Hassleback Potato Casserole

Acclaimed food science writer, J. Kenji López-Alt has developed this sort of “mash-up ” ( if you will ) of a classic French gratin, and a beautiful Hassleback potato recipe. The idea is to stand the slices of potato vertically, rather than laying them flat. This ensures each serving receives both a creamy potato serving and a crispy edge in each bite.

This is my adaption.

You’ll Need:

4 to 4 ½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick slices with a sharp knife of on a mandoline 

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup chicken stock

3 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, leaves removed for the stem

Kosher salt and black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes

2 cups finely grated Gruyère cheese

1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 bunch chives, chopped for garnish

Here’s How:

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400’F degrees. Combine cheeses in a large bowl. Transfer 1/3 of cheese mixture to a separate bowl and set aside for garnish.

Add cream, stock, garlic and thyme to the cheese mixture, and mix well. Season with salt and pepper, add white pepper, and red chili flakes– stir to combine.

Add potato slices and toss with your hands until every slice is coated with cream mixture, making sure to separate any slices that are sticking together to get the cream mixture in between them.

Prepare a 2-quart casserole dish with butter. Place on a high sided baking sheet.

Pick up a handful of potatoes, organizing them into a neat deck stack, lay them in the casserole dish with their edges aligned vertically. Continue placing potatoes in the dish, working around the perimeter and into the center until all the potatoes have been added. The potatoes should be very tightly packed. If necessary, slice an additional potato, coat with cream mixture, and add to casserole. It is important the potatoes are very tight.

Pour the excess cheese mixture evenly over the top of the potatoes in the casserole dish until the mixture comes halfway up the sides. You may not need all the excess liquid.

Cover dish tightly with foil– sprayed on the inside with non-stick cooking spray. Transfer to the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until the top is golden brown, about 45 minutes longer.

Carefully remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining cheese, and return to oven. Bake until deep golden brown and crisp on top, about 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven, let rest for a few minutes,  garnish with chopped chives and serve.

Enjoy!

Fresh Summer Cherry Vinaigrette

It’s easy to speed through the Central Valley of California or roll along the farm-bounded country roads less traveled, and find some great fresh fruits, nuts and delicious vegetables, especially during summer.  

If you find yourself in the heart of some of the world’s most productive farmland, grab yourself  some fresh delicious cherries,– season is closing – ( although some might argue- you can find cherries year round here ) Touring California you can see some familiar classics, like garnet-colored, ultra-juicy California Bings & others types less well known, like Coral Champagne cherries, a sweet and firm cherry that ripens a little earlier in the year.

I “can” a bushel of cherries every June. I love to made cherries in brandy for holiday gift giving– and now– I’m focused on making delicious, sweet, yet tart cherry vinaigrette.

So scrumcious on crisp summer salads and spectacular with grilled foods. Enjoy!

You’ll Need

1 cup dark red ripe cherries, pitted and de-stemmed

2 Tablespoons local organic honey

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 cup good quality aged balsamic vinegar

1 shallot, peeled and rough chopped

1 clove fresh garlic, peeled and root trimmed

1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

Scant cinnamon ( optional )

Kosher salt to taste

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Heres How: 

In a stand blender or the bowl of your food processor— add the cherries, honey, lemon juice, vinegar, shallot and garlic clove. Cover and process until the cherries look like a smooth puree.

With the mixer running, gradually add the oil in a slow steady stream until the combination has become emulsified and creamy.

Season with salt and pepper as needed. Immediately dress a salad, or something fun like smokey grilled pork chops. The dressing thickens over time, so add a touch of warm water to reconstitute. Keep up to a week refrigerated air-tight.

photo credit: chefs resource

Toasted Banana Bread Sammie

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup cold butter cut into chunks

2 cups sugar

2 cups ripe mashed bananas (about 6 bananas)

3 eggs, slightly beaten

2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 2 8 x 4 x 3-inch loaf pans. Set aside.

Stir together the flour, salt and baking soda in a bowl, set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, until pale in color and creamy- about 3-4 minutes.  Add the bananas, eggs, vanilla – mix just till combine. the batter will look like it is broken.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until the batter is thoroughly blended. Do not over beat. Add walnuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake on doubled sheet pans for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean, or with only a few moist crumbs.

Cover with foil the last fifteen minutes of baking if the tops begins to get to brown. This recipe will produce and inherently dark loaf.

Remove the loaves from the oven and allow them to cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes, then turn them out on a cooling rack and let them cool completely.

Chill before cutting and use a serrated knife for the cleanest cuts.

Optional : Dust the top with powdered sugar before slicing and serving  or,  make toasted banana sammies. Makes 2 8 x 4-inch loaves.

Toasted Banana Sammie

Ingredients:

2 ½-inch thick slices of banana bread

2 tablespoons whipped cream cheese

1/2 fresh banana, sliced

1 teaspoon honey

Method:

Toast the slices of banana bread to your desired darkness and remove from the toaster.

Cool slightly. Spread whipped cream cheese on one slice, top the cream cheese with banana slices and drizzle the banana slices with honey.

Top with the remaining slice of Banana Bread.

Slice diagonally and serve.

Makes 1 sandwich.

Vegan Baked Apple Pastry Roses

I wrote this recipe for my friends over at #30SecondMom. Thought I’d share with you too if you don’t follow me there.

You’ll need:

  • 6 red apples, cored, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/2 cup melted vegan butter or regular butter
  • 1 package phyllo dough
  • nonstick spray
  • water or nut milk, to seal
  • equal parts cinnamon and sugar
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • powdered sugar

Here’s how to make it:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Saute the apples in the vegan butter until soft.
  3. Lay 4 phyllo sheets flat and spread butter in between each sheet.
  4. Cut four 3-inch by 6-inch strips.
  5. Sprinkle the strips with cinnamon-sugar mixture.
  6. Place apple slices overlapping along the long side of the dough. Use about half an apple per strip. Top with the almonds.
  7. Fold the bottom half of the dough up to meet the other side of the dough, enclosing about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the apple slices to form one long ruler-like pocket. Now roll from the right to the left to form the rose. Use water or nut milk to seal the edges.
  8. Bake in the muffin tins for about 10-12 minutes, or until brown.
  9. Cool and top with powdered sugar before serving.

Pita Bread Made Three ways- Grilled, Baked or on the Stove Top.

I love making Pita Bread fresh. I can’t decide if I like it better made in my cast iron pan on the stove top, or my pizza stone baked in the oven, or… my outdoor grill; which gives significant additional flavor. You decide. Regardless how you make it — the key to making really good pita is keeping the dough wet, soft and spongy throughout the whole mixing and kneading process. Unlike making any other bread type products– if you begin with wet and sticky sponge and progress slowly adding flour, you will have billowy pitas. Is that a word? “Billowy” ?

Pitas

 

Ingredients: 

1 (.25 ounce) package rapid acting dry yeast

1 cup warm water 90 to 100’F

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons good quality olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

1 additional teaspoon olive oil, divided or good quality cooking oil spray

 

 

Method:

Place the yeast into the work bowl of  your stand mixer and add 1 cup warm water. Make a slurry. Add 1 cup of the flour. Whisk together with a hand whisk and let stand 15 to 20 minutes. Wait for the mixture to create air bubbles and form a loose looking foamy starter sponge. The mixture will look wet like a slurry and nothing like you would expect to begin a bread dough with. You baking instincts will tell you to add additional flour- but resist the urge.

Once the dough is spongey and full of foam and bubbles, add 2 Tablespoons olive oil, and the salt. Stir, and second addition of flour in small increments string in between each addition. The dough should continue to look spongy and sticky. With the kneading attachment, now combine together at low speed until ingredients are mixed through really well, but remember to keep the starter dough slightly sticky.

If dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl and not mix into a ball, add a little additional flour–a little at a time, not to exceed an additional 1/4 cup. Once dough is kneading without sticking to the bowl but still somewhat gooey. Begin to time your kneading  about to 5-6 minutes on very low speed– until the dough springs back to the touch, and is   very soft.

Remove the dough to a work surface and form into a large ball.

Wipe inside of the bowl with 1/4 teaspoon of the additional olive oil, or a quick spray. Place dough ball back into the mixing bowl and turn upside down to insure the dough is completely covered in a light coating of the olive oil. This will prevent air from hardening with dough during the resting time.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rest until it has doubled in volume. Approximately 2 hours.

After dough has doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and place onto a floured work surface. Gently shape about 1 inch thick log. Use kitchen scissors or a knife- cut dough into 8 pieces.

Form each piece into a smaller round ball carefully pulling dough from the top center of each piece, pulling down and tucking under to form a ball. Do not work the dough any more than necessary. Place each ball on a gently on a silicon mat or parchment or plastic lined baking sheet and allow to rest covered for an additional 30 minutes until they have doubled in size.

Once the dough has completed its second rising- dust a clean work surface with a small amount of flour and top of the balls and your hands with a little flour. Gently pat dough ball flat with your fingers, forming a flat, round  disc 1/4 inch thick and using a rolling pin form a 6 inch pita. Continue until all the balls have been flattened into discs.

Rest an additional  5- 8 minutes. The continue to your preferred method of baking.

 

On the Stove:

Lightly coat a large cast-iron skillet with remaining olive oil or spray and place over medium-high heat. Make sure the pan is to temperature before adding the dough disc.

Lay flattened discs into hot skillet and cook until bread begins to puff up and bottom is browning well, about 3-4 minutes. Some might not puff, don’t worry they will still be wide enough to cut open for filling. Turn the pita over and cook 2 an additional 2-3 minutes until browned and puffy. They will naturally deflate causing the center to be hallow enough to fill.

Stack pitas on a wire rack to cool. Enjoy Pitas as is, or stuff with your favorite fillings. I love the pan method because my pitas get a nice crispy coating on the outside while the inside remains soft and chewy.

 

In the Oven: 

Place a large pizza stone on the lower oven rack, preheat the oven and the stone to 500 F.

Place 2 pita discs at a time on the hot pizza stone and bake for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the bread puffs up like a balloon and is pale golden. Watch closely; they will bake quickly.

When browned and puffy, remove the bread from the oven and place on a rack to cool for about 5 minutes; they will naturally deflate, leaving a pocket in the center.

Stack pitas on a wire rack to cool. Enjoy Pitas as is, or stuff with your favorite fillings. I love the oven method because my pitas don’t get too many brown spots and they are soft inside and out.

 

On the Grill: 

When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread coals evenly over the charcoal grate. Clean and oil the cooking grate. Let the charcoal sit until it drops in temperature to medium heat.

Right before placing the dough on the grill, give each disc a few mists of water from a spray bottle on both sides. Place the dough on an oiled grill and cook until it starts to bubble, about 1 minute. Flip the dough and cook until it puffs and is cooked through, but not browned, about 2 minutes more. Remove from the grill and let cool. Reheat quickly on the grill before serving. You can also use a gas grill using indirect heat. Keep pitas warm until service.

I love cooking Pitas on the grill because they inherent a nice smokey flavor. Mmmmm!

Serve with skewered grilled meats, Tahini, my buttered Babaganoush recipe, or fresh Falafel with Tzatziki.

Buttered Baba Ganoush

Buttered Baba Ganoush -(Moutabal aka, baba ganoush)  is made with aubergines, tahini, pine nuts and plenty of garlic.

Beautiful and exotic — these are two words that best describe a delicate, aubergine. They come in so many varieties. Most commonly seen are the lavender to purple varieties, but what many of us didn’t know, is that ….  Aubergines are grown around the world; yet their appearance are so different based on thier geographical locations.

Many of you might be surprised they are so exotic. Aubergines grow in a variety of locations around the world just like many other vegetables. Yes, there’s more to aubergines than the purple kind. Think about how interesting that is for a moment. In Italy, a tomato looks the same as a tomato grown in China or the United States, however– this is not true for aubergine. Africa, China, France, India, Italy, Ukraine, and the USA are a few countries that produce aubergine, and all of them come in different shapes, sizes and colors.

In Thailand, they are called, Thai Yellow Eggs and they harvest as beautiful yellow fruit that are small and literally shaped like a chicken egg.

In Cambodia they cultivate, The Cambodian Green Giant. As you might have guessed, this fruit is large with skin that’s a unique light-color with green stripes.

Another international heirloom aubergines is the Rosa Bianca variety. It is from Italy, proudly flaunting a skin in shades of lavender and also blushing pinks.

From Africa, the Goyo Kumba aubergine. A stunning variety that is unusually tall and attractive.  They can be planted for their fruits or even just as ornaments. Africa produces bright red fruit that are stunningly eye-catching.

In Brazil, aubergine grows oval and orange. This variety has very attractive fruit that changes color as it matures – from green to orange to red.

Other international varieties of aubergine include Ping Tung Long from Taiwan, Japanese White Egg from Japan, Udmalbet from India and Listada de Gandia from other areas in Italy.

Popular backyard garden varieties of aubergines are Dusky varities, which takes 60 days to mature, Epics, Black Bells and Black Magics with fruits maturing at 72 days from seed to harvest.

There are so many ways to prepare aubergine but my favorite is the smokey, rich and creamy dip– hailing from areas of Mesopotamia.

Buttered Baba Ganoush

You’ll Need

2 large aubergines, slashed with a sharp knife- lengthways 4 to 5 times

2-4 large fresh garlic cloves, peeled and cleaned

2 Tablespoons tahini paste

Juice of ½ lemon (or more to your taste)

1 Tablespoon fine quality olive oil

4 oz. unsalted butter ( or Vegan Sub)

2 Tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

1½ Tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

2 Tablespoons fresh chives, chopped small

1 teaspoon fresh smoked paprika, for garnish

Here’s How

Wash, dry and lightly oil aubergines. Place on a hot, well oiled grill. Cook for 20-30 minutes, turning often until well charred and completely soft.

Cool, split them open lengthways and scrape the fleshy meat into a bowl, cutting as close to the skin as possible without taking any of the charred skin.

Place aubergine flesh in a food processor with garlic, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil Pulse. taste to adjust seasoning. (The tahini should be subtle and the lemon juice should not dominate). Season with sea salt to taste. Aubergines are like sponges and soak up as much flavor as you give them, so season well and bring out the flavors.

Place butter in a small pan and bring to a very low simmer. Use a spoon to disgard any white milky fat solids that rise to the top. Place the now, “Moutabal” in a beautiful shallow bowl and run the back of a spoon over the top in a spiral or a zig-zag formation–(  like frosting a cake).

Pour on the warmed clarified butter on top– taking care to leave white solids behind in the pan.

Garnish by sprinkling with toasted pine nuts, chopped parsley, chopped chives and dust with smoked paprika.

*Serve with Flatbreads and a variety of freshly cut raw vegetables. Also delicious on roasted meats.  

How to Make a 10 Minute Dashi Broth

 

dashi_bowlWhat is Dashi? Dashi is a very simple broth that is  one of the cornerstones of Japanese cooking. It is made with kombu (dried kelp), and bonito fish flakes. The results produce an amazing flavorful clear broth. One that has the taste and smell of a fresh salty ocean. Dashi is so flavorful it activates the Umami taste receptors of our tongues and because of that Dashi and will enhance any  of your dishes without taking center stage in flavor. Great flavor enhancer for picky eaters.

Dashi is definitely a professional chef’s secret weapon in the kitchen. 

 

Ingredients:

4 cups filtered water

2-3 inch piece of kombu

1/2- 3/4 cup loosely packed dried bonito flakes

Special Equipment:

Mesh strainer

Cheesecloth

 

Method:

In a small 1 quart saucepan, over medium heat combine 3 cups of the water and kombu. Bring to a boil. Remove the kombu from the water just before it comes to a full boil. Do not allow the kombu to boil. ( Your broth will result in a bitter flavor and also become cloudy if kombu is allowed to boil )

Once the kombu is removed, add the bonito flakes and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for an additional 1 minute. Remove the pan from heat, and allow the bonito flakes to steep in the pan for an additional 5 minutes, or overnight for a deep rich flavorful broth.

Strain the bonito flakes into a cheese cloth lined, mesh strainer. Add the additional 1 cup of filtered water. Use, or store in an air tight jar in the fridge up to a week.

Use as you would broth or stock to enhance all your soups and stews. Freeze in ice cube trays to use for an immediate pan sauce.

Freeze up to 1 month. Makes approximately 4 cups.

 

PHOTO CREDIT : The Humble Bean 

 

10 Minute Umami Fried Rice 

final-fried-rice-ft2

During the week families need meals that are fast, cheap and easy.

If I make rice I ALWAYS make additional and set some aside just for this recipe. My family loves this fried rice and I do too because it is practically a meal-in-itself.  Add sautéed shrimp or grilled chicken to the dish, and there you have it…. dinner. Using day old rice is not only to speed the preparation process, it’s important because fresh cooked rice  can continue steaming itself to mush during the stir fry process. Still good, but even better if the rice sits in the fridge overnight.

If you can’t get your hands on Japanese rice, feel free to substitute with other types of short grain rice. You can also use Jasmine or Basmati. To save additional time, I often use my mini food processor to chop the onion, garlic and the carrot.

Ingredients:

6 Tablespoons butter or butter substitute

1 large yellow onion, very finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large carrots, peeled and diced very small

6 cups day old short-grain Japanese rice, room temperature

2 eggs, beaten

½ teaspoon garlic salt

1/8-1/4 cup soy sauce

1 cup frozen green peas, cooked and held warm (optional)

3-4 green onions, sliced in 1/4 inch diagonal slices

Sesame seeds for garnish

 

Method: 

In a large stove top wok or 12-14 inch large sauté pan, heat the butter. Add the onions and carrots. Sauté until the carrots and onions begin to brown and the natural sugars start to caramelize. About 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional 1 minute.

Add the day old cooked rice and stir until the carrot, onion and garlic are incorporated well. Add the beaten eggs and toss  the rice quickly to cook through —stir well. After everything is incorporated turn up the heat to high and allow the rice to begin browning string constantly. About an additional 3-4 minutes.

Season to taste with the soy sauce and add fresh cracked black pepper if desired. Remove from the heat, add the cooked peas, and scallions – toss to fluff the rice up and serve immediately. Garnish with sesame seeds.

To enhance the umami flavors ( our fifth taste sensation ) use Dashi broth instead of water when making rice!

Makes approximately 6 to 8 servings.