Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Food Play Day

I had a little free time over the long Memorial Weekend so I took to the kitchen for a little playful entertainment.

This was the perfect opportunity to tackle Scallion Pancakes, a carry-over recipe from an ancient Chinese Cooking Class. I have picked this recipe up and put it down too many times because I’ve never committed the time to tinker. I’m sure you are familiar with it, too: the one where you make the ultra simple dough, add sliced green onions to it, roll the dough into short ropes, form them into spirals, roll each into a flat round, and then cook them like pancakes. Yes, that one.

With my decision fully behind me, the entrée was not so tough. I have also been holding onto a hot and sour soup recipe reminiscent of my Mexican Hot and Sour Soup with Hominy, but with an Asian twist. Now, we have the perfect match for my green onion pancakes that were set to roll off the assembly line later in the day.
I’m here to tell you the pancakes are just as I remembered them, and worth the effort. There is nothing complicated about this process. If you plan for 2-3 separate steps they are quite simple, so please consider this delicious bread – especially when soup is on your menu.

If there are kids running about, this is a perfect group project. I’ve recently come across several variations from my original, well-aged recipe, so here is a close one from Didi Emmons. She makes it look easy, too. The Dipping Sauce is a nice addition.

Scallion Pancakes
Inspired by Entertaining for a Veggie Planet, Didi Emmons

1 cup flour or more if needed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons oil, divided, more if needed
3 scallions, chopped
3 teaspoons black or white sesame seeds, toasted (optional)

Dipping Sauce
3 small chile peppers, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons black vinegar

In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and 1 Tbsp. oil. With wooden spoon, stir in 1/2 cup boiling water to form soft dough; add water of flour as needed. Turn the dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead til smooth, about 3 minutes. Cover and let rest about 30 minutes.

Prepare the dipping sauce and set aside.

Dust the dough with a bit of flour and roll into8x16 rectangle. Brush 1 Tbsp oil over the surface of dough and sprinkle with scallions and seeds. Starting at one long side, roll up like a jelly roll. Cut the roll into 8 even slices. One at a time, lay a slice of dough on the work surface and flatten with floured hand, then roll into 4" disk.

In large non stick skillet, head 1 Tbsp oil over medium high heat. Working in batches, adding oil as needed, fry pancakes until crispy and brown, turning once, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to baking sheet; keep warm in 250 degree oven til done. Cit into wedges and serve with Soy Dipping Sauce.
Makes about 32 pieces.

Note: the pancakes can be rolled out separated and wrapped up to 3 days ahead. Sauce can be made a day ahead. ~~

Asian Hot and Sour Soup with HominyInspired by Cooking Light magazine, May 2009
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced, into strips
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 tablespoons ginger, grated
1/4 head cabbage, sliced, into strips
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup rice vinegar
4 cups diced tomato, fresh or canned
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup hominy, rinsed, drained
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon white pepper, ground
1 carrot, peel, shredded
1/4 cup cilantro , chopped

Heat the oil in soup pot, l add the onion through ginger and sauté til aromatic, add the cabbage toss well and cook til slightly tender about 10 minutes.
Add the vinegar to deglaze, then the tomatoes, stock, hominy, soy and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 30-45 minutes. Add the carrots, and ajust seasoning. It should taste hot and sour, depending on your tolerance level; simmer about 5 minutes longer, allowing the carrot remain al dente.

Lade into bowls, garnish with cilantro or sliced green onion. Serves 8 ~~

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Morel Mania!

This past weekend was our local Mycological Society’s Morel Foray and Camp Out. As a new member, I was excited about the possibility of spending the day with folks knowledgeable in the how, what, where, and why’s of edible mushrooms.

We are advised to meet first thing in the morning to pick up our directions map and receive final instructions on the weekend plans. I arrive full of anticipation and learn, much to my surprise, that we are headed high into the Cascades, and to my old stomping grounds, the Metolius River region between Suttle Lake and Camp Sherman.

It’s a glorious day, clear and blue, with a slight warming trend anticipated. My friend, Harriet and her husband, John invite me to carpool with them since they are also day tripping. They are ahead of me on the learning curve and we chat incessantly about mushrooms for almost two hours. Harriet is familiar with many of the popular mushrooms, and even tosses out a few Latin appellations; she recently hit the big time with her own find of hedgehogs and chanterelles. I’m in very good company.

The club re-assembles at Jack Creek, armed with hats, sun screen, and a wide assortment of quirky gathering baskets, each indicative of their owner’s personality. Before we can set out in search of the elusive morel, our youngest member at 9 years, spots the first specimen sprouting beneath the parked family SUV. Our leaders proclaim this an indicator of good luck, and we all embark with a big “hurrah!” and a strong sense of empowerment.

Unfortunately, most of us return with empty baskets, or simply a few odd items to share. The sharing turns out to be the most entertaining part of the entire day. Our team leaders wax eloquently over whatever we drag back – always including the Latin designation and any worthwhile tidbits of mycological lore.

We are one of the lucky ones; John and I eye what appear to be white rocks in the path directly ahead of us. On further investigation and poking, Harriet appears and announces we have unearthed puffballs! We are fully engaged, heads posed downward, fretting over the white balls in the dirt, when another member joins us. He murmurs, “No, don’t bother,” and walks off. Leave it to Harriet, she insists that we bring our find back and share it with the group. Except for our team leader, Chris, who displays 6 or 8 medium morels, we are apparently the big winners. The puffballs are sliced open, examined for any off coloring, and the requisite firm flesh; they are proclaimed the real deal, and highly edible.

Onto our second and more promising site: a burn area, apparently a setting highly favored by discriminating morels. We pick our way up the side of a burnt lava flow. Our team leaders discover “butts”, a clear sign that commercial pickers have hit the area before us. They are known for slicing the morel head and leaving just the stump, or “butt” in the ground. Nevertheless, we separate and create a wide flank up the mountainside.

Soon there are shouts across the horizon as each of us discovers morel heads popping out of the earth. I cheer my cohorts on, but am empty handed, until we turn and head back down the hill. Perhaps it’s the light, but suddenly I am seeing morels everywhere! Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but along with my earlier puffballs, I find just enough to make a lovely dinner for two.

Linguine with Morels and PuffballsThe popular Italian Aglio e Olio (Garlic and Oil Sauce) embellished with freshly picked mushrooms
6 ounces linguine or other pasta
1/3 cup olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, slivers
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon oregano, dried
3/4 cup morels and puffballs, cleaned well and sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
Few grinds black pepper
3 tablespoons sliced green onions or parsley

Begin by heating a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook til al dente.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in small saucepan; add the garlic slivers, the red pepper flakes, oregano and sauté until aromatic.

Add the mushrooms and sauté about 5 minutes, until soft and their moisture is released; add salt, Worcestershire sauce, the remaining olive oil, and heat well.

Drain the pasta, drizzle it with about 2 tbsp. of the pasta sauce and toss to coat; add the Parmesan cheese, black pepper, green onion or parsley, and toss well. Portion the pasta into 2 servings and divide the remaining sauce equally over the tops. Serves 2 ~~

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Herbfarm Lasagna

I recently had an opportunity to spend some time reading Jerry Traunfeld’s latest cookbook, The Herbal Kitchen, and was transported back to Seattle’s Herbfarm where he is the chef.

My last visit was back around 1995 when I worked as a chef aboard a gorgeous 120’ motor sailer headed for Alaska. We were spending time in Port Townsend, Washington, having work done in the yard before sailing north. In my off time, I shopped and dined, and as time lapsed, I cast a wider net and ultimately happened upon the Herbfarm. I was beside myself; I wanted to become a basil plant and live there with all the other happy herbs - forever.

Its reputation was so far flung people made trips to Seattle just for a memorable meal there. Reservations were needed weeks in advance, even months ahead for popular dates. When it came to a dining experience the Herbfarm was a tour de force; it set the bar for Pacific Northwest sensibility by presenting their lush garden setting as a backdrop and masterfully weaving a balanced interplay between their dizzying assortment of herbs, first rate local grown products and excellent wines.

Sadly, there was a fire and it took many long years before the Herbfarm was rebuilt and re-opened in 2001. The original owners have since died, but the Herbfarm legend continues, thanks to Jerry and other key staffers.

The Herbal Kitchen is a must-have cookbook for anyone serious about cooking with herbs. In this cookbook, with his trademark artful simplicity, Traunfeld focuses on home cooking and offers plenty of fast and easy ideas. Here’s one that caught my attention, it’s a new approach to preparing meatless lasagna. Jerry prepares three simple sauces and stacks them up with no-boil noodles. Nothing could be easier or fresher.

This light lasagna reminds me of cheese raviolis with plenty of big flavors. It’s nearly indestructible; it can be prepared ahead and baked later; it can be baked and reheated; it can be baked, frozen and reheated… I think you get the idea. It slices like a dream - just remember to allow it set about 15 minutes before slicing. The waiting is rough, but you won’t regret it!

Herbfarm Lasagna
28 ounce canned crushed tomatoes, and
14 1/2 ounce canned crushed tomatoes
1 whole dried hot chiles
1/4 cup marjoram or oregano
Kosher salt
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
3 cups milk
1 pound whole ricotta, excellent quality
2 cups basil, 4 oz.
1 cup parsley, 2 oz.
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
12 noodles oven ready lasagna noodles, of 8 ounce box
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded

In large saucepan or skillet boil the tomatoes over medium high for about 10 minutes, stirring occasional, or until sauces thickens. Stir in marjoram and salt. Set aside. This can be done ahead.

If grating cheese, do so in processor now.

In medium saucepan, melt butter, whisk in flour, cook the roux about 1 minute; and slowly stir in the cold milk to incorporate. Whisk for lumps, then allow to come to full boil and thicken. Season with 1 1/2 tsp salt.

In food processor, blend the ricotta and 1/3 (about 1 cup) of the white sauce until smooth. Remove to a bowl.

In processor w/o cleaning, combine the basil, parsley, garlic cloves and 1/2 tsp salt til finely chopped; add the 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and process. Add remaining white sauce (about 2 cups), and process til well combined.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x13 pan with straight sides.

Directions to assemble:
1. Spread half of the tomato sauce in bottom of the sprayed pan. Arrange 3 noodles on top of tomato sauce without touching each other, or the sides of pan.
2. Dab half the basil sauce onto each of the noodles, carefully spread to completely cover each.
3. Layer each stack with another noodle and spoon the entire amount of ricotta on top, spreading to completely cover each noodle.
4. Top each of the 3 stacks with another noodle, then gently spoon on the remaining tomato sauce, completely covering each.
5. Finally top the stacks with the last 3 noodles and spread each completely with remaining pesto sauce.

Cover dish with foil, tenting it slightly to avoid touching lasagna, and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle top with the shredded mozzarella and bake 30-35 minute longer, or til evenly browned. Let rest 15 minutes or longer, it will be loose, but will set up.

Note: can be assembled ahead and kept refrigerated and then baked, allow 10 minutes extra under foil; or bake ahead and reheat in 350 oven. Serves 8. ~~


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