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Put it on Toast. 25 ways to start Thanksgiving.
Help!   Thanksgiving is 72 hours away and while you have been dog-earing cookbooks for weeks, shopped the weekend before, and even managed to avoid the elbow to your shoulder by the feisty octogenarian who was going to in NO WAY let you have the store's last quart of whipping cream (this actually happened to me in graduate school), you just realized that you totally forgot to plan for something to occupy your relatives while you get the food ready for the table.  And so inevitably they will end up equally split between hovering directly in your path in your tiny overheated kitchen or rehashing the recent election and whatswrongwiththiscountry requiring a last-minute rearrangement of the pilgrim place cards.  Again.

Oh, right, and you have overzealously planned an almost too complicated multi-course meal culled from your favorite food blogs, and have no time left in the schedule or room in the oven to make another darn thing.

So, put it on toast.  Or bread, or thick oat-y crackers or toasted wedges of pita.

Here are a bunch of ideas, some quicker than others, for holiday-worthy crostini.  If you have the time, or children with idle hands, these all look pretty assembled and arranged on a platter, particularly the repetition of the shape and colors.  However, if you are pressed for time, just put all of the elements on a platter in small bowls with a heap of sliced bread rounds and your guests will love getting all interactive.

If you can manage, you can slice say a baguette on a deep angle to make long elegant oval slices, maybe brush it with olive oil or rub it with garlic and toast it in a low oven on a cookie sheet.  Or grill it quickly to get nice grill marks.  But again, fresh sliced good crusty bread is great just as is.  Also check with local food markets to see if any have frozen par-baked baguettes that you can finish in the oven yourself.

Here are several ideas, but definitely come up with your own with what you have on hand.  Just try to mix tastes and textures.  Layer something creamy/mushy on the bottom so it all sticks to the bread, and maybe top with something crunchy or colorful, or fresh herbs.

Gobble gobble.

 


make your own!) + lemon zest + chopped parsley + pepper + olive oil

Ricotta + fresh sliced fig + honey

Ricotta + roasted red peppers + a basil leaf

Ricotta + Parsley Pesto (parsley, garlic, olive oil, salt)

Creamy gorgonzola + sliced green apple + honey + chopped pecans

Brie + apricot jam + a basil leaf

Goat cheese + mushroom duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms + shallots sauteed with butter, thyme and wine)

Goat cheese + kalamata olive tapenade (pitted olives, parsley, lemon zest & juice, 1 anchovy fillet and olive oil in a food processor)

Goat cheese + diced roasted beets + chopped toasted hazelnuts + parsley

Cream cheese + smoked salmon + thinly sliced cucumber + sliver of red onion + lemon zest

cream cheese + smoked trout + thinly sliced cucumber + sprig of fresh dill

warm lobster or crab meat + melted butter (particularly good on brioche or soft mini rolls)

crab meat + diced avocado + diced cucumber + diced fresh red pepper + lime juice + cilantro

olive oil drizzled on the bread + Avocado mashed with lemon juice + a few hot red pepper flakes

Avocado + shrimp-cilantro salad (chopped shrimp with cilantro pesto)

Edamame humus (shelled cooked edamame pureed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt)

Chickpea humus + thinly sliced marinated carrots or roasted cherry tomatoes (Ruth Reichl's hummus recipe is etherial.)

White bean humus (pureed white beans with olive oil, lemon, parsley + salt) + chard sauteed with garlic

Baba Ganoush + crumbed feta cheese + sliced roasted red peppers

spinach or chard sauteed with diced onions, when cool, mixed with crumbed feta and fresh dill

Generous spread of great butter + thinly sliced radish + sprinkle of sea salt (trust me!)

Rub toast with a halved fresh tomato top with thinly sliced jamon imberico or prosciutto

Romesco sauce + chopped grilled scallions

Thinly sliced rare roast beef + horseradish cream + watercress

">

Good fresh ricotta (make your own!) + lemon zest + chopped parsley + pepper + olive oil

Ricotta + fresh sliced fig + honey

Ricotta + roasted red peppers + a basil leaf

Ricotta + Parsley Pesto (parsley, garlic, olive oil, salt)

Creamy gorgonzola + sliced green apple + honey + chopped pecans

Brie + apricot jam + a basil leaf

Goat cheese + mushroom duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms + shallots sauteed with butter, thyme and wine)

Goat cheese + kalamata olive tapenade (pitted olives, parsley, lemon zest & juice, 1 anchovy fillet and olive oil in a food processor)

Goat cheese + diced roasted beets + chopped toasted hazelnuts + parsley

Cream cheese + smoked salmon + thinly sliced cucumber + sliver of red onion + lemon zest

cream cheese + smoked trout + thinly sliced cucumber + sprig of fresh dill

warm lobster or crab meat + melted butter (particularly good on brioche or soft mini rolls)

crab meat + diced avocado + diced cucumber + diced fresh red pepper + lime juice + cilantro

olive oil drizzled on the bread + Avocado mashed with lemon juice + a few hot red pepper flakes

Avocado + shrimp-cilantro salad (chopped shrimp with cilantro pesto)

Edamame humus (shelled cooked edamame pureed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt)

Chickpea humus + thinly sliced marinated carrots or roasted cherry tomatoes (Ruth Reichl's hummus recipe is etherial.)

White bean humus (pureed white beans with olive oil, lemon, parsley + salt) + chard sauteed with garlic

Baba Ganoush + crumbed feta cheese + sliced roasted red peppers

spinach or chard sauteed with diced onions, when cool, mixed with crumbed feta and fresh dill

Generous spread of great butter + thinly sliced radish + sprinkle of sea salt (trust me!)

Rub toast with a halved fresh tomato top with thinly sliced jamon imberico or prosciutto

Romesco sauce + chopped grilled scallions

Thinly sliced rare roast beef + horseradish cream + watercress



And this roasted squash on toast recipe from Jean-Georges Vongerichten is next on my list to try.

 


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eptember
01
Zucchini, Carrot and Scallion Fritters
 



These fritters are an homage to the perfect little hometown restaurant we had in our shoreline Connecticut town growing up in the 80s.  A place where everybody knew our name, where you could pop in casually for a wholesome lunch, or count on it for a suitably festive and elegant special occasion dinner.

I've been thinking a lot about food of that era lately.  As a kid I was permitted to tag along on many grownup restaurant dates, luncheons and dinner parties, giving me the chance to try copious amounts of new foods, many definitely not considered on the childrens' menu.  I remember these new tastes and textures more vividly than I do where I was or who I was with (go figure.)

But what is most interesting to me in hindsight, is that what was 80s nouvelle cuisine, was in many ways using a huge amount of the same ideas of locavore cooking now--using the freshest possible ingredients, lighter sauces or preparation to let the produce or proteins really be the focus, an overall lighter, fresher, more in-the-moment way of cooking.  The only difference being that then it seemed revolutionary and nouvelle, while today it is seen as a return to the basics.

This fritter is exactly in keeping with that.  The freshest possible ingredients, at the height of their season, minimally dressed up.  In the 80s something like this seemed very exotic, today it feels like the perfect, summer, wholesome appetizer, right out of a Deborah Madison book.

And plus...ding!  ding!  ding!...it is something to do with all of those zucchini piling up on your counters, that you perhaps might be starting to resent in just the slightest way.

 



Dipping Sauce ideas:

Soy sauce topped with a few teaspoons of toasted sesame seeds
and
Sour cream or plain greek yogurt mixed with a few teaspoons of freshly grated lemon zest
">
Zucchini, Carrot, and Scallion Fritters
by Catie Schwalb

makes about three dozen.

1 cup flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
few turns of fresh black pepper
¾ cup of milk
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup grated, zucchini, about one medium zucchini
1 1/4 cup grated carrot, about three medium carrots
1/2 cup scallion, white and green parts, about three scallions
1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds
canola or peanut oil, for frying

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Add the dry ingredients to the milk mixture and whisk until smooth.

Grate the zucchini on large holes of a box grater, or with the grating blade of a food processor. Squeeze in several layers of paper towel to remove as much liquid as possible. Grate carrots to the same size. Add both to the batter.

Thinly slice the scallions. Add scallions and sunflower seeds to batter and mix to thoroughly combine.

Fill a pot with canola or peanut oil, until it is 2 inches deep. Heat the oil to 360 F. Carefully drop about one tablespoon-sized dollops of the batter into the oil (they will puff up considerably). Do not put too many fritters in the pot at once, as the temperature of the oil will decrease too much. Also if the fritters are too large they won’t cook through by the time the outside is sufficiently browned, and will still be raw in the middle. Fry until golden brown, turning over once when cooking, about two minutes total. Turn the heat down if the fritters are browning too quickly or the temperature continues to rise.

Remove fritters with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Salt lightly while still hot. Serve warm.



Dipping Sauce ideas:

Soy sauce topped with a few teaspoons of toasted sesame seeds
and
Sour cream or plain greek yogurt mixed with a few teaspoons of freshly grated lemon zest



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uly
19
Garlic Scape and Herb Pancake


 

Move over scallions.  I may have to cheat on you.

My love affair with dim sum scallion pancakes is no secret.  There are few times I can think of when they don't appeal to me.  (or make me start to go all Pavlovian as I even type the words.)  Though green and doing very well, the scallions planted in my garden are still about the size of glorified dental floss and won't be serving up any exotic savories for a few weeks.

However, we do have garlic scapes!  And herbs!  Lots of both!

Scallions?  Who needs scallions?

While not exactly a necessity, (more of an insatiable craving), mother invention shone down and offered up this bright, summery, mildly garlicky, herby, southeast Asian-inspired perfection on a greasy paper towel.  There is a tremendous (and tremendously cheap) hole-in-the-wall dumpling shop in NYC's Chinatown, to which I make frequent pilgrimages.  Alongside their dumplings, they have a monstrous cast iron pan in which they make a very similar sesame pancake.  You can get a pizza-slice-sized wedge "stuffed with veggies" for $1.25, which is split laterally and crammed with shredded carrot and chopped cilantro leaves and stems.  There was definitely some inspiration from there in this as well.

Give these a try, using all that summer is offering up right now.  Shredded zucchini, carrot or beet, torn squash blossoms, thyme, sage, thinly sliced chard could all be welcome additions.  Fried dough + farm fresh herbs and produce = What could possibly be bad?

(more...)


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pril
08
Olive Oil Everything Crackers


Here is another cracker recipe with which to send you off into the weekend!

This recipe and the Cornmeal and Chive Cracker recipe from earlier this week contrast each other nicely, and would make a sublime little cracker basket assortment.  This cracker is a little more subtle in flavor and more tender in texture than the other, so pairs nicely with soft, less powerful cheeses too.  With or without the everything seed mix and this is a perfect, versatile, go-to cracker recipe to have in your bag of tricks.



1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Everything Seed Mix:
1/2 teaspoon each of toasted sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and flax seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic (available in the spice aisle) (optional, for the true everything bagel flavor)

Heat oven to 350 ° F.

Mix together flour, whole wheat flour and salt.  Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the buttermilk and olive oil.  Mix either by hand, with a paddle of a stand mixer, or in a food processor until dough comes together.

Lightly dust with flour a silpat or piece of parchment paper that is the same size as your baking sheet. Roll out a portion of the dough right on the paper or silpat. Try to get it as thin and even as you are able, without creating holes, ideally around 1/16th of an inch. Lightly sprinkle with more flour if the rolling pin starts to stick.

Using cookie cutters, my new favorite tool: a Pasta Bike, pizza cutter or carefully with a knife, cut crackers in desired shape. Remove excess dough.  Brush lightly with water and sprinkle liberally with seed mix.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the sheet once in the oven about half way through. Crackers are ready when they are crisp and no longer pliable. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Will keep in an airtight container for a week.
">
OLIVE OIL EVERYTHING CRACKERS
by Catie Schwalb

Makes about two dozen 2.5" diameter round crackers.  However, cut in any shape you fancy.

1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Everything Seed Mix:
1/2 teaspoon each of toasted sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and flax seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic (available in the spice aisle) (optional, for the true everything bagel flavor)

Heat oven to 350 ° F.

Mix together flour, whole wheat flour and salt.  Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the buttermilk and olive oil.  Mix either by hand, with a paddle of a stand mixer, or in a food processor until dough comes together.

Lightly dust with flour a silpat or piece of parchment paper that is the same size as your baking sheet. Roll out a portion of the dough right on the paper or silpat. Try to get it as thin and even as you are able, without creating holes, ideally around 1/16th of an inch. Lightly sprinkle with more flour if the rolling pin starts to stick.

Using cookie cutters, my new favorite tool: a Pasta Bike, pizza cutter or carefully with a knife, cut crackers in desired shape. Remove excess dough.  Brush lightly with water and sprinkle liberally with seed mix.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the sheet once in the oven about half way through. Crackers are ready when they are crisp and no longer pliable. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Will keep in an airtight container for a week.

 



 


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pril
06
Cornmeal and Chive Crackers


In my ongoing quest to eliminate store-bought processed foods from our kitchen and life, this week I tackled crackers.  There is a long and growing list food items that I no longer even think of not making myself, and yet almost weekly I think nothing of tossing (overpriced) box after box of these crisp vices in my shopping basket.

Growing up in shoreline Connecticut in the 80's "cheeseandcrackers" were a very big deal.  Practically their own extracurricular activity.  I vividly remember going to our immpeccable cheese shop on Main Street with my grandmother and picking out an appropriate assortment of contrasting cheeses and suitable cracker sidekicks for that weekend's cheese tray.  I was always most intrigued by the layer cake-esque Huntsman cheese, consisting of stripes of Double Gloucester and Stilton cheeses.  Carrying on in that early-ingrained tradition, we always have a nice piece or two of cheese on hand and a cupboard stocked with cracker choices for insta-entertaining.

So with my long history with cheeseandcrackers, I am even more surprised that making my own crackers hadn't come up before (particularly with now making my own cheese from time to time).  A remarkably easy project, offering a gazillion flavor possibilities, from as hearty and rustic to delicate and subtle as you want to make them.  When picking out a special piece of carefully crafted cheese, you can decide exactly what vehicle will deliver this creamy treasure to your gullet.  Doesn't your own cheeseandcrackers ritual deserve at least as much?

 

CORNMEAL AND CHIVE CRACKERS
by Catie Schwalb

These are a rustic,  full-flavored cracker taking advantage of gorgeous spring chives.  I found they also make a great chip-like snack cracker which would be great with dips or  just as a snack on their own.

Makes approximately four dozen 2” x 3.5” crackers.

1 cup cornmeal
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small cubes
1 ¼ cup flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/8 cup chives, finely chopped

Heat oven to 350 ° F.

In a medium saucepan, heat one cup of water with the cubes of butter and salt. Allow the water to come to a gentle boil (the butter should be melted around the same time). Whisk in the cornmeal and cook for 2 minutes over low heat, stirring frequently. The mixture will be quite thick.

In a mixing bowl, combine cornmeal mixture with flour and chives. Mix until just combined. Try to avoid over-mixing as it will make the crackers tougher.

Wrap dough in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for a half hour.

Lightly dust with flour a silpat or piece of parchment paper that is the same size as your baking sheet. Roll out a portion of the dough right on the paper or silpat. Try to get it as thin and even as you are able, without creating holes, ideally around 1/16th of an inch. Lightly sprinkle with more flour if the rolling pin starts to stick.

Using cookie cutters, a rolling pastry cutter, pizza cutter or carefully with a knife, cut crackers in desired shape. Remove excess dough and sprinkle crackers liberally with additional kosher salt.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the sheet once in the oven about half way through. Crackers are ready when they are beginning to turn light brown around the edges and are no longer pliable. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Will keep in an airtight container for a week.

 



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ebruary
04
Scallion Pancakes
Scallion pancakes.  Oh how I love thee.



These remarkable, little chewy, salty, scallion-y, layered disks of oily crunchy heaven completely stole my heart when I first had them my first year living in the city a decade and a half ago.  Often I would grab a late night snack of scallion pancakes and dumplings on my way home from rehearsal near midnight, back when my metabolism could handle such an indulgence.

On our honeymoon in China three years ago, I stumbled upon a mirage-like goddess making scallion pancakes on a narrow back street in Beijing.



Just look at the size of that pan!  We got a New York pizza slice-sized wedge (see the table on the right), wrapped loosely in wax paper, that the newlyweds pawed at, stopped dead on the street, like malnourished tiger cubs.  Who got the last bite should have gone in a prenup.

Too recently I discovered that these treasures are not all that difficult to make yourself--however dangerous it could be to embark upon in the privacy of your own home.  Proceed with caution.  The management is not responsible for the abandonment of any new year's resolutions.

But if only in honor of Chinese New Year, give these a try.  The rolled out, uncooked, pancakes can be layered in slightly floured wax paper and stored in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic for about twenty-four hours, and then finished in a frying pan for two minutes on each side.  Do we hear a great Year of the Rabbit themed Super Bowl appetizer?


I used half all-purpose flour and half cake flour. Cake flour, available in the baking aisle at the grocery store, has a lower gluten content, resulting in a dough that wasn't as tough, and I could roll out thinly much more easily, as it wasn't springing back as I tried to roll. However, you can make this entirely of AP flour, it might just be a little more challenging to roll out thin.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup warm water
sesame oil, about 3 teaspoons
1/2 cup scallions, sliced thin
salt
peanut or canola oil, for frying

Combine flours together. Add water, either in a well in the middle of the flours, or in a stand mixer with a dough hook, and work to evenly combine. Knead for about three minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the ball of dough into a slightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rest for about thirty minutes.



Divide dough into three equal pieces (or more depending on the size of pancake you wish). Roll one piece of dough out into a circle, as thinly as possible.



Brush one side of rolled out dough with a very thin layer of sesame oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt, and scatter scallions evenly and liberally over the dough, making sure to get the edges.



Starting at the edge, carefully roll dough in one direction, encompassing the scallions, until you have a long rope.



Coil the rope (think: cinnamon bun) into a tight bundle.  (Look at the large beehive-like coils on the table on the left with the man in the photo of Beijing earlier in the post.) Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for about thirty minutes.



After they've rested, flatten the coil slightly with your hand.



Roll the disk with a rolling pin, until it is an even circle about 8-10" in diameter.



Heat a tablespoon of peanut or canola oil in a pan over medium-high heat, until the oil shimmers. Gently place the pancake in the pan, laying it away from you as you put it in--so you don't get splashed with oil. Fry gently for about two minutes on both sides until golden brown. Drain briefly on a paper towel.

Cut into wedges. Serve warm with a dipping sauce of soy sauce infused with slices of fresh ginger.
">
SCALLION PANCAKES
Makes three 8-10" pancakes.

I used half all-purpose flour and half cake flour. Cake flour, available in the baking aisle at the grocery store, has a lower gluten content, resulting in a dough that wasn't as tough, and I could roll out thinly much more easily, as it wasn't springing back as I tried to roll. However, you can make this entirely of AP flour, it might just be a little more challenging to roll out thin.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup warm water
sesame oil, about 3 teaspoons
1/2 cup scallions, sliced thin
salt
peanut or canola oil, for frying

Combine flours together. Add water, either in a well in the middle of the flours, or in a stand mixer with a dough hook, and work to evenly combine. Knead for about three minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the ball of dough into a slightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rest for about thirty minutes.



Divide dough into three equal pieces (or more depending on the size of pancake you wish). Roll one piece of dough out into a circle, as thinly as possible.



Brush one side of rolled out dough with a very thin layer of sesame oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt, and scatter scallions evenly and liberally over the dough, making sure to get the edges.



Starting at the edge, carefully roll dough in one direction, encompassing the scallions, until you have a long rope.



Coil the rope (think: cinnamon bun) into a tight bundle.  (Look at the large beehive-like coils on the table on the left with the man in the photo of Beijing earlier in the post.) Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for about thirty minutes.



After they've rested, flatten the coil slightly with your hand.



Roll the disk with a rolling pin, until it is an even circle about 8-10" in diameter.



Heat a tablespoon of peanut or canola oil in a pan over medium-high heat, until the oil shimmers. Gently place the pancake in the pan, laying it away from you as you put it in--so you don't get splashed with oil. Fry gently for about two minutes on both sides until golden brown. Drain briefly on a paper towel.

Cut into wedges. Serve warm with a dipping sauce of soy sauce infused with slices of fresh ginger.





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ebruary
02
Chinese Dumplings


Chinese new year begins tonight at midnight.  An integral part of the celebratory feasts are meat and vegetable stuffed dumplings.  Called jiao-zi in northern China, they are typically eaten right at the start of the new year.  Their crescent shape is reminiscent of the shape of ancient Chinese currency, silver and gold ingots, and eating them at the birth of the new year is thought to bring wealth and prosperity.

When I first moved to New York City in the mid-nineties, I had my first taste of really authentic chinese dumplings.  It was love at first slightly-burned-tongue.  More of an obsession, to be honest, as I would devour as many as I could afford, as often as I could justify.

Three years ago, my husband and I celebrated our honeymoon in China.  I had the wonderful good fortune of being able to learn a tremendous amount about the cuisine, with trips to many local markets, tremendous meals, and some cooking lessons at the Cloud 9 cooking school in Yangshuo on the banks of the breathtaking Li River.

One of the dishes we cooked in class were dumplings.  Here is one of our lovely teachers explaining how to fold the rounds of dough into the crescent shape.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aphirz7wcbM

So below are my recipes for both pork and vegetable dumplings.  I have adapted them through the years from what I learned in that class, what I've learned from a big assortment of great cookbooks, and most definitely from what I've learned from eating this favorite of any food I can think of.  On a desert island, these are what are coming with me.

I am sure there are Chinese grandmothers who will find unauthentic hues in some part of my recipes.  But they are as authentic as I've been able to learn through every best effort, and when I burn my tongue with that first divine chewy bite, send me back to China and Chinatowns I've loved, and make me feel very fortunate.

Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce

With the blunt edge of a cleaver or chef's knife, smash and bruise the ginger. Put into a 1/2 cup of cold water and let sit for at least 10 minutes.

Combine all other ingredients with the pork. Stirring in one direction, slowly add strained ginger water to pork mixture, making sure to squeeze out ginger to get as much juice as you can. Discard ginger solids. Stir until water is incorporated. Refrigerate until ready to fill dumplings.

You may pan fry a small spoonful of the filling to sample and adjust seasoning if desired.

Vegetable Filling (for 60 dumplings)
(Below is a combination that I enjoy and is fresh, bright and balanced. But these dumplings are a wonderful blank canvas for vegetable fillings in particular, and a great way to use seasonal produce throughout the year.)
3 large carrots
3 scallions, white and some of green parts
1 1/2 cups packed baby bok choy
8 large fresh shitake mushrooms
1/2 cup packed fresh spinach leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger (freeze first, and grate on a microplane for great results.)
3 teaspoons sesame oil

Grate or chop all vegetables as finely as possible and combine. Alternatively, you can chop all vegetables in a food processor, until it resembles a chunky paste. Combine vegetables with salt, pepper, ginger and sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasoning.




Dough (for approximately 60 dumplings)
(You can certainly use any of the round of dumpling wrappers that are widely available at grocery stores and asian specialty food markets, but if you have a little extra time, making the dough yourself is a well-rewarded effort.)
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water


Comine flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water. Slowly combine from the sides of the well, and knead until all incorporated. Knead for at least 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 20 minutes.

Alternatively you can make the dough in a stand mixer using the dough hook.

After the dough has rested, roll out on a floured surface, into a rope about the width of your thumb. Cut pieces a little less than an inch, so when rolled into a ball they are about the size of a large cherry. Keep unused dough under a damp cloth as you work.

Flatten the balls into a disk and then roll out into a circle about 3-3.5 inches in diameter, using more flour as needed. You can also run them through a pasta roller, at number 4 thickness.

Assembly
(Please see video above.)
Place one circle of dough in the palm of your hand. With your finger, lightly wet the outer edge of the dough with water, to help make the seal.  Place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of the dough. Pinch the top and bottom together at one point, so that it is folded in half. Holding that point with one hand, use your other hand to make one fold on one side of the dough towards the center like a pleat. Repeat on that same side and then seal that half well at the top. Switch hands so the other is holding the center point. Do the same two pleats on the other side towards the center and seal.

Place finished dumplings upright on a baking sheet lined with parchment or slightly floured.
Dumplings can be frozen at this point, by placing the sheet in the freezer, freezing them individually. When frozen they can be removed from the sheet and consolidated to a freezer bag.

To Boil the Dumplings:
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add fresh or frozen (directly from the freezer, no need to thaw) dumplings. Allow water to return to a boil and add one cup of cold water to the pot. Allow to come to a boil again and add one more cup of cold water to the pot. When the water returns to a boil, the dumplings should be cooked through. The addition of the cold water also keeps the water from boiling too vigorously and breaking apart the dumplings.

Dipping Sauce:
My favorite is:
3 parts soy sauce
2 parts Chinkiang vinegar, chinese black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
1 part sesame oil

Mix well to combine.

Another version:
3 parts soy sauce
2 parts Chinkiang vinegar, black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
Fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced, to taste
Sugar, to taste
">
PORK AND VEGETABLE CHINESE DUMPLINGS

Each recipe makes approximately 60 dumplings.

Pork Filling (for 60 dumplings)
1 lb ground pork
4 inch piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled
1/2 cup scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 egg
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce

With the blunt edge of a cleaver or chef's knife, smash and bruise the ginger. Put into a 1/2 cup of cold water and let sit for at least 10 minutes.

Combine all other ingredients with the pork. Stirring in one direction, slowly add strained ginger water to pork mixture, making sure to squeeze out ginger to get as much juice as you can. Discard ginger solids. Stir until water is incorporated. Refrigerate until ready to fill dumplings.

You may pan fry a small spoonful of the filling to sample and adjust seasoning if desired.

Vegetable Filling (for 60 dumplings)
(Below is a combination that I enjoy and is fresh, bright and balanced. But these dumplings are a wonderful blank canvas for vegetable fillings in particular, and a great way to use seasonal produce throughout the year.)
3 large carrots
3 scallions, white and some of green parts
1 1/2 cups packed baby bok choy
8 large fresh shitake mushrooms
1/2 cup packed fresh spinach leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger (freeze first, and grate on a microplane for great results.)
3 teaspoons sesame oil

Grate or chop all vegetables as finely as possible and combine. Alternatively, you can chop all vegetables in a food processor, until it resembles a chunky paste. Combine vegetables with salt, pepper, ginger and sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasoning.




Dough (for approximately 60 dumplings)
(You can certainly use any of the round of dumpling wrappers that are widely available at grocery stores and asian specialty food markets, but if you have a little extra time, making the dough yourself is a well-rewarded effort.)
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water


Comine flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water. Slowly combine from the sides of the well, and knead until all incorporated. Knead for at least 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 20 minutes.

Alternatively you can make the dough in a stand mixer using the dough hook.

After the dough has rested, roll out on a floured surface, into a rope about the width of your thumb. Cut pieces a little less than an inch, so when rolled into a ball they are about the size of a large cherry. Keep unused dough under a damp cloth as you work.

Flatten the balls into a disk and then roll out into a circle about 3-3.5 inches in diameter, using more flour as needed. You can also run them through a pasta roller, at number 4 thickness.

Assembly
(Please see video above.)
Place one circle of dough in the palm of your hand. With your finger, lightly wet the outer edge of the dough with water, to help make the seal.  Place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of the dough. Pinch the top and bottom together at one point, so that it is folded in half. Holding that point with one hand, use your other hand to make one fold on one side of the dough towards the center like a pleat. Repeat on that same side and then seal that half well at the top. Switch hands so the other is holding the center point. Do the same two pleats on the other side towards the center and seal.

Place finished dumplings upright on a baking sheet lined with parchment or slightly floured.
Dumplings can be frozen at this point, by placing the sheet in the freezer, freezing them individually. When frozen they can be removed from the sheet and consolidated to a freezer bag.

To Boil the Dumplings:
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add fresh or frozen (directly from the freezer, no need to thaw) dumplings. Allow water to return to a boil and add one cup of cold water to the pot. Allow to come to a boil again and add one more cup of cold water to the pot. When the water returns to a boil, the dumplings should be cooked through. The addition of the cold water also keeps the water from boiling too vigorously and breaking apart the dumplings.

Dipping Sauce:
My favorite is:
3 parts soy sauce
2 parts Chinkiang vinegar, chinese black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
1 part sesame oil

Mix well to combine.

Another version:
3 parts soy sauce
2 parts Chinkiang vinegar, black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
Fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced, to taste
Sugar, to taste



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Ode to The Minimalist
It was announced yesterday that Mark Bittman's weekly column in the New York Times will end its thirteen year delicious, informative, enthusiastic, and encouraging run.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqChHSsf42c

I have learned many lessons from Mr. Bittman's column.  Starting in 1997, a year after I graduated from college, I cooked recipe after recipe from his writing and suggestions and road maps of seasonal dishes.  His overarching philosophy of don't be intimidated, just get in the kitchen and make good, real food--"It's not rocket science"--is the cornerstone of what I deem most important in the work I do and what I am most trying to impart in this blog.

His article The Well-Dressed Salad Wears Only Homemade in 2006, not only instantly convinced me to remove all store-bought salad dressing from my life, but also started my path of questioning any and all store bought food-stuffs.

He sent my husband and I on a scavenger hunt through winding cobblestoned back streets of Genoa, Italy, and putting Genoa on our itinerary at all, because of his completely intriguing description of the hole-in-the wall greasy spoon, Trattoria Maria, as "one of my favorite restaurants in the world." It ended up being our favorite city of the trip---the trip on which we got engaged.

His coverage of Jim Lahey's no-knead bread technique, sent me, and throngs of other eager cooks, out in search of hearty lidded cast iron cookware (according to the sales person at the Le Creuset outlet in Woodbury Commons: "Are you here because of The Bread?"), and got the country excited about making homemade bread.

I encourage you to go back over his fun, relaxed and heartfelt collection of pieces, and cookbooks (How to Cook Everything, 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food) and find some new favorite recipes.

Thank you, Mr. Bittman.  Looking forward to what's next on the menu.

A few of my favorites from the past years, that I return to again and again:

Soto Ayam--Indonesian Chicken Soup with Noodles and Aromatics

Chard Stuffed with Lemon Saffron Risotto and Mozzarella

Chicken Biriyani

101 Simple Salads for the Season

101 Simple Appetizers in 20 Minutes or Less

Almond-Apricot Granola Bars


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Flavored Salt


In honor of last week's National Popcorn Day, I've done some tinkering in the kitchen with flavorings.  My favorite project was coming up with different flavored salts.  It is outrageous that I haven't done this sooner, and even more outrageous the number of super costly little precious jars of flavored finishing salts that I have sitting in my spice cabinet.

The technique is nothing more than combining good quality salt, either kosher or sea salt, and good quality spices, herbs, citrus, or a combination.  It is up to you as far as the ratio of salt to flavors, depending on how concentrated you want the flavor and the color, and how strong the ingredient is you are using.  On average I used about 1 part flavor to 1 1/2 parts salt.  Simply put all ingredients in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, food processor, or mortar and pestle and pulse or grind until well incorporated.

Hint:  For spices, toast them lightly first to release more of their flavor.  Place them in a dry pan over medium heat, swirling frequently for a few minutes until they start to become fragrant.

This powdery little flavor bomb is amazing sprinkled over hot fresh popcorn, and as a finish for so many of your dishes.  It also looks gorgeous as a pop of color sprinkled around a plate.  They'll keep for about a year in an airtight container, making them fantastic gifts.  I mean, have you seen what these things cost lately?

Here are a few ideas below, but the combinations are endless.  Keep a little jar or two on your counter, and you'll find yourself using them on everything.  Put a few small dishes on your dinner party table, and let guests play with their food.

CURRY SALT
I used a brilliant french version of an indian masala, called Vadouvan, from the exquisite Spice House in Chicago.  Amazing on popcorn, but also chicken, fish, roasted vegetables (especially cauliflower), or a cold chicken salad.

PIMENTON SALT
Smokey, sweet, brilliantly colored spanish paprika. It rocked on popcorn. Would also be stunning on fried eggs, roasted potatoes, grilled shrimp, and roasted meats.

CHIVE AND SHALLOT SALT
I used some high quality freeze dried shallots and chives (again, thank you Spice House), resulting in a savory blend that exploded with the most amazing aroma as it hit the hot popcorn. It was also absurdly good on my poached eggs this morning, and the small batch is almost gone. Mashed potatoes? Yes. Roast Chicken? Yes. Just about anything you want to spruce up with a little savory brightness? Most definitely. Bonus points for drying your own homegrown chives.

CITRUS SALT
Zest the peel of a lemon, lime, orange, meyer lemon or tangerine. Allow to dry on paper towel, and then combine with salt.
Poultry and seafood would be particularly good, as well as roasted peppers.

VANILLA SALT
Split and scrape a vanilla bean, and combine seeds with salt. Could have interesting results with some delicate fish and lobster, but I'm dreaming more of a stunning salty finish to a dessert, on a scoop of dense gelato, or a crunch on dark chocolate covered caramels.


CHINESE FIVE SPICE POWDER SALT
Get the best five spice you can, and then bring me the popcorn! ...And the roasted chicken wings, roasted pork, roasted brussels sprouts, and noodles.

PORCINI SALT
Pulse dried porcini mushrooms in grinder to a fine powder, and then pulse with salt. This earthy, chocolaty, elegant finisher adds a new element to a side of rice, a creamy pasta, eggs, a crostini with oozy cheese, or topping a puree of potato soup.

LEMONGRASS AND KAFFIR LIME
Dry both slightly, and grind with salt to make a bright, southeast Asian inspired topping. Beautiful in a ramen soup, on grilled fish or chicken, and even as an unexpected finisher to desserts.



 

 


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Popcorn
[caption id="attachment_1177" align="alignleft" width="319" caption="My younger sister, circa 1996."][/caption]

This Wednesday was National Popcorn Day.  Yes, I seemed to miss the parade too.

We ate gallons of air popped popcorn growing up.  And later in the 80s, I quite willingly made the transition to the ballooning bags in the microwave.  Then on August 14, 2003 my popcorn life was changed forever.  That day was the massive blackout across most of the northeast.  I was living in Brooklyn at the time, and working in Times Square.  With every form of public, and private, transportation debilitated, I walked to a friends apartment (in flip flops) thirty blocks south.  I spent the night there, before walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (ah-hem, flip flops) the next morning.  With no electricity, we scrounged up a pretty great eight-hour happy hour in their courtyard, subsisting mostly on popcorn popped on their gas stove.

If you haven't made it before, RUN (ideally not in flip flops) to your stove and whip up a batch of anti-microwave popcorn.  The instructions are below.  A bag of kernels yeilds so much more, costing so much less, than a box of three microwave bags.  And you get to control the flavor, fat, salt, and freshness of the whole production.  (psssst...a lot less packaging and waste for the planet too!)

Look for popcorn kernels at your farmer's markets as well!  A great, whole food, snack that you can easily replenish again and again on game day.

And coming up next is the main attraction:  DIY Flavored Salts!


Remove from heat.  Carefully remove lid, as a lot of steam will build up during the cooking process.  Season to taste.

Note:  This yields about 8 cups of popped corn, depending on variety and number of dud kernels.  It is a deceivingly small amount of kernels which results in such a large amount of finished product.   Resist the urge to throw in another handful, or else you could exceed the capacity of the pot and end up with a small disaster.
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STOVETOP POPCORN
3 Tablespoon Cooking Oil (Canola, Sunflower, Peanut--oils with a high smoke point, not olive oil)
1/3 Cup Popcorn Kernels

Pour oil and 3-4 popcorn kernals in a large heavy bottomed pot, with a lid.  Cover with lid and put over high heat.  Wait for "test kernals" to pop, and then carefully remove the lid and pour in the remaining kernels all at once.  Return the lid to the pot and turn heat down slightly. Shake pot frequently, back and forth, as the corn is popping.  Continue until the pops decrease to every few seconds.

Remove from heat.  Carefully remove lid, as a lot of steam will build up during the cooking process.  Season to taste.

Note:  This yields about 8 cups of popped corn, depending on variety and number of dud kernels.  It is a deceivingly small amount of kernels which results in such a large amount of finished product.   Resist the urge to throw in another handful, or else you could exceed the capacity of the pot and end up with a small disaster.


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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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