Monday, March 23, 2009

Warm edamame salad with mirin and citrus vinaigrette

An easy way to prepare a tasty satisfying lunch in no time is to give it an Asian touch. The ingredients are straightforward and healthy, and the preparation requires nothing more than a little chopping and stir-frying.

Sometimes I will impatiently shred some pieces off a leftover roast I may have in the fridge and toss it together with some steamed greens. Arrange a quick sauce with soy sauce and toasted sesame oil, and I’m good to go.

Other times, especially in winter, I’ll make a quick miso soup with a dashi and kombu as a base and just throw in whatever I feel like or happen to have on hand : chopped scallions, a handful of fresh shitake, dried or fresh wakame, some cubed tofu, and of course red miso paste.

The idea for this recipe just popped out of nowhere one day I was really hungry but not willing to give up on taste. It is relatively easy to prepare especially if like me you always keep unseasoned steamed vegetables in the fridge (my 20 month old will eat up about 2 pounds of those a week which explains why I always have them ready to go).

For this warm edamame salad I proceeded as follows. I first pan fried firm tofu, tossed in frozen edamame I had first blanched, added chopped scallions and steamed broccoli florets. I microplaned a clove of garlic and a slice of ginger for extra zing. I then combined mirin, freshly squeezed orange juice, soy sauce and rice vinegar for my mirin citrus vinaigrette I and poured it on top at the last minute. For the final touch, I used chopped cilantro and a drizzle of sesame oil.

I absolutely loved the way the crunch of the edamame balanced out the soft smooth tofu to create a texturally balanced dish.

The concept is pretty versatile and would taste great with many different foods you might already have. So play around with the ingredients add sugar snaps, asparagus, chicken, shitake or any kind of mushroom, shreds of toasted nori, any kind of toasted seed or nut. The only rule is to use healthy, minimally handled, just cooked through, fresh ingredients.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mini cream cheese center chocolate cupcakes

Over the years, I have developed an eye for recipes. When I browse through a food magazine or a cooking book, I can usually "smell" a good recipe right away. I have my own personal indicators of what a tasty dish requires and glancing rapidly through the list of ingredients, the amount of time needed and/or simply the title can reveal a lot about what to expect in your plate. More importantly I am now able to quickly evaluate whether or not the final taste will be worth those long hours spent in the kitchen.

This cupcake recipe was no exception.

I stumbled upon it in the March issue of Bon App├ętit and proceeded as I usually do. I marked down the title and page number on my recipe notebook and knew I would get down to it sooner or later. There are so many recipes out there worth trying, I mark down rigorously all those I want to try. When in need of inspiration, just browsing those notes is usually enough to trigger a good mouthwatering and make me want to start cooking.

For this recipe, a chocolate cupcake batter is made and poured into cups, then hollowed out to put in the cream cheese filling. I also covered some of them with more chocolate batter, to keep a cream cheese center. I was very satisfied with how they turned out. The crumb was moist and dense with a nice chocolate flavor and the cream cheese gave it a nice milky, slightly sour aftertaste.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Classic white bread

Baking bread is magical, mystical, there is something almost sacred about it and kneading the dough by hand is intrinsically part of it. That dream I had of kneading my own dough is what motivated me to start taking up bread baking a little more seriously. As I mentioned before flour and I have not been good friends in the past and only very recently have I started to apply myself in a consistent way to the art of baking. It is a beautiful journey I have to admit and as I discover how 4 basic ingredients mixed skillfully can yield world class bread, I am also inevitably faced with learning my basics in chemistry.

First and foremost I'm asking myself what may sound like a simplistic pointless question but in my view a quick reminder never hurt anyone or so I'll ask anyway. Why knead dough? Kneading the dough is crucial to achieve proper gluten development. Gluten is a protein found in wheat that is reponsible for both structure and flavor and starts activating with hydration and warmth (exactly like yeast).

That being said, there are 2 types of breads : lean and enriched. The lean breads are a combination of flour, salt, yeast and water. French baguette falls in this category. The taste of the final bread relies solely on fermentation to develop the complex flavors of the wheat. In order to activate the fermentation yeast is needed (commercial or wild also known as sourdough). Yeast needs moisture, warmth and feeds on sugar to expand. As it grows it produces carbon dioxide and alcohol (in this case ethanol which evaporates when baking). It is also good to know that a few things will also kill the yeast, among which heat and salt.

In the enriched bread category, such as brioche or as a matter of fact any dough enriched by eggs, milk and or butter, the flavor will also come from these additions thus relying less on fermentation to develop flavor. I find this category easier to start with and by no means less appetizing.

This classic white bread comes from a recipe from the Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. It was a perfect book for the challenged somewhat perplex baker I was. It falls in the enriched bread category but still remains a leaner bread requiring only 4tbs of butter, 1 egg, 1 1/2 cups of milk and 3 tbs of sugar on top of flour, yeast and salt to yield 2 1 pound loaves.

I combined all the a.m. ingredients* with a metal spoon and quickly transfered the dough to the counter kneading it only for 2 to 3 minutes and letting it rest for 20 minutes. It's a good baker's tip that the French bakers call autolyse which allows the gluten to start activating. After 20 minutes I knead it by hand until the gluten is fully developped and the dough passes the windowpane test (which is well illustrated here). The dough is lightly oiled to avoid cracking. It then has to ferment until doubled in volume which is inherently dependent on the ambient temperature : the warmer the faster. It is then degassed and divided into 2 balls and let to rest for 20 minutes. Then comes shaping. Each ball is shaped into a log, placed into a pan and again proofed until doubled in volume before going in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 minutes.

Bread baking is indeed a world of its own and I'm happy I opened the door.

*Another good tip when baking bread is to measure your ingredients by weight instead of volume for more accuracy.