Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Seared Tuna Sandwiches

Ever since I made preserved lemons I have daydreamed about a sandwich I found on Epicurious involving canned tuna, preserved lemon and olive paste. I changed it up a bit to suit my own specific tastes and I must report, it is glorious. I used fresh ahi tuna instead of canned, and pounded the filet into thin palliards that just needed barely a minute of searing to keep their ruby interior. I also made a spicy mayo by mixing in some sriracha, a condiment my household cannot live without. A sprinkling of minced preserved lemon adds an allure, and the crisp topping of fennel and butter lettuce provides just the vegetal note needed. This is the type of sandwich that is meant to be eaten moments after you have assembled it so, in other words, don’t pack it in your lunch box to be devoured later.

For two sandwiches:

  • One baguette, cut into two, six-inch pieces and heated in the oven for 10 minutes or so

  • 4-6 ounces of fresh ahi tuna, pounded down to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into two equal pieces

  • 1½ tablespoons of mayonnaise

  • ½ to 1 teaspoon sriracha

  • 1 preserved lemon wedge, pulp discarded, rind rinsed and minced

  • Fennel shaved on a mandoline into 6-8 slices

  • 2 large leaves butter lettuce, torn into several pieces, ribs discarded

  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

  • 3 teaspoons olive oil

  • Kosher salt and pepper

Stir together the mayonnaise and sriracha and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the fennel, butter lettuce, lemon juice and one teaspoon of the olive oil. Add pepper to taste and set aside.

Heat a cast iron skillet (or if you sadly don’t have one, you can use whatever mediocre thing you’ve got) on high. Add the remaining two teaspoons olive oil. Once very hot, carefully add the two tuna palliards, sprinkle with salt and cook, for 30 seconds to one minute. Flip the tuna and turn the heat off.

Spread the spicy mayonnaise on the bottom of both warmed baguette pieces, lay the tuna on top, sprinkle the minced preserved lemon over that, and finally, the lettuce fennel mixture. Enjoy the zesty goodness.

Adapted from a recipe on epicurious.com.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Classic Mai Tai with Homemade Grenadine

During the frigid, dark days of January, when the snow crunches underfoot and the sun is only momentarily seen, it is important to take refuge in the warmth of a good cocktail…and if it's tropical in nature, then the rejuvenating effects will be felt tenfold. I think it safe to say that a classic Mai Tai fits the bill nicely. The lime, copious spirits and subtle sweetness make for a refreshing and dangerous concoction. The Chef found that the marriage of sipping Mai Tai's and Herb Alpert typed into Pandora Radio quite the match. Fair warning, one cocktail will feel like three, so if you decide to indulge in two, say good night.

For one large cocktail:

-2 ounces dark rum

-2 ounces light rum
-1 ounce triple sec
-The juice squeezed from half a lime
-2 drops almond extract or, if you have Orgeat Syrup use a teaspoon or so of that
-3 teaspoons grenadine* or to taste

Shake well in a cocktail shaker filled with a few ice cubes. Pour over a hurricane glass filled with ice and garnish with a lime slice, a maraschino cherry and an umbrella.

*They don’t call me A Crafty Lass for nothing, so of course, I encourage you to make your own homemade grenadine because it’s easy, delicious, and doesn’t have any evil high fructose corn syrup in it like almost all brands do these days. Real grenadine is made from pomegranate juice. Luckily for us modern folks, a little product called
POM exists that makes it a lot easier to have the juice right at our fingertips.

In a saucepan, combine one cup of sugar and one cup of pure pomegranate juice (such as POM). Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Simmer until it is reduced by half, stirring occasionally. This makes about a cup of grenadine that should be stored in the fridge in a covered jar or bottle and will keep for a month or so. Take it out periodically, make yourself a Shirley Temple, a Cherry Coke, or a Tequila sunrise.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Perfect Rustic Bread

I have made the revolutionary no-knead bread recipe detailed in The New York Times back in 2006 several times. A quick whisking of flour, salt, water, and a teeny bit of yeast rests for 18 hours, is never kneaded, and is cooked in the oven in a preheated heavy iron pot such as a Le Creuset.

Not too long ago, an updated, speedier recipe was introduced. Initially I was resistant to the idea that I could make the same deliciously crusty, rustic loaf in a much smaller amount of time. And besides, why would I want to? The 18 hours that the dough bubbled on my countertop was of no consequence to me.

This all changed one sad, desperate morning. After I had whisked together the ingredients the night before, I poured out the dough onto my floured countertop for it to rest for an hour before I baked it. I was looking forward to presenting the perfect loaf to my dinner guests later that evening. Suddenly, I heard a horrid sound coming from the kitchen and as I turned the corner I stared at my two normally adorable Labradors gulping down gobs of dough that had been 19 hours in the making. They were like two starved lions tearing apart a zebra carcass and within seconds, it was gone. I'm not going to lie, I cried about it a little to The Chef.

After the dogs spent a time-out in their kennels, I got to work on my second, speedier loaf. This one comes together in about 6 hours and really, the result was just as good as the original version. The exterior is a golden, crusty wonder with a pleasantly chewy, airy interior. It begs to be slathered in butter and, as I found out after having 4 glasses of wine too many, makes an excellent hangover-quenching grilled cheese sandwich the next day. I have no doubt any leftovers would also make very good french toast.

You can find the recipe for Speedier No-Knead Bread here.

Also, here are two other fantastic variations using the same, slow, no-knead method:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Clementine Cake

Whenever clementine season rolls around, I think of this supremely weird cake that I have made several times before. It comes from Nigella Lawson, but my understanding is that this recipe is ages old.

To start, you gather five clementines and cover them with water in a pot. Put it on the stove and let them simmer for two hours. They will bounce around, and their peels may split from the heat but just keep an eye on them from time to time and fill up the pot with water occasionally so they stay floating in the simmering, orange-scented water. After the two hours have passed, gently pour them into a strainer to cool so they can be handled later.

While the clementines are cooling, put ¾ of a pound of whole almonds (raw, unsalted, skins on) and a couple tablespoons of granulated sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Finely grind the almonds and pour them into a mixing bowl. Crack six eggs, a cup of sugar, and a heaping teaspoon of baking powder into the bowl with the almonds and mix until everything is nicely incorporated. Set aside.

This next step will undoubtedly surprise you. Cut the cooled, soft clementines in half and if there are any seeds, fish them out. Place the clementine halves in a food processor…yes, the clementines, in their entirety. Give them a few whirls until they become a nice amber puree which shouldn’t take more than a minute. Scrape the puree into the mixing bowl with the other ingredients and mix again. The batter will seem alarmingly wet for a cake but don’t fear.

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan and carefully pour the batter in. Place in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes or so, covering it with foil midway through if the top is darkening too much. Test the center of the cake with a knife, making sure it comes out clean, and set it on a wire rack to cool completely. This is the sort of cake that holds well so freely make it the day before if you’d like. Cut into wedges and serve with a nice dusting of powdered sugar and a dollop of crème fraiche.

There are not many five ingredient cakes out there, and certainly none that could boast such a delicate citrus aroma and lovely crumbly almond texture as this one does. I find the crème fraiche to be an essential accoutrement for this cake so really, don’t go without it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Spicy Guinness Mustard

As most everyone knows, Guinness is one of the 5 major food groups and should be incorporated into one’s diet as often as possible. How delightful, then, that a recipe for Guinness mustard appeared in the January issue of Saveur. When I saw the recipe and photo in all of its pungent, chocolaty glory I wanted to go frolic through a field of shamrocks on a misty day...or, at the very least, eat a corned beef sandwich with said mustard.

I’ve never considered making my own mustard before, especially since there is such good mustard out there, like Maille. But, in most cases, making homemade anything is truly satisfying and allows for impromptu gifts that the recipients will be undoubtedly appreciative of.

What I discovered in undertaking this feat is that making mustard is quite simple. All it requires is a bottle of Guinness Extra Stout (the stout adds a necessary robustness), mustard seeds, red wine vinegar, salt and spices. It took no more than 5 minutes to mix it all together and set it aside for a day or two. Then, you just give it a thorough, three minute whirl in a food processor where it becomes mustard right before your eyes. Spoon it into some jars and keep it in the fridge for up to six months.

For the recipe, click here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Preserved Meyer Lemons

In the past few years I have been quite taken with Meyer Lemons. Originating from China, and thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, these thin-skinned, mildly acidic fruits are pure loveliness and make a great stand-in for regular old lemons. I decided to preserve them, Moroccan style, and look forward to using them in the months to come.

Preserving lemons is easy, and the gently perfumed end result is well worth the minor effort. All that's needed is lemons, some pint canning jars, kosher salt, olive oil and patience. If you want to add an additional layer of flavor, cloves, cardamom pods, or cinnamon sticks can be packed in the jars along with the lemons.

  • 2 pounds Meyer Lemons (about 5-7)

  • ½ cup of kosher salt

  • Olive oil

Cut all but one of the lemons into eight wedges and get rid of any seeds. Combine the wedges and the salt in a bowl and toss well to coat. Pack into 2 pint jars, tightly, pressing on them as you pack to extract the juices. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon and pour over the jars evenly.

Set jars aside for one week at room temperature, shaking gently once a day. After the week is up, pour olive oil onto any remaining space at the top of the jars and refrigerate. The lemons will keep 6 months to a year in the fridge.

Below are some links to some fantastic sounding recipes using Preserved Lemons:

Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemons from The New York Times

Braised Lamb Shank with Preserved Lemons from The New York Times

Israeli Couscous with Roasted Butternut Squash & Preserved Lemon from Gourmet Magazine

Preserved Lemon and Olive Mayonnaise from Bon Appetit

Italian Tuna and Shaved Fennel Sandwich with Black Olive Paste from Epicurious

Buffalo Mozzarella with Preserved Lemon and Crispy Basil Leaves from Donna Hay

Kitchen Resolutions

If you haven't already, you should read Mark Bittman's article in the New York Times today regarding keeping old stuff, bad habits, unncessary purchases and how to just generally have a happier kitchen and pantry. I have been guilty of many of the offenses Mr. Bittman detailed, and in fact, the Chef just made soup with some old ass dried beans that apparently do NOT last forever and became mealy little buggers swimming in our bowls.

You can read the article here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My Favorite Leafy Salad

It's strange that a favorite salad of mine comes from a barbecue expert, Steven Raichlen, but indeed, that is where this recipe originated from. My adaptation is a bit different from the original but still maintains the bold flavors the fairly large amounts of lemon juice and fresh dill impart. The amount of dill is indeed alarming, and if it were cilantro, I would be coma-bound. But for some reason, the salty character of the cheese, the brightness of the lemon juice and the meatiness of the olives and pine nuts combine to make something quite special, delicious and excellent year round. It's particularly nice to eat it in the Winter to remind oneself of sunnier days to come.

In the summer months, I add even more fresh herbs, such as chives and tarragon and vary the lettuce according to what is ready in the garden. I prefer a red oak leaf lettuce for this salad, but really, any nice green would work, except maybe Iceberg which is only to be used if one wants to upset me.

  • 1/2 a large head of red leaf lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 8 sprigs fresh dill, de-stemmed and coarsely chopped
  • Half a smallish bulb of fresh fennel shaved on a mandoline
  • 1 garlic clove, halved lengthwise
  • A few splashes of good olive oil (such as Sciabica's)
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • A couple tablespoons of pine nuts, toasted
  • Stickney Hills Crumbled Chevre (or any crumbled goat or feta, or grated parmesan or pecorino)
  • Kalamata olives
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Rub the inside of a wooden salad bowl with both cut sides of the garlic thoroughly. Add the lettuce, dill and fennel, tossing well. Squeeze the lemon over the salad, minding the seeds and splash in the olive oil. Toss again. Sprinkle with the cheese, olives, pine nuts, and pepper and serve.

Serves 2, generously

Adapted from The Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Homemade Yogurt

Why make your own yogurt? Well, it's quite easy, you control what goes in it, it's cost effective, and you get to feel superior to everyone around you who lives a sad, store-bought yogurt existence. Besides, this yogurt has a very clean, fresh taste that I enjoy. The other day I canned some Clementine Marmalade that totally went awry and didn't gel properly so it was really more syrup than anything but I immediately knew that a spoonful of it would be quite pleasant in my yogurt. I often stir in marmalade, cranberry sauce, any jam, fresh fruit and/or granola.

One thing to note: it doesn't get super thick and has more of a soft set finish. I don't mind this at all but I imagine some people would. As an additional step, you could spoon the chilled yogurt over a cheesecloth lined strainer and let it drain over a bowl in the refrigerator to make sort of a Greek-style thicker yogurt.

Making yogurt is really just a matter of heating, whisking, pouring and waiting. All you need is milk, yogurt starter that you can procure from your local health food store or co-op, and a yogurt maker to incubate it, like this one which is a newer model than the one I have.

First, heat a quart of milk until it is just about to boil. Take off the heat, pop a thermometer in it and allow it to come back down to 108 degrees which is warmish room temperature. This will take a while so don't wait around. Pour a small amount of the milk into a bowl (about a 1/4 cup) and empty the contents of the yogurt starter into it. Whisk hard, you don't want any clumps. Pour this mixture back into the milk and whisk well again.

Second, pour into the glass jars and place into the yogurt maker. Set for about 8 hours and resist the temptation to lift the top, jiggle the yogurt maker, etc. It can't become yogurt if one keeps messing with it.

Lastly, put the top on each jar and refrigerate which then stops the incubation process. Done!

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Different Sort of Cheeseball

This recipe, quite festive for a gathering, comes from The New York Times and is something I have made several times this past holiday season. I think it a fine way to kick off this blog since several people have asked me for the recipe after having eaten the non-orange, non-cheddar deliciousness of this unique Cheeseball. After I made it the first time, it was quite easy to throw it together after that, not worrying about being too fussy with the measurements. The only thing I omitted from the original recipe is the celery which I don't enjoy all that much. Three cheeses, cumin and coriander* seed, lemon juice and zest, fresh mint and a nice coating of salted chopped pistachios comes together to deliver a light, toasty, citrusy bite that would be just as good in the winter months as it would in the summer. I absolutely think that Carr's Whole Wheat Crackers are the perfect accompaniment.

You can find the recipe here.

*As you will hear repeatedly in this blog, I detest cilantro deeply. Coriander seed is indeed the seed of the wretched cilantro plant but thankfully, it does not bother me at all nor does it cause me to want to gargle bleach.