Friday, November 25, 2016

Pumpkin Flan


Let me introduce you to "A Brown Kitchen." This is a featured article that runs in the San Francisco Chronicle and it's written by Oakland-based aspiring chef and photographer, Nik Sharma. He has a food blog at A Brown Table. The SF Chronicle has been featuring Nik usually in their Sunday Food section as a guest writer. He recently quit his corporate job to pursue his passions of cooking and photography.

It was his photography that first caught my eye. He shoots really interesting food photographs and his use of light/darkness and his use of narrow depth of field (Translation: photos where a sliver of the shot is in focus and everything in the background and foreground is slightly blurry) are unique. He is able to capture specific moments in preparing a recipe that make you wish you were there cooking with him. You can check some of his beautiful food photography here. Choose Portfolio and select Food.

I actually spent a chunk of change buying a lens that is f1.8-capable in order to try to emulate his style. My last few posts and this posting have my feeble photographic attempts to incorporate his style.

Then I started to discover his recipes. His heritage informs his cooking. His parents are from two very different parts of India and he takes a unique approach to mixing western and eastern cooking. I've made a couple of the recipes featured in the SF Chronicle (and some are on deck to try).

So each October, we get a Sugar Pie pumpkin (or two) in our CSA box. We typically put it on the porch or window sill to acknowledge Fall and Halloween. After a few weeks it goes bad and we compost it. One year, I did try to cook one but the results turned me off for a few years. Then I recently saw Nik's Pumpkin Flan in a recent SF Chronicle feature. So I decided to give it a try.


The results were quite tasty. There are a few steps that I need to master and improve upon (like the caramelized sugar topping) but we enjoyed the flan and will make it again. This, however, is not your typical custardy flan. Nik introduces some new ingredients that harken to his upbringing. In addition to pumpkin, he adds ground ginger and turmeric. The latter provides a glow of yellow that mixes with the orange pumpkin to create a very Fall-looking dessert.

The main thing about this recipe is that you need to plan out--ahead of time--how you can get a cake pan into a water bath. I did not catch this until I was fully committed and in progress with the recipe. So you need a cake pan and then a larger receptacle, like a full sized skillet, into which you can have the cake pan sitting in a water bath. In addition you need something to raise the cake pan off of the base so that the hot water is directly underneath. The original recipe calls for a wire rack underneath the cake pan, but I did not have a small enough wire rack to fit in my 12" skillet. So I improvised and made it work.

The original recipe is here but you might not be able to access it as it's part of the subscriber-based part of the San Francisco Chronicle.


Pumpkin Flan

Ingredients:
  • Pumpkin - 1 medium sugar pie pumpkin
  • Sugar - 1/4 cup
  • Water - 2 tablespoons
  • Eggs - 5 large
  • Ginger - 1 teaspoon ground
  • Turmeric - 1 teaspoon ground
  • Milk - 1 cup whole milk
  • Condensed milk - 1 14 oz. can
  • Evaporated milk - 1 12 oz. can

Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Slice the pumpkin in half and remove all of the seeds. Place face down on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast until soft, around 45-60 minutes. When done, remove from the oven and let cool.
  • Once cool, scoop out the flesh and put it into a food processor and run until smooth. Measure 1 cup of processed pumpkin.
  • Reduce oven to 350 degrees.
  • Have ready a 9 inch cake pan.
  • Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir and heat the mixture over medium high heat. Stir regularly and in 6-9 minutes the sugar will start to darken. Watch carefully as it can easily burn. Once the sugar reaches a dark amber color pour it into the bottom of the cake pan swirling the pan to distribute it across as much of the bottom of the pan as possible. I was too conservative and did not get the desired brown on my first try as you can see in the photo.
  • Put the cake pan in the refrigerator until the caramel hardens.
  • In a large bowl, add the pumpkin puree, ginger, turmeric, and eggs. Whisk until eggs are scrambled. 
  • Add the three different milks and whisk until smooth.
  • Prepare the water bath. Place the cake pan in a pot and fill it with water so that the water reaches halfway up the side of the cake pan. 
  • Bake for 2 hours at 350 degrees. Make sure the center of the flan is firm to the touch before removing. 
  • Remove the cake pan from the water bath and let cool. 
  • Cover in plastic and refrigerate overnight to set.
  • Use a knife around the edges to release the flan from its pan. Flip carefully and gently tap to release. 
  • Serve chilled


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto

Recently, we got a bunch of Nantes Rainbow carrots in our CSA box. This particular bunch included a gorgeous set of carrot greens on top. More often than not, when you buy carrots in the grocery store, the green tops have already been removed. That's too bad because you can use those greens. They are not, as you might think, bitter, harsh, or grassy but they are mild and have a unique flavor--and they really are edible.

These particular carrot tops were such a lush, verdant green that we looked up how they could be used and I found this recipe and used it as a starting point.

So don't just compost those carrot greens. Use them raw mixed into salads. Or make the pesto recipe and below and once frozen, I have added a cube to soup stock and weekend breakfast eggs.

Carrot Top Pesto

Make pesto up to one day ahead. Freeze leftovers in ice cube trays and store in the freezer for other uses.
  • Garlic, 2-3 cloves, minced
  • Pine nuts, 3 tablespoons (macadamia nuts can be substituted)
  • Basil leaves, 1/2 cup packed (about 12-20 leaves depending on size)
  • Carrot tops, leaves removed from stems, cleaned
  • Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup
  • Olive oil, 1/2 cup or more to desired consistency
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Directions:

  • Mince garlic into food processor
  • Add nuts, basil, carrot tops, cheese, and basil and pulse until coarsely chopped
  • Slowly add olive oil and process to desired consistency
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Continue to process to taste

Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto

  • Carrots, 1 large bunch (with greens)
  • Carrot top pesto (see above)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
    Directions:

    • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
    • Clean and peel carrots (cut thicker carrots into halves)
    • Toss with olive oil on a baking sheet (parchment paper optional)
    • Coat with salt and pepper
    • Roast, turning occasionally, until carrots have some browning (25 - 35 minutes)
    • Remove from oven and let cool slightly
    • Mix roasted carrots and some pesto (to desired coating) and serve
    • Optional: add some finishing salt before serving





    Friday, September 2, 2016

    Blue Apron Food Delivery Review - Pan Bagnat-Style Sandwiches

    A colleague was recently describing her experiences with the Blue Apron food delivery program. Blue Apron is one of many new food delivery services that deliver weekly meals. These services vary in terms of what they provide and how they provide it. Some, like Blue Apron, simply provide the ingredients and instructions but you still do the cooking. Other services deliver cooked or mostly cooked meals that you simply plate and serve. Since my colleague was a Blue Apron subscriber, she said she could give me a code to get a free week of meals.

    This is my first experience with any of these services and there are a variety of options here in the Bay Area. As of this writing, Blue Apron delivers three meals per week for $59 for the two person plan. There is also a family plan (four people) which delivers 2 meals for $69 or four meals for $169. We opted for the two person plan and there was an vegetarian option but I didn't explore too much to see if there was a pescetarian option.

    Assured that I could get my free week and then cancel if I wanted to, I signed up. Since we already get a weekly CSA box I was concerned that we might have a glut of food.

    I arranged for our delivery to arrive on a Friday but I could have selected from a variety of delivery days. The box arrived on our front porch and was there when I got home from work. Upon opening the box, I found that the ingredients of all three two-person meals were nestled inside a foil packing. All of it is sitting on two large frozen "freezer packs."

    Just before the first delivery, I also got an email that detailed their environmental packaging practices. All packaging is recyclable which was nice to hear.

    First impressions are everything. So this posting details the first menu I made even though I've since made all three menus. The first meal I prepared was a Pan Bagnat-Style Sandwich with a Baby Kale Salad.

    Sitting on top of all of the packaging were three 8.5x11 two-sided, full color description of the meals and the back side contained full instructions with photos for each step.

    All of the ingredients are packaged and clearly labeled and were high quality. For the sandwich, it would have been easier to supply some so-so bread. But the bread supplied for this recipe tasted fresh and it was light and airy. Most everything you need is in the box. For at least the first week, all I supplied was cooking oil, salt and pepper, and the pans and utensils.

    It is true that once you sign up you can skip weeks up to a month at a time. So, conceivably, you could get it every week or just a few busy times of the year. When you log in you can see the menu for each week and you can swap out dishes that don't appeal to you.

    The Pan Bagnat sandwich is a Mediterranean sandwich which features seasonal produce. It is a staple in the Provence and is served in every bakery or through street vendors. The ingredients vary and it often has tuna in it. This is a vegetarian version (but there are eggs in it). Another key feature is that the sandwich, regardless of the ingredients, gets wrapped tightly and given some time for the flavors to marry. The recipe is very much open to interpretation and if you look online you will find a wide variety of ingredients.

    So who is Blue Apron good for? Well, if your issue is not enough time to come home and cook a meal then Blue Apron is not for you. You get all of the ingredients but it takes more time than advertised to actually prep, cook, and serve the meal at the end of the day. But it's a high quality, gourmet meal. If your issue is deciding what's for dinner or no time to shop for ingredients then Blue Apron is perfect. With Blue Apron you get high quality ingredients, exposure to new recipes,  and plenty of exposure to new ways of prepping and preparing meals. Since I fall more in the latter category, I'm keeping the Blue Apron account alive for now to try it out a few more times but this sandwich was a keeper.

    Pan Bagnat-Style Sandwiches

    Ingredients:

    • 2 hard-boiled eggs
    • 2 small sandwich loaves
    • squash (zucchini and other style)
    • cucumber
    • 1 clove garlic
    • Dijon mustard
    • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
    • 1 tablespoon capers
    • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    Directions:
    • Hard boil the eggs ahead of time.
    • Preheat oven to 450 degrees
    • Thinly slice cucumbers and let them soak in the vinegar for at least 10 minutes, stirring periodically.
    • Thinly slice the squash.
    • Thinly slice the hard boiled eggs.
    • Roughly chop the capers and add to a bowl with mayonnaise and stir to mix.
    • Drizzle the bread halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and toast in the over for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
    • Rub the toasted bread with the peeled garlic clove. 
    • Lightly brown the squash slices in a non-stick pan with olive oil.
    • Place sandwich halves on aluminum foil and spread the caper mayonnaise on one side of each sandwich and Dijon mustard on the other.
    • Add slices of cooked squash and eggs on the bottom half of the sandwich; season with salt and pepper.
    • Top with cucumbers (leaving the vinegar behind).
    • Put the top bread on top and tightly wrap the sandwich in the foil.
    • Place a heavy object on top of the sandwiches; let stand for at least 5 minutes of compression
    • Unwrap sandwiches from the foil, slice in half, and serve.



    Monday, July 4, 2016

    4th of July Potato Salad

    Spend some time on the internet reading up on potato salad, as I did on this 4th of July morning, and you will find that it is a topic of great passion and debate. You will find recipes that say not to use russet potatoes but the comments below will be full of people who swear by using russets. You will find great debates on whether the best potato salad should be creamy, mayo-based or should it be made with a vinaigrette. You will find that people can be almost religious about their mayonnaise (Hellman's, Miracle Whip, Best Foods). And everyone's mother, grandmother or Nana made "the best" potato salad.

    Potato salad is simple and versatile but, in the end, we all want the potato salad that we all grew up with. So I went with a basic mayo-based potato salad. But in my research I did pick up a few tips/tricks:

    When boiling the potatoes, start with cold water that is well salted. The potatoes will absorb some of the salt improving their flavor.

    As potatoes are cooling, splash a little red wine vinegar over them. Again, they will absorb some of the flavor and it will add a nice contrast to the starchy potato flavor.

    Because you will be working with mayonnaise, make sure the potatoes are not hot as you are mixing the ingredients.

    Look, as I did, at a number of recipes and create your own with the ingredients that grab you.

    4th of July Potato Salad

    Ingredients:

    • 2 lbs. potatoes - I used two different types of fingerling potatoes
    • 1 cup finely chopped celery stalks
    • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
    • 1/2 cup of relish or chopped pickles - I diced up a half of a friend's spicy pickle
    • 2-3 coarsely chopped hard boiled eggs
    • 1 generous tablespoon yellow mustard
    • 3/4 cup mayonnaise or to desired creaminess
    • Salt
    • 1 tsp. black pepper
    • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
    • 1.5 tsp. celery seed
    • 1/4 tsp. garlic salt
    • Red wine vinegar
    • Paprika
    Directions:
    • Start ahead of time by making the eggs. Cover them completely with cold water and then bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, turn off heat and let eggs sit in the hot water for 10-12 minutes. Remove and let cool. This can be done a few days ahead of time.
    • Scrub the potatoes clean. 
    • Cover them with cold, salted water and bring to a boil. Let potatoes boil about 7-8 minutes for smaller potatoes and up to 12 for large russets. Test with a knife to reach the right consistency.
    • Drain potatoes into a colander and lightly drizzle the potatoes with a splash of red wine vinegar. Let cool for about 10 minutes.
    • Chop potatoes into cubes. Peels on or off--that's your choice.
    • In a large bowl combine all ingredients adding mayonnaise last. Stir to mix well and add mayonnaise in batches and stir to mix. Continue to add and mix in mayo until you get to your desired consistency.
    • Spoon the potato salad into a serving bowl and garnish with a few pinches of paprika.

    Happy Summer!

    Saturday, June 18, 2016

    Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms


    We had an abundance of sweet potatoes in the pantry. They are definitely one food item I need to figure out how to utilize efficiently. Too often, I end up tossing a moldy bag into the compost bin. I know I could easily roast them or dice them up and add them to a risotto. Lots of people just bake them the same way as a russet potato. I had, at one time, been working to find a good oven-baked sweet potato fries recipe but I have yet to perfect that recipe. Too often, sweet potato recipes often include ingredients like maple syrup or tiny marshmallows which are two things we don't care for much. Thus began my search for an acceptable way to use up the latest batch of sweet potatoes from our CSA box.

    Since we had so many sweet potatoes, I decided to explore a soup figuring that I could put it into smaller containers and stick them in the freezer awaiting a nice, easy weeknight dinner. After searching for a bit, I finally settled on this soup from Vegetarian Times. Their title doesn't contain carrots but we thought the flavor of the carrots was present enough that they deserved being on the bill. Their version was also a bisque that contained heavy cream. I read that heavy cream doesn't freeze well (it's possible but it just takes more work than I wanted to put in). So I did an adaptation of the recipe (leaving out the heavy cream) knowing that the soup was destined for the freezer. I made a note on the containers about possibly adding cream after reheating but when we pulled out the first batch out of the freezer a few weeks later I opted not to add the cream and the soup was quite tasty without it.


    Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms

    Ingredients:
    • Sweet potatoes - 1 lb. peeled and cut into small chunks
    • Carrots - 3 medium sized, peeled and diced
    • Shiitake mushrooms - 5 oz. cleaned and diced
    • Garlic - 2-3 cloves minced
    • Yellow onion - 1 large, peeled and chopped
    • Unsalted butter - 6 tbsp.
    • Tomato puree - 1 cup
    • White wine - 3/4 cup
    • Vegetable stock - 4 cups
    • Scallions - 6 trimmed and finely minced
    • White pepper - 1/4 tsp.
    • Cayenne pepper - 1/4 tsp.
    • Salt and black pepper - to taste
    Preparation:
    • Prep the potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic
    • Heat 4 tbsp. butter in a large saucepan over medium heat
    • Add onions and carrots and slowly stir until onions are translucent
    • Add minced garlic and let it cook until it releases its fragrance
    • Add broth, wine, sweet potatoes, seasonings, and tomato puree and slowly bring to a boil
    • Reduce heat, cover, and cook on low for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Let cool slightly and use an immersion blender to puree the soup
    At this point, I took it off the heat and let it cool until I could ladle it into freezer containers. Now, come the day you take it out of the freezer and once you have it defrosted and are beginning to reheat it, you could elect to add 1/4 cup of heavy cream to make it into a bisque. But I decided to forego the extra calories. However, the garnish is worth making as it adds a nice earthy flavor contrast to the sweetness of the potato and carrot.

    Topping Preparation:
    • Heat 2 tbsp. butter in a skillet over medium heat
    • Add diced Shiitake mushrooms and stir to cook until they begin to soften
    • Add chopped scallions and cook until everything is tender 
    • Remove from heat and spoon onto the center of the soup just before serving.
    Serve soup with some crunchy bread and olive oil.

    Friday, June 10, 2016

    Celery Leaf Pesto

    When most of us buy celery at the store, most or all of the tops have already been removed. We have been conditioned to think of the tops of celery as something that gets thrown out or of no use. That is such a waste. There is much to enjoy in those celery greens. I've gotten better by using them as another ingredient in my homemade soup stock when there are some celery greens in the house.

    But we recently picked up some celery at our local farmer's market and all of the beautiful, bright green celery leaves were still intact on top...as it occurs in nature. They look like giant flat leaf Italian parsley leaves.

    The sight of the gorgeous green leaves begged the question (as it did a few years ago with beet greens), how can celery leaves be put to use beyond a soup stock ingredient?

    After some online research I found that there is much to be done with fresh celery greens.

    • First, you can toss the fresh, cleaned celery leaves into a salad. 
    • The greens could also be tossed into a soup or a risotto just before serving.
    • They are an edible garnish similar to the way parsley leaves are used. 
    • They can be one of the greens in your morning smoothie.
    • Use celery leaves as a substitute for parsley in a tabbouleh salad.
    • I read some articles online about how to freeze the leaves until you are ready to make soup stock. 
    • Dry the leaves, crumble them up, and use them as a dried herb.
    The last idea also resonated with me as I found a recipe for creating a celery salt that I do want to try at some point. You can find the details here

    So after all of this online research, I settled on starting with the celery leaf pesto after reading Chef Cara Mangini's blog post about the celery pesto she keeps on hand in her Ohio restaurant.

    I adapted her recipe to fit in with all of the basil pesto I've been making recently.

    Celery Leaf Pesto

    Ingredients:
    • Leaves from one natural stalk of celery
    • Toasted pine nuts - 1/3 cup
    • Garlic - 2-4 cloves
    • Parmesan cheese - 1/2 cup grated
    • High quality olive oil - 3/4 to 1 cup
    • Salt and pepper to taste

    Directions:

    1. Mince garlic into a food processor bowl
    2. Add toasted pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and cleaned celery leaves
    3. Pulse a number of times to chop up and blend ingredients
    4. Turn on food processor and slowly add olive oil
    5. Blend until desired consistency
    6. Salt and pepper to taste
    So I made the pesto and then used a tablespoon to pour the pesto into a lightly non-stick sprayed ice cube tray. I placed the pesto-filled ice cube tray into the freezer for a day or two. Then popped out the cubes of pesto and stored them into a freezer bag until ready to use.

    How have I used them? Well, I'm just getting started, but I did defrost a cube to add to a pan of scrambled eggs.

    I also used some to make a bruschetta. As a side for a light dinner, I toasted a piece of bread and added a thin layer of celery pesto and topped it with diced tomatoes.

    I am planning using future cubes to be added to any soup or stock.

    I am just glad to use up something that might have formerly gone into the compost bin.

    Saturday, April 30, 2016

    In the Garden: April 2016 - Apricot Tree Removed

    When we had our backyard redone a number of years ago, we had a variety of fruit trees planted: lemon, lime, apple, peach, and apricot. We requested that all of them be the dwarf variety. However, the apricot tree became a fast-growing specimen getting quite tall and taller each year. We had it trimmed a few times. But ultimately, it's size meant that the vegetable beds were not getting enough sun light. So, after two years of poor output in the vegetable beds, we finally decided the apricot tree needed to go. The only thing we had to assuage our guilt was that over the holidays a neighbor advertised that she was looking for cuttings to propagate new fruit trees. She came by and took a number of cuttings from the then dormant tree. But the transformation in the backyard is incredible. Lots more sunshine in the backyard and hoping that this year's vegetable bed out put is better.

    Another benefactor of the removed apricot tree is the apple tree which spent most of its life thus far living in the shadows of the apricot tree. But this spring, the apple tree has turned around. It has literally and figuratively blossomed. So far it has not produced too much fruit but I think this year will be different.

    Spent some time last weekend working our compost into the vegetable beds. All of our kitchen and yard scraps go into the green bin which gets picked up separately. This gets turned into compost. Then, each Earth Day, every resident gets 3 bags of compost for free.

    So, I will let the soil rest and incorporate the new compost. Sometime in May, I will head to the nursery to pick up this year's crop.