're running low! Just beware that if you double the recipe, you may want to swap out your coffee filter for a fresh one halfway through straining, as it can really start to slow down after a while.

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee
Makes about 2 1/2 cups coffee concentrate

4 1/2 ounces coarse ground coffee (about 1 3/4 cups)
3 1/2 cups water

Place the coffee grounds and water in a 2-quart pitcher, and stir to combine. Cover and let steep at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.

Line a strainer with a coffee filter and place over a medium bowl. Working in batches, slowly pour the coffee into the filter until all of the liquid has strained (this may take a while); stop when you reach the solids at the bottom of the pitcher. Discard the grounds and the contents of the strainer.

Wash and dry the pitcher. Transfer the strained coffee back into the pitcher. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled. This concentrate keeps for up to a week in the fridge.

To serve, for each cup of iced coffee dilute the concentrate with an equal portion--give or take--of milk or water. Sweeten with simple syrup, if desired, and serve over ice.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mastering Pasta: Eggplant and Parmesan Rotolo


Although I've never eaten in his restaurants, I became a fan of Marc Vetri after reviewing his second cookbook, Rustic Italian Food, a couple years ago. I have featured his recipes for Mortadella Tortelli with Pistachio Pesto and Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi, both from that book, and loved them immensely.

What I enjoy so much about Vetri's writing is his respect for the ingredients and attention to detail. He goes in depth to discuss the technical and even chemical reactions that cause foods to react the ways that they do. This way of approaching cooking a big reason why I feel his cookbooks are a wonderful addition to any avid cook's book collection.

I recently received a review copy of his newest release: Mastering Pasta. Although Vetri included a chapter on pastas in his previous publication, this book is entirely devoted to the subject. Consider this almost like an encyclopedia of pasta, if you will. It actually starts out with a chapter discussing wheat flour, the anatomy of wheat, ancient and modern wheats, milling and freshness of wheat, gluten quantity and quality, flour characteristics, and more. Once again, he's focusing on the whys and hows and not just the whats.

The book continues with legions of recipes for Fresh Pasta, Baked Sheet Pasta, Ravioli and Stuffed Pasta, Extruded and Dry Pasta, Playing with Flavor, Hand-Formed Pasta, Gnocchi, Risotto, and finally Stocks, Sauces and Other Basics. Although I own the pasta roller and cutter attachments for my Kitchenaid, I do not own a pasta extruder, so those recipes aren't really useful to people in my shoes, but fortunately they do not make up the bulk of the book.

After reviewing all the hows and whys, it's time to start cooking. The recipes within this book are commensurate with those found in a fine dining (but not pretentious) Italian restaurant, with smaller suggested serving sizes than most home-style cooking (think more along the lines with a first course/primi in an Italian restaurant versus the main course of the meal).

Dishes like Pappardelle with Rabbit Ragu and Peaches, Eggplant and Parmesan Rotolo, Pea Agnolotti with Lardo, Cabbage Gnocchi with Sausage and Toasted Bread Crumbs, and Dove Pasta with Quail Meatballs really set the bar for the style of elegant, yet rustic, flavor profiles contained within.

One minor criticism is that some of the recipes for shapes like cavatelli and gnocchi Sardi/Malloreddus are described as "hand-formed" pastas, but utilize a tool for extruding them. While many home cooks may have a pasta roller, and even perhaps a pasta extruder, these specific tools mentioned for these shapes are, from my understanding, less common for home cooks.

I have other recipes for the same shapes that are truly "hand-formed" and use the same method of shaping other gnocchi, either on a gnocchi board or the back of a fork. This alternative method would have been nice to mention for anyone who doesn't have this very specific tool, since I know they can be shaped by hand otherwise.

Eggplant roasted and ready to puree for the rotolo filling

Also, there are a lot of specialty ingredients used in many of the recipes. Although home cooks can technically access things like sweetbreads, pig's heads, black walnuts, and more, it's unlikely that many of us will go to the lengths required to source some of these items. If you're looking for a basic pasta cookbook to take advantage of your well-stocked pantry, this is not the book for you. It's definitely for more advanced cooks, hence the "mastering" in the title :)

Rolled and ready to cut

Other than these concerns (which apply to a minority of the recipes), I really love this book. It features wonderful step-by-step instructions that are easy to follow, mouthwatering photographs, and a variety of skills that can even translate into your own recipes: once you learn how to shape garganelli in the Garganelli alla Carbonara recipe, you could easily use that shape for many other sauces in the future!

I have a pretty lengthy list of recipes I'd like to try (none of which include the particularly hard to source ingredients). I decided to start out with the Eggplant and Parmesan Rotolo, which is basically a spin on Eggplant Parmesan, one of the greatest dishes of all time.

All of the key players are represented: eggplant (puree/filling), bread crumbs (on top), tomato sauce (beneath rotolo), mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses (filling/topping), and pasta (holding everything together). I'd even like to go out on a limb and say this is healthier than Eggplant Parmesan because it's not fried. So there you go!

This is one of the easier fresh pasta dishes in the book because you simply roll out the dough, blanch it, and then spread filling over the top and roll it up. It's not as technical as a filled pasta, but in a way it's still "filled" since it has a filling with pasta wrapped all around it.

The original recipe states that it makes 4 servings, with 1 rotolo per person. Although the rolls themselves aren't huge, I definitely think one person can eat 2 rolls if this is their entire meal. If the rotolo are being served with other dishes, or even a simple side salad, 1 may be plenty per person, but I've noted that this can serve 2 to 4, since in my family we each ate 2 rolls each (and were very comfortably full afterwards).

These rotolo (rotoli, plural?) are absolutely delicious! As someone who loves the flavors of Eggplant Parmesan, I really enjoyed this spin on the classic. I made some minor changes, and even doubled the recipe to use 8 ounces of dough and make a total of 8 rotolo (which I baked in 2 separate dishes), but the measurements below are the same as in the book. I just included some extra notes in italics and also at the end of the recipe.

Mastering Pasta is a wonderful resource for learning about making and using fresh pasta, whether in the form of sheets or extracted dough. It contains lots of appetizing recipes, and creative techniques that will keep any pasta-lover satisfied. I definitely look forward to trying out more recipes, and using this wonderfully researched book to improve my fresh pasta-making in the future.

Eggplant and Parmesan Rotolo
Makes 2 to 4 servings
(Adapted from Mastering Pasta)

2 slices good-quality sandwich bread or other good-quality white bread, crusts removed if thick
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 globe eggplants (about 2 pounds/907 grams total) (or 1 larger eggplant weighing 2 pounds on its own)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 sprigs thyme (I used some dried thyme instead)
4 ounces (114 grams) fresh pasta dough, rolled into a sheet about 1/16-inch thick, #5 on the Kitchenaid pasta roller attachment*
6 ounces (170 grams) buffalo mozzarella cheese, shredded (I used regular fresh mozzarella)
1/2 cup (50 grams) grated Parmesan cheese (I used Pecorino Romano)
1/2 cup tomato or marinara sauce*
1/4 cup (15 grams) fresh oregano leaves (optional)

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Turn off the oven and put the bread directly on the oven rack. Let the bread dry out for at least 8 hours or up to overnight in the turned-off oven (I didn't really plan ahead enough to do this, so I just lightly toasted the bread in my toaster oven to just dry it out). To reduce the bread to coarse crumbs, pass it through a food mill fitted with the large die, or, using short pulses, process the bread in a food processor

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and toast them, stirring or shaking the pan a few times, until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and score each half in a large crosshatch pattern with a sharp knife. Set the eggplants, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet and season the flesh with salt and pepper. Strip the leaves from the thyme sprigs onto the eggplant, then drizzle the eggplant evenly with the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil.

Roast the eggplants until very tender and golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Let the eggplants cool slightly, then scoop the flesh from the skins into a food processor. Using short pulses, coarsely puree the flesh. Reserve the puree.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the entire pasta sheet and blanch it for 30 seconds, stirring and separating it with tongs to keep the sheet from sticking to itself. Carefully remove the pasta sheet and lay it out on kitchen towels or paper towels. Trim the edges square (honestly, I didn't feel the need to trim mine since it was fairly squared off already when I rolled it).

Spread the eggplant puree evenly over the entire sheet of pasta, all the way to the edges (you may have a bit left over). Top the eggplant evenly with the mozzarella and 1/4 cup (25 grams) of the Parmesan, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Starting from a short side, tightly roll up the sheet. The rotolo should look like a jelly roll.

Heat the oven to 500 degrees F. Spread the tomato sauce in the bottom of a shallow 2-quart baking dish, or for individual servings, spread 2 tablespoons of the sauce in the bottom of each of four 2-cup baking dishes. Using a sharp plain-edged or serrated knife, trim the ends of the rotolo (again, I think this is unnecessary since you can easily put the "ugly" edges on the bottom and no one will even notice the difference), then cut it crosswise into four slices, each about 1 inch thick. Lay the slices flat in the baking dish(es) and sprinkle the bread crumbs and the remaining 1/4 cup (25 grams) Parmesan evenly over the slices.

Bake the rotolo until heated through and lightly browned on top, 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the rotolo slices to warmed plates if baking in a single dish, or leave in the individual baking dishes. Garnish each serving with some of the oregano, if desired.

*Notes* I used a recipe similar to this basic dough, but with bread flour, an extra egg, and a tablespoon of olive oil and added a bit extra flour as needed to get the right texture. It yielded about 1 1/8 pounds dough. I then used half the dough to make a double batch of this recipe, with 4 rotolos in each of 2 baking dishes. For the tomato sauce, I sauced half a diced onion in a little olive oil, then added some minced garlic, a 28-ounce can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper, and simmered for about 10 to 15 minutes.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Brooklyn Blackout Cake


Blackout Cake was developed by Ebinger's Bakery and actually dates back to World War II and the blackout drills conducted in Brooklyn at the time. The purpose of these blackout drills was to prevent enemy aircraft from seeing our ships when they sailed from New York's harbors.

By turning off all of the lights, and even covering windows with black material, this was intended to provide a stealthier environment for our ships to pass. The city would conduct actual blackout drills, similar to fire drills, in order to prepare.

Fast forward many many years and the cakes inspired by this historical event are still ever popular and delicious. Their concept is quite basic: layers of chocolate cake filled and frosted with rich chocolate pudding and then coated with tons of chocolate cake crumbs. Pure chocolate decadence.

This particular recipe originally comes from Cook's Illustrated, so you know it's solid. The pudding filling relies solely on cornstarch for thickening--no egg yolks necessary--so it's actually a bit easier than making a chocolate pastry cream-style pudding.

A Dutch-processed cocoa will yield a darker chocolate cake, but you can substitute regular cocoa powder in a pinch by adding some extra baking soda to your dry ingredients. That's what I've done here, and the cake still turned out delicious even if it's more brown than black.

The pudding is a bit less stable as a frosting than an actual frosting would be (it reminds me more of the softer texture of a cream cheese frosting actually), but it is still easy to frost since it's quite thick for a pudding. Once you press the crumbs all over the cake and then refrigerate it, it does hold together well.

Brooklyn Blackout Cake
Makes one 9-inch round cake, about 12 servings
(Adapted from Cook's Illustrated via Baking Obsession)

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, plus more for the pans
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (if you're using regular cocoa powder instead of Dutch-processed, increase the baking soda to 1 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted (I used regular cocoa powder and increased the baking soda to 1 teaspoon)
1 cup brewed coffee (I used espresso)
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
1/4 cup cornstarch, sifted
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

To make the cake: Center an oven rack and heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper circles. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the cocoa and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Off the heat, whisk in the coffee, buttermilk, and sugars until dissolved. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla, then slowly whisk in the flour mixture. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and smooth with a spatula.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the cake pans halfway through baking. Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack. Cool the cakes completely before frosting.

To make the filling: Cook the sugar, chocolate, half-and-half, milk, cornstarch, and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth, shiny and thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes from start to finish. Off the heat, stir in the vanilla. Transfer the pudding to a large bowl and refrigerate, with plastic wrap pressed flush against its surface, until cold and set, at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

To assemble the cake: Using a large serrated knife, slice each cake into 2 even layers. Crumble one cake layer into medium crumbs and set aside. Place one cake layer on a cake plate or cardboard round. Spread 1 cup of the pudding over the cake layer and top with another layer. Repeat with 1 cup more pudding and the last cake layer. Spread the remaining pudding evenly over the top and sides of the cake. The whole construction might look a bit jiggly at this point but after you press the crumbs all around it will get more stable, especially after some refrigeration time. Sprinkle the cake crumbs evenly over the top and sides of the cake, pressing lightly to adhere the crumbs.

The cake can be made a day ahead and kept under a cake dome in the refrigerator.


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