Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring Shrimp & Chickpea Salad

Spring is finally here! This is such a fun time to explore NYC as Central Park and hidden community gardens come alive is a wash of color. I thought I'd share a few photos I took while walking my pooch around the city the other day. Look at all that color!

With all this amazing weather we've been having, I've been in the mood for light and refreshing salads with zingy vinaigrettes. The other day at the market I spotted a beautiful bunch of watercress and baby spring greens and decided to make this impromptu salad. The shrimp, chickpeas, and avocado are relatively mild, so a bright cilantro-lime vinaigrette brightens everything up and adds a pop of flavor. 

This is a great weeknight meal as you can assemble everything relatively quickly. The shrimp saute in just a few minutes and all the other ingredients simply require chopping.  If you're peeling the shrimp yourself, be sure to freeze the shells and tails, as they make for a delicious seafood stock



For the dressing:
1 tbsp. freshly chopped cilantro
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
Zest from 1 lime
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:
1 lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined, and patted dry with a paper towel  
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1 bunch watercress, leaves separated and washed
4 oz. mixed spring greens, washed
1 shallot, sliced
1 large avocado, diced into large pieces
1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 oz. crumbled Cotija 
2 dried red peppers, crumbled

To make the dressing:
To make the dressing, combine the cilantro, lime juice, lime zest, vinegar, and garlic in a glass jar (with a tight-fitting lid) large enough to hold the dressing. Pour in the olive oil, place the lid on the jar, and shake vigorously to mix the dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste and shake again to incorporate. Taste to adjust seasonings and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the salad:
In a medium bowl, generously season the shrimp with salt and pepper. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the shrimp (saute the shrimp in two batches to avoid over-crowding). Cook the shrimp for about 5 minutes, tossing occasionally. Remove the shrimp to a plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

In a large bowl, combine the watercress, mixed greens, sliced shallot, avocado and chickpeas. Give the dressing a good shake and pour (to taste) over the salad. Gently toss to incorporate. Garnish with crumbled Cotija and the dried red peppers. Taste to adjust seasonings and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Wine Braised Spiced Rhubarb

Rhubarb is one of springs many treats. Its seasonal window is short, so I try to jump at the chance to use it as soon as it pops up at the market. Recently, I've noticed how rhubarb seems to be gaining popularity as it becomes readily available at health food stores and not exclusively at farmer's markets. It's extremely versatile as it can be used in everything from cocktails or smoothies, to cakes, pies, and jams. One of the simplest preparations is to toss it with aromatic spices and braise it.

I've often sprinkled rhubarb with sugar and roasted it, but when I spotted a fun variation in the recent issue of Saveur, I knew I had to give it a try. Adding a braising liquid to the rhubarb makes it meltingly tender and provides a beautifully flavored syrup. I've taken the liberty of adding wine, which adds some richness and depth of flavor. 

If you're new to rhubarb this is a great way to prepare it. You can use it in a number of ways, but I stirred it into my yogurt the other morning and it was delicious! Try it on ice cream, whipped into butter (for waffles and pancakes), or simply eat it straight out of the pan with a spoon. Happy spring!

Adapted from Saveur, April, 2013

1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
One 1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely grated 
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
1 1/2 lb. rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces on the bias 
8 green cardamom pods
2 star anise

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a medium size bowl, whisk together the wine, orange juice, honey, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla seeds. Toss the rhubarb with the cardamom, anise, and vanilla pods in a 9" x 13" glass or metal baking dish. Pour the braising liquid over the rhubarb and bake, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender, 14 to 16 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Remove the whole spies and serve over yogurt or ice cream.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ice Cream #17: Key Lime Pie

Since we've had a taste of summer last week here in NYC, I've been in the mood for all those cool and refreshing frozen desserts. Since Key lime pie is one of my favorites, I thought I would try turning it into ice cream. Now I can't decide which I like better: the pie or the ice cream! 

In Florida, Key lime pie is made with actual Key limes. They're smaller than regular limes and quite tart. As they're difficult to find, I've cheated and used conventional limes you can find at any grocery store. The result is still fantastic. If you're lucky enough to have access to Key limes, you can use those instead.

Using a traditional graham cracker crust as a garnish is a great addition to the ice cream. Instead of shaping it into a pie pan, I've rolled it out and cut it into wedges. The wedges of crust make a great presentation and a fun way to scoop up the ice cream. Key lime pie ice cream is bursting with flavor and the perfect treat to enjoy throughout the spring and summer.


Graham cracker crust recipe adapted from Ina Garten, Family Style


For the ice cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. sea salt
5 large egg yolks
1 tbsp. lime zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

For the graham cracker crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10 crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

To make the ice cream:
Fill a large metal bowl with about 2-inches of ice water. Put a slightly smaller metal bowl inside. Place a fine mesh strainer over the two bowls and set aside. 

In a medium size saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar, and salt. Stir the mixture well, bring just to a simmer and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks together in a medium bowl. Slowly pour the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return the egg and cream mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon or rubber spatula (or when the temperature reaches 170 degrees F on an instant read thermometer).

Pour the custard through the fine mesh strainer into the prepared bowls. Stir over the ice bath until the custard is cool. Stir in the lime zest and juice. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and another sheet over the bowl. Refrigerate until until cold, preferably overnight. Process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Freeze until ready to serve. Garnish with a slice of lime, if desired.

Yield: About 5 cups

To make the crust:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium size bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter. Stir to combine. Turn the mixture out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use your hands to flatten out the crust and shape into a circle. Gently roll out the dough to an even thickness (about 1/4-inches thick). Bake the crust for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately score the crust into wedges using a knife. Let cool completely before breaking into wedges. Store crust-wedges in a plastic zip-top bag and refrigerate until ready to use. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

As I'm still a novice bread baker, I was hopeful when I came across King Arthur Flour's recipe for 100% whole wheat sandwich bread that claimed to be just as good, if not better, than the sandwich bread you find in the grocery store. After a few failed attempts, I'm very pleased with the results and the knowledge I've gained from said failures. There are few things more satisfying than retrieving a perfectly baked loaf of bread from the oven. That being said, for anyone who's made bread at home, there are often a lot of factors that go into making the perfect loaf. 

A bread made from whole wheat flour is often notorious for not rising, or at least not rising like the idea of the perfect loaf you have in your head. This is due to the low level of gluten in whole wheat flour; it goes with the territory. The types of flour (this includes brands of flour) you use will dramatically affect the outcome of your bread's rise. Different types of flours will contain varying levels of gluten. Gluten is the natural protein found in flour and is what gives structure to baked goods. Unlike white flour, whole wheat flour contains the germ and bran of the wheat kernel. The germ and bran "cut" the gluten strands inhibiting gluten development and reducing its ability to trap carbon dioxide created by the yeast. For this reason, yeast breads made with whole wheat flour can often be quite dense (I've made many loaves that resemble bricks or cinder blocks to prove it). 

To remedy this, many people replace a portion of whole wheat flour with bread flour (bread flour has a higher gluten content than whole wheat flour, around 13 to 14 percent protein). Initially I replaced 1/4 cup (1 oz.) whole wheat flour with 1/4 cup (1 oz.) bread flour. While the loaf rose more than without bread flour, it was still too dense. The more bread flour I added, the more the taste of the bread suffered. I really wanted to create a loaf made entirely of whole wheat. 

Then I discovered vital wheat gluten. Vital wheat gluten is used by professional bakers and is often added to yeast bread recipes to boost their gluten level, improving their texture and overall rise. I was skeptical at first, until I learned vital wheat gluten contains anywhere from 65 to 75 percent protein, depending on the brand. This well exceeded the protein percentage in bread flour and finally created the sainted version of the perfect loaf I had in my head. Vital wheat gluten, my new best friend.

Another important factor often skipped in many whole wheat recipes, is letting the dough rest for a short period before kneading. The fancy term for this is autolyse. This resting period allows the flour to absorb enough water for gluten development to begin. The gluten is able to "relax", without the agitation of kneading immediately after the dough comes together. This gives the gluten greater extensibility, helping the final loaf rise even more. 

If you take a gander at the recipe below, you'll see it includes "baker's dry milk." While I'm not usually fond of ingredients I have to go searching for, I find it makes a big difference (though not necessary to achieve a good loaf). The natural enzymes found in milk break down the gluten structure in bread dough. Baker's dry milk has been heated at high temperatures to destroy these unwanted enzymes in the dough. Used in many commercial breads, the result is a lighter, fluffier dough. Baker's dry milk is not the same thing as nonfat dry milk you find in the grocery store. It can be found online or in specialty bake shops (a 12 oz. bag will yield 12 loaves of bread, so I usually buy two at a time). 

Lastly, a note on weather. Weather will have a big effect on the outcome of your bread. You'll likely need less water in the summer, or when it's humid or stormy, and more water in the winter when the humidity is low and it's dry out. Regardless of the weather, I always start with the minimum amount of water and add more if seems like the dough is too dry. Furthermore, if your kitchen is cold, particularly in the winter, your dough will take longer to rise; in the summer the dough will rise faster. I like to put my rising dough in the oven or other draft-free environment. If you have a pilot light in your oven, turning this on will generate enough heat for your dough to rise faster. I don't have a pilot light in mine so I like to turn my oven on for a second and shut it off, but an even temperature is ideal. A pan of boiling water on the bottom of the oven works well too.

Science aside, I'm absolutely in love with this bread. To me, it's the quintessential sandwich bread. It's nutty and sweet; perfect for pb&j's, grilled cheese, and your everyday sandwich. The smell of freshly baked bread wafting throughout your home is unlike anything else. Not that I plan to make this bread on a weekly basis, but it's a simple and straightforward recipe, that once you have the right ingredients, is a breeze to make. Yes, it takes patience for the bread to rise, but it takes under 15 minutes to mix and knead the dough, after thatit's just waiting. To me, the results are always worth it. 

Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe 

13 oz. (3 1/4 cups) 100% whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur Flour brand)
1 oz. (1/4 cup) vital wheat gluten
1 oz. (1/4 cup) baker's dry milk (optional)
2 1/2 tsp. instant yeast (or 1 packet active dry yeast dissolved in 2 tbsp. of the water in the recipe)
1 to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water 
1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1 1/4 tsp. salt

In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, vital wheat gluten, baker's dry milk (if using), and yeast. Whisk to blend. Pour in 1 cup of water, the oil, and honey. Use a wooden spoon and vigorously stir the wet and dry ingredients together until the dough begins to form and clears the sides of the bowl (if the dough seems too dry add the remaining water a little at a time until the desired consistency is reached). Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Lightly oil your hands and knead the dough for about a minute (the dough should feel slightly tacky, but not excessively stick to your work surface). Place the salt on your work surface and gradually knead it into the dough, continue kneading for 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased glass bowl or large measuring cup, turning it over once to coat with the oil. Cover with a clean tea towel or a lightly greased sheet of plastic wrap and allow to rise in a draft-free place for 1 to 2 hours (my first rise took 1 1/2 hours).

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface and shape the dough into a log. Place the log in a greased 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan. Cover the pan loosely with a piece of lightly oiled sheet of plastic wrap or tea towel. Allow 1 to 2 hours for the second rise (my second rise took the full 2 hours). The center of the dough should crown at least 1-inch above the pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake the bread for 30 to 35 minutes, tenting with a sheet of foil after 20 minutes to prevent over-browning. Remove the bread from the oven and turn out onto a cooling rack. Rub the top of the crust with a stick of butter, if desired (this will create a soft and flavorful crust). Allow the bread to cool completely before slicing. Store the bread in a plastic zip-top bag at room temperature for up to a week.

Yield: 1 loaf 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Corned Beef Hash

Corned beef hash is one of my favorite leftover meals. Dare I say I love it even more than corned beef and cabbage? Every year after our annual St. Patrick's Day feast I use the leftover corned beef, cabbage, and boiled potatoes and them into a hearty breakfast. In fact, sometimes I get nervous at dinner if the corned beef is being gobbled up too fast. God forbid I don't have enough the next day for the hash! I've wised up in recent years and am always sure to put just enough aside for the following morning.

Traditionally, a hash is a hodgepodge of meat, potatoes, and vegetables. In a quick wiki search, I learned it became popular during World War II when fresh meat was hard to come by due to rationing. In some countries, corned beef could be bought in tins, making it a quick and thrifty breakfast or dinner when added to leftover vegetables. Corned beef hash has since become a breakfast classic.

Corned beef hash is comforting, rustic, and resourceful. It's nearly impossible to mess up; you can add all kinds of veg to it and it's delicious every time. It's a great way to use up any fresh herbs you happen to have in the fridge too. A fried egg on top creates perfection. If you've any leftover Irish soda bread, it makes the best toast to sop up the runny egg and delicious hash. 


1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup chopped fresh red bell pepper (or 1/2 cup chopped canned roasted peppers)
1 small leek (white and light green parts only), chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked corned beef, diced
1 cup boiled cabbage and onion 
2 cups boiled potatoes, roughly mashed with a fork
½ tsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/8 tsp. dried oregano 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 large eggs
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Heat the butter and oil over medium heat in a 12-inch cast iron skillet, or other large saute pan. Add the bell peppers and leeks, sprinkle with salt and cook until tender, but not browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. Add the corned beef, potatoes, cabbage and onion, and herbs. Stir to combine and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Use a spatula to press the ingredients down into the bottom of the skillet. Cook until slightly browned on the bottom, then using the spatula, flip in sections and press down again to lightly brown the other side.

Meanwhile, fry the eggs in a separate skillet or pan and set aside. In the last few minutes of cooking sprinkle the hash with grated cheddar cheese. Divide the hash into four equal servings and top each serving with a fried egg.

Yield: 4 servings