Sunday, August 30, 2015

Slow-Fried Potatoes, Caramelized Onions, Thyme and Taleggio

This past week I was finally given the go-ahead to begin running again. Only there was a caveat. I had to ease back into it and only run for short periods of time. My joy and jubilation at hearing this news gave way to some anxiousness (you mean I have to learn how to breathe and run at the same time all over again?) and a bit of hypochondria (is that really a pain I am feeling or am I just imagining it?). These past three months may have contributed to the recovery of my stress fracture, but they haven't done anything to curb my rather active imagination. Rejoining my running group was one of the highlights of the week although for the short term I will be more of a walk/runner than a run/runner. While my 'running' partner' is making great strides in her speed and endurance, I am trying very hard to remind myself to be patient, that there are bigger goals to accomplish. Like running injury free; like getting ready for the upcoming 5k, the winter 5 miler I first ran 15 years ago, and the bridge run in Charleston, South Carolina; and oh, yes, like being able keep pace with her once again (and secretly hope to out pace her just once even though she is more than fifteen years my junior).

Speaking of secrets, most of us have a friend or family member who we hope will bring their 'famous' cheesey potato casserole to the summer barbecue, graduation party, or holiday gathering. You know the one. Made with some type of frozen hash brown potatoes and usually topped with crushed corn flakes.  Where the gooeyness and cheesiness factor is determined by how much cheese (or do I dare say Velvetta?), sour cream, cream cheese, canned cream soup, and/or butter going into them. The one where as you seriously consider going back for seconds, you dare not think or talk of this comfort food's caloric content, unless of course, you want to be labeled as the spoilsport, party pooper, or killjoy. If there is a downside to these cheesey potato casseroles it's that most recipes make enough to serve the twelve guests you invited and the other twelve you didn't. 

Eating comfort food feels like getting a big, strong hug. You know, the really good two-armed from the heart kind, not the lame, wimpy, impersonal one-armed ones. In almost any form or combination, potatoes and cheese pull you into that kind of strong, take your breath away hug you want to get lost in and have linger on for as long as possible. A cheesey potato casserole and the Potato Leek Gratin are the tight grip kind. And just when you think it doesn't get any better than that, along comes a potato and cheese dish created by Nigel Slater. This one completely engulfs you into a kind of pure bliss, heart-racing embrace. 

Nigel Slater is an English food writer, James Beard award winning cookbook author, and television personality (think of him as the English version of a really good Food Network Star). In the never ending world of sometimes complicated, hard to find ingredients, and trendy not destined to be timeless cookbooks, most of the recipes in Slater's cookbooks swing closer to the ''big flavored, unpretentious, uncomplicated' end of the pendulum. As someone who believes the quality of the ingredients is as essential as the recipe (and let's not forget the cook), his approach to the preparation of food, of meals, is one focused on simplicity and deliciousness. My introduction to Nigel Slater came from a very dear friend, who likes to cook and was born on the other side of the Atlantic. Were it not for this friend, I may have never discovered Slater's recipe for Slow-Fried Potatoes, Caramelized Onions, Thyme and Taleggio. 

Sometimes you take a risk when you make a substitution in a recipe. However, the use of Yukon Gold potatoes (instead of the waxy Red Bliss or New Potato varieties) was one of those low risk, having a great reward decisions. If you take into consideration the Yukon Gold potato is an all-purpose kind of potato with rock star status, you know it is almost a stretch to say I took a risk.

Whenever a recipe calls for caramelizing onions, I tend to use a Spanish or a sweet onion (like a Vidalia). But the perfect looking organic yellow onions at the market this week seemed to be saying 'pick me'. So I did.

Thinly slicing means different things for different vegetables and to different people. Deciding how thick or thin to cut the garlic, onions, and potatoes would definitely affect the outcome of this dish. How thin to cut the garlic and onions were the easier decisions. Considering coins in England are sized differently than the ones here in the US, the 'coin cut' reference for the potatoes wasn't as exact as I wanted it to be. I landed a cut somewhere between 1/8" and a 1/4", leaning more toward the 1/8" cut size. The use of a mandolin to slice the vegetables uniformly would have made cutting easier and faster, however, I decided it was 'a work on my knife cutting skills kind of day'. The same person who made me aware of Nigel Slater is the same person who influenced my decision to buy a Shun knife. On the days I had to use bandages when using this knife, I am less than grateful for being made aware of this amazing, 'you absolutely need to pay attention' when cutting knife. 

The sliced onions are sautéed in the extra-virgin olive oil and unsalted butter until soft and golden, but not to the point of caramelization. The onions will continue to take on more flavor and color when cooked with the potatoes, garlic and fresh thyme.

After adding the potatoes, garlic, thyme, kosher salt and black pepper to the cooked onions, the heat is turned down to a simmer and the pan covered with a tightly fitting lid. The mixture will continue to cook for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and lightly golden. Gently stirring the mixture every 10 minutes will help ensure even cooking and color.

Taleggio is a creamy, sweet yet slightly acidic, perfect for melting Italian cow's milk cheese. Some describe it as being aromatic with an aftertaste of truffle. In less than culinary acceptable descriptive terms, I will just say it is insanely delicious. And melted over the slow-fried potatoes and caramelized onions tossed with freshly chopped time, it is nothing short of pure sinfulness. The kind of dish you put on your last meal wish list.

Thinly (here we go again) slices of the Taleggio cheese are placed randomly over the top of the cooked potatoes and onions. Covering the pan with the lid, the cheese melts perfectly in approximately 2-3 minutes. The aroma of these Slow-Fried Potatoes, Caramelized Onions, Thyme and Taleggio is intoxicating. 

The Slow-Fried Potatoes, Caramelized Onions, Thyme and Taleggio can either be a side dish or a main dish. As a main dish it can be served with a poached egg over for breakfast or with a salad for lunch or dinner. As a side dish it would pair well with a roasted chicken or grilled steak. 

If serving as a side dish, Nigel Slater believes this recipe should be enough for four people. And I agree with him. But don't plan on having any leftovers. Which means if you are having a dinner party for six or more, you will need to make the necessary adjustments in ingredient amounts, cooking time and possibly pan size.

With potatoes and onions available year round, this is a four season, four star dish. The Slow-Fried Potatoes, Caramelized Onions, Thyme and Taleggio take the potato-cheese combination to a completely different level of gastronomy. This might be the highest praise one can give to a relatively inexpensive, simple in preparation, delivering a great depth of flavor, and capable of sending you into a state of bliss dish. If there is any guilt to be had with regard to this redefined version of cheesey potatoes, it will come only if you don't say 'seconds please'. Once your family and friends taste them, they won't secretly wish for you to make them. They will just flat out request them.

Slow-Fried Potatoes, Caramelized Onions, Thyme and Taleggio (inspired by the Nigel Slater recipe shared in his cookbook Real Food, 1998 edition)

1 3/4 pounds (500 g) Yukon Gold potatoes or waxy potatoes (approximately 3 large), thinly sliced (do not peel)
1 medium-to-large sized yellow onion, thinly sliced (recommend a Spanish, Vidalia, or organic yellow onion)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 1/2 Tablespoons (50 g) unsalted butter
2-3 cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced
A generous Tablespoon of freshly chopped thyme
generous 1/3 pound (100-110 g) Taleggio or Fontina cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1. In a 9-10 inch shallow, heavy bottomed skillet (one having a lid), heat the extra-virgin olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add sliced onions and cook until they are soft and golden in color. (approximately 10-15 minutes).
2. Add sliced potatoes, sliced garlic, kosher salt, black pepper and thyme. Toss to ensure the potatoes are well coated in the oil/butter mixture and the herbs.
3. Turn the heat down to a simmer, cover pan and cook for 40-50 minutes (or until the potatoes are soft and golden. Gently stir mixture every 10 minutes to ensure even cooking as well as to prevent the onions from burning.
4. Slice taleggio cheese thinly and lay randomly over the cooked potatoes and onions. Place lid on pan and cook over low heat for an additional 2-3 minutes or until the cheese has begun to melt.
5. Sprinkle with additional chopped thyme and a pinch of kosher salt. Serve immediately.
Notes: (1) I used one of my Staub pans in the making of this recipe and it cooked the onions and potatoes to perfection, (2) It will serve 2 as a generous main course or up to 4 as a side dish. If serving for a larger gathering, make adjustments in ingredients and pan size as necessary, (3) They reheat beautifully in the oven or microwave if wanting to serve for breakfast topped with a poached egg.

Iconic and conflicting historical images from Annapolis. The Maryland State House.

The Thurgood Marshall Memorial.

Statue of Roger Brooke Taney.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies

After spending a long, whirlwind, weather perfect weekend exploring parts of Philadelphia and Annapolis, I haven't been able to get all of the 'experienced for the first time' images out of my head. From the historic sites in the Old City section of Philadelphia, to the vibrancy of the Reading Terminal Market, to the architecture of the buildings and homes on the narrow streets in Annapolis, to the breathtaking views on the Chesapeake Bay, my heart is still racing from the sheer beauty of the places with two very distinct personalities, yet ones retaining their Colonial days aura. On the food front, the cheesesteaks, tomato pie, and soft baked pretzels in Philly were delicious, however, the crab cakes made with fresh lump Maryland crab caused me to fall even more deeply, madly in love with Annapolis. Already I am wondering when I might be able to make a return trip there. 

After several days of absolutely gorgeous, sunny, low humidity, white cloud sky days out east, I returned back to the midwest to what felt like early October chilly weather. For a millisecond I thought 'how long was I gone for?' As much as I would selfishly like for summer to hang around for a little while longer, I must confess I can barely contain my enthusiasm for the arrival of my most favorite season. From the cooler temperature weather, to the changes in the colors of the landscape, to the return of my favorite holidays, to perfect sleeping weather, and to when just turning on the oven to bake is enough to take the chill out of the house, autumn is one of those seasons I wish could go on endlessly. While winter can sometimes be a bit of grinch and encroach on the final days of fall, it is a welcome blessing when summer graciously allows fall to begin a little early. 

I managed to read an entire book ("The Martian") during my weekend getaway (making my flights with stops being a little more palatable), flip through a few food magazines picked up in the airport on the flight out, and keep up with the myriad of food related emails populating my inbox. The book was exceptional, a must read in spite causing me to weep in public. The magazines were filled with ideas and inspiration. However, reading about one of Tartine's cookie recipes in an email made me incredibly grateful I had returned home to perfect baking weather temperatures. Before even unpacking my luggage, I went through my cabinets to make sure I had all of the ingredients for their Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies. Discovering a quick morning trip to the grocery store to pick up some muscovado sugar was necessary, taking the the eggs and butter out of the refrigerator before ultimately heading to bed guaranteed I would be committed to making these cookies. 

Muscovado sugar is an unrefined dark brown cane sugar having a strong molasses flavor and slightly coarser than most brown sugars. With a texture similar to a wet, moist, sticky sand and having hints of fruit and toffee, muscovado has a more complex flavor profile than granulated sugar or light/dark brown sugars. But if it isn't something easily accessible in your grocery store, dark brown sugar can be substituted. However, if you can find organic dark brown sugar (versus the boxed or bagged 'normal' dark brown sugar) buy it as that would be a great substitute. Not exactly the same as muscovado, organic brown sugar is the next best thing. And it is what I used for these cookies (Trader Joe's has a great organic brown sugar).

I have recently become a big fan of the use of rye flour in pie crusts and other baked confections.  It so happens these cookies call for the use of an organic dark rye whole grain flour (Bob's Red Mill makes a great dark rye flour). Unfortunately there is no substitute for this flour. Once you start using it, more than likely it will become one of your flour staples. I promise.

There is a full pound of dark chocolate with 70-72% cocoa in these cookies. And in my world there is no such thing as too much chocolate. However, there are only four tablespoons of butter in these cookies. So on balance it's all good.

Tartine recommends melting the chocolate and butter using the double-boiler method. I used the microwave method. Use whichever method you have had the most success with. 

I am not the first one to share Tartine's Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies on a food blog. But sometimes being late to the party is a good thing. Several foodbloggers shared the cookies flattened slightly after cooling (and some photos showed a pretty flat cookie). I wanted to make these cookies but I didn't want them to be flat. So I wondered if making a change to the chilling process (sort of but not exactly like the one used in Tara's Chocolate Chip Cookies) would ensure my cookies remain slightly puffy once they cooled to room temperature. If a picture tells a thousand words (or even just a few), these may have answered my question.

This is a very soft dough cookie when initially mixed. It is one that must be chilled for 30-45 minutes before it is scooped out into tablespoon sized balls (an ice cream scoop makes this easier). But the first chilling isn't enough to make it feasible to roll them into balls. Covering the cookie sheet filled with dough 'rough' balls with plastic wrap, they go back in the refrigerator for a second chilling. I waited three hours (because I had some errands to), however, I think a chilling time of at least an hour would work. Making perfect round 'balls' is easier if you allow them to sit out for about 15 minutes before rolling out the 'rough' dough balls.

Topped with flaky (Maldon) sea salt, the cookies are baked in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven for 8-11 minutes. My baking time was closer to 11 minutes, which was probably due to my slightly larger than one tablespoon sized balls of cookie dough.

Biting into this cookie is better than biting into your favorite fudgy brownie. The very slight exterir crunch gives way to an inside having an amazing creamy like, rich chocolately texture. These are definitely decadent, addictive cookies. Even if you think you do not need one more cookie in your cookie making rotation, especially one requiring dark rye flour and/or a dark brown organic sugar (things you might not normally buy) or made with a pound of chocolate, think again. And if you are thinking of waiting to make these cookies until the holidays, think again. 

I brought these cookies to my running group and several of them called me the 'devil'. While in another context I may have frowned at hearing that comparison, it was the best thing anyone said to me all day.

After making and tasting these cookies I ended up buying Tartine's third cookbook, one published two years ago. Again, a little late to the party. If my subtle attempts at encouraging you to visit Annapolis or read the book 'The Martian" are unsuccessful, I really, really hope you make these Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies. And sooner rather than later. "Beware of missed chances; otherwise it may altogether too late some day."

Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies (ever so slight adaptation to the recipe in Tartine Book No. 3: Modern Ancient Classic Whole)

1 pound bittersweet chocolate (70-72% cocoa), chopped (I used Trader Joe's Belgium Dark Chocolate with 72% cocoa)
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup whole-grain dark rye flour (recommend Bob's Red Mill)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups organic brown sugar, muscovado sugar, or dark brown sugar, packed (I used Trader Joe's Organic Brown sugar)
1 Tablespoon vanilla
Flaky Sea Salt (recommend Maldon)

1. In a medium sized bowl, add in chopped chocolate and butter. Melt over medium heat in a saucepan filled with one inch of water brought to a simmer (be careful that bottom of the bowl is not touching the water). Stir occasionally until chocolate and butter are melted. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly. Alternately, melt chocolate in the microwave. 
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the rye flour, baking powder and fine sea salt.
3. Place the eggs in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high, adding the sugar a few tablespoons at a time, until all the sugar is incorporated.  Turn mixer to high and whip until eggs have tripled in volume and turned very light yellow and fluffy (approximately 6 minutes).
4. Reduce the speed on the mixer to low and add melted chocolate, followed by the the vanilla. Mix to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
5. Add in flour mixture and stir until just combined. Note: The dough will be very soft.
6. Refrigerate dough until it is firm to the touch (approximately 30-45 minutes). Note: If cooled too long, the dough will be hard to scoop.
7. Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator. Using a tablespoon sized ice cream scoop, form rounded balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover the dough balls with plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator for 60-180 minutes.
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
9. Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator and roll each dough ball until round and smooth. Place on a prepared baking sheet, spacing cookies 2 inches apart. Top each mound of dough with a few flakes of sea salt, pressing gently so it adheres. Note: Allowing the chilled dough balls to sit for 10 minutes makes rolling easier.
10. Bake 8-11 minutes or until the cookies have puffed up, have a smooth bottom and a rounded top with a few small cracks. Remove baking sheets from the oven and allow to sit for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Allow to cool completely. Serve immediately.
Note: Cookies will keep up to 3 days in an airtight container.

Images taken while walking in Central City Philadelphia and the Reading Terminal Market.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Blackberry Almond Tart

By the time you see this blog I will be on a plane with my overpacked (and more than likely over the weight limit) bags heading east to spend a long weekend with my nephew. Last summer we spent a long weekend exploring several towns in Montana, his 'summer internship' home state. This year our adventure will be spent discovering various parts of Pennsylvania, his 'first job post college graduation' home state. While our whirlwind weekend is already over planned (hardly a surprise there), I am secretly hoping we can squeeze in a stop in at least one antique store (because how can one possibly spend any time in Pennsylvania and not look for centuries old treasures?) and a farmer's market or road side stand (because how could one resist the allure of freshly harvested fruits and vegetables). Keeping my fingers crossed the platter of homemade chocolate chip cookies baked in the wee hours before leaving for the airport will be enough to sway him into granting one, if not both, of these wishes. 

If our Pennsylvania adventure is anything like the one we had in Montana, this should be another story-filled, memorable, heart-endearing, great food finds, filled with firsts, reinforcing my quirky aunt status (but not 100% of the time) trips. What comes with getting older and wiser is the realization that the memories of a trip or adventure are far more valuable than any tangible gift could ever be (except maybe that 8th grade graduation not exactly jump up and down exciting graphing calculator present).  If I asked my now chemical engineering degreed nephew what were the gifts he received for all of the significant events in his life, he may recall some of them. But if I asked him about the trips to New Orleans, Montana, the Ivy League college visits, or the weekend visit adventures, I am pretty certain he would remember details from each of them. Even the ones going back to when he was just two years old (although there are few things I would like for him to forget!). Family connections aside, this amazing closeness between us, without a doubt, has been as a result of the quality and quantity of time we have spent and continue to spend together. 

The weather here this week felt more autumnal than summery. Definitely cause for it's own kind of celebration. With the decreased heat and humidity came the added incentive to bake this light and fluffy frangipane with seasonal blackberry tart. 

If by chance you have never made or tasted anything having an almond rich frangipane (fran-jee-pan-ee) filling before, it is your lucky day. Similar to a pastry cream, almond paste is mixed together with sugar, butter, eggs, and flour to create a soft, velvety, spreadable cream and used primarily as a filling in tarts or croissants. Topped with slivered almonds and sanding sugar, this Blackberry Almond Tart has both a buttery crust and a luscious frangipane filling studded with fresh, ripe blackberries. In a single bite it is french pastry meets summer bounty goodness. Or in other worlds, it is one of those best of both worlds kind of tarts. 

My anxiety-free crust making confidence took a bit of a setback in the making of this tart. Not only was the crust dough was much softer than I had anticipated, it was also slightly more humid than I realized. The crust ingredients call for 1 1/2 cups of pastry flour, but I should have added a little flour more before attempting to knead the dough. And had I allowed the crust to refrigerate for longer than two hours I may have never had to experience a few moments of angst when rolling out and transferring the dough to the 9 inch tart pan. All growling aside, I managed to make it all work. These were the lessons learned when making this tender crumb, buttery crust. So if by any chance you have a similar experience when you make this crust, just persevere as it is incredibly delicious when baked.

The pastry filling will come together easier if you cut up the almond paste before mixing with the butter and sugar. Another one of the lessons learned in the making of this tart.

The almond paste rich taste of the filling might have you think the sliced almonds on top are unnecessary or a bit too much. They aren't. Not only do they add a beautiful finishing touch to the tart, they add some crunch. My new favorite thing is adding a little 'sparkle' on tarts and most pies. Sprinkling a white/clear sanding sugar gives them the most beautiful bakery look finish.

The tart is baked in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven in the lower part of the oven. In case you ever wondered if oven rack position matters, it does. Most cookies and cakes are baked on a rack centered in the oven. As a general rule, if having the bottom brown during baking is critical, the rack is adjusted lower in the oven. Conversely, if it is the top you want to brown, the rack would be adjusted higher. This tart needs both a browned bottom and browned top. So if after 35 of baking time the top of your tart is not a golden brown color, place it on a higher rack and back for an additional 5-10 minutes.

The only adornment this Blackberry Almond Tart needs is a light dusting of confectionary sugar. Some slightly sweetened whipped cream would be nice to balance out the deep almond flavor of the tart, but completely optional.

After cooling the tart on a wire rack, remove the rim of the pan and place the tart on a platter. This is one of those worthy of being placed on a 'pedestal' platter.

Before blackberries go out of season, and you want to make something other than a cobbler, pie or crisp, consider making this tart. 

Well it's getting late here and I still have a long list of things to get done before I leave the house. And if there is anyone you care about deeply, love, or value being in your life, spend time with them, make memories as often as you can, go on an adventure, share meals together, bake for them. Have a great weekend. 
Blackberry Almond Tart (slight adaptation the Blackberry Almond Tart recipe created by Elsie Rhodes, a pastry chef at the Hyannis (MA) Pain D'Avignon)

15 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectionary sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups pastry flour, plus additional for work surface
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

6 ounces almond paste, cut into pieces (recommend Odense Almond Paste)
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 pints fresh blackberries
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1-2 Tablespoons sanding sugar (optional)
Confectionary sugar for dusting

1. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or using a hand held mixer, cream butter and confectionary sugar at medium speed until mixture is pale in color (approximately 2-3 minutes).
2. Add egg and beat well.
3. Add flour, vanilla and salt, mixing until combined.
4. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface, kneading for 2 or 3 turns. Note: This is a softer dough, however, if your dough feels 'unkneadable' add little more flour. 
5. Form dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. Recommend allowing the dough to chill at least 3 hours as a chilling time of 2 hours made rolling out the dough a bit challenging.
6. Roll chilled dough out on a lightly floured surface into a 1/4" thick circle. Transfer to a 9 inch removable bottom tart pan. Press dough into sides of pan and roll the rolling pin over top of tart pan to create a clean finished top. Refrigerate dough while preparing the filling.
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F) and set rack to the bottom of the oven.

Filling and Assembly
1. Using a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a hand held mixer, cream the almond paste with the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (approximately 5 to 7 minutes).
2. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of the bowl as needed.
3. With the mixer on low speed, add flour and beat until blended.
4. Scrape filling into the prepared shell, using an offset spatula to smooth the top.
5. Press blackberries down into the filling, distributing them evenly throughout. 
6. Top with sliced almonds and sanding sugar.
7. Place tart on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until top is golden brown (approximately 35-40 minutes). Note: My baking time was almost 45 minutes.
8. Allow tart to cool on a wire rack.
9. Remove rim from tart and transfer to a platter or cake stand. Lightly dust with confectionary sugar.
10. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. 
Optional: Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream and/or additional fresh blackberries.