Thursday, March 26, 2009

Heavenly Cioppino

This was incredible.... and yes, even better the next day. It originated, and then twisted, from Fish: Without A Doubt by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore. In general, the recipes in the book are great starting-off points; each one can be improved with a little research and some more complex seasonings or techniques from the cuisine that inspired the dish. I really respect the authors, who took the time to construct a cookbook around sustainably-harvested or farmed fish. They include an introduction about ocean sustainability, as well as how to clean and prepare fresh fish. There are lists of acceptable fish substitutes for each recipe, and the flavors are generally modern and use fail-safe techniques for even the most inexperienced home fish cook.


Cioppino, that gorgeous seafood stew, can be as complex as you want it to be. Shrimp, mussels, clams, crab, scallops and lobster all have taken center stage in it at some point. I personally like simple cioppino, just with scallops or a dense fish, so you can really taste the quality of the seafood and let that particular meat shine. So, this recipe is for scallops only. For mussels or clams, use another recipe, preferably with red wine - this one would be too delicate. One of the best things about this dish is that you can make virtually everything the day before, or much earlier in the day - the finishing step takes only ~15 minutes! Oh, so soul-enrichingly good!

Heavenly Cioppino
Serves 6
(Make croutons, cilantro aioli, and cioppino base the day before. The day of, heat base and finish.)

Olive oil
1 rustic baguette, sliced on the diagonal into 1/2" slices
1 large garlic clove

1 tiny shallot, chopped
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1.5 Tbl fresh lime juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 large egg yolk
coarse salt

2/3 cup olive oil
2 large onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, pressed
4 small bell peppers, one each of red, green, yellow, orange - cut into 1/2" dice
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary, thoroughly crushed
1/2 fresh bay leaf (1 dried)
pinch cinnamon
pinch allspice
2 serrano chiles, seeds and membranes removed
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup Sauvignon Blanc, or other dry, crisp white wine
coarse salt
fresh pepper (white if you can stand it, black if you can't)
16 oz. clam juice
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes

1.5 lbs sea scallops, fresh or frozen
2/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
2/3 cup chopped fresh basil

To make croutons:
  1. Heat some olive oil in a pan.
  2. Put in as many slices of baguette as will fit.
  3. Saute until a reddish-brown, maybe 3 minutes.
  4. Turn, adding oil if needed, and repeat.
  5. Remove bread to a plate to cool.
  6. Finish remaining bread.
To make aioli:
  1. Put shallot, garlic, lime juice, and cilantro in a food processor and make a paste. Add mayo and egg yolk to make a smooth sauce.
  2. Season with salt.
  3. Refrigerate until use.

To make cioppino base:
  1. Have all ingredients measured out and next to the stove.
  2. Heat a large stockpot over high heat.
  3. Add the olive oil and onions.
  4. Saute until onions are translucent, stirring often, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add garlic, saute for another 1 minute.
  6. Add bell pepper, dried herbs & spices, saute for another 2 minutes.
  7. Add serranos and tomato paste, and mix until combined.
  8. Saute for another 2 minutes, or until bell peppers are almost tender. DO NOT BURN PASTE.
  9. Pour in wine, bring to a boil, and cook for about 5 minutes, until syrupy.
  10. Add pepper, clam juice, tomatoes, and bring to a boil again.
  11. Turn down the heat, and let simmer for 30 minutes to reduce.
  12. If saving for the next day, let cool and refrigerate. The next day, bring to a simmer and continue.
To finish cioppino:
  1. Add the scallops. If frozen, let cook on a slow simmer for about 10-15 minutes, adding fresh herbs in last 3 minutes of cooking. If fresh, add scallops and fresh herbs and cook together for only 3-4 minutes (they will continue to cook after you take them off the stove).
To serve:
  1. Rub a clove of garlic over both sides of a crouton & put the slice in the bottom of a bowl.
  2. Add a couple ladlefuls of cioppino.
  3. Drizzle with aioli, maybe some more fresh basil.
If there is anything closer to heaven, I don't know what it is.

**Note: if you are lucky enough to have leftovers, DO NOT microwave the scallops in the broth - you will be sorry. Instead, ladle out soup into a bowl, pick out the scallops, and heat soup until very hot, about 2 minutes on HI. Meanwhile, rub a crouton with fresh garlic and chop some fresh basil. Take out the soup and add the scallops back in, mixing well. Slide a crouton into the bowl under the soup, drizzle cilantro aioli on top, and top with fresh basil. Like fresh, but better!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fluffy Pita bread

These pitas were excellent - very soft, fluffy, and even with the required 'pocket' inside!

Great paired with hummus for a potluck.

Fluffy Pita Bread
Makes 8 pitas
Baking+rising time: ~3hrs

1-1/4 cups whole milk
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 c whole wheat chappati flour
1 c King Arthur Bread Flour
1 c Fairhaven red wheat high-gluten all-purpose flour
bread flour for extra sprinkling
1 1/2 tsp salt
1.5 Tbl sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil

  1. Warm milk in microwave in a glass measuring cup for 30 seconds. Stir, and warm another 30 seconds.
  2. Pour out 1/4 cup into a small bowl and sprinkle yeast into it. Set aside for 10 minutes.
  3. Put flours, salt, and sugar into KitchenAid.
  4. Mix with paddle until yeast is done.
  5. Make a well, and pour in yeast, milk, and olive oil.
  6. Mix with paddle until incorporated.
  7. Switch to a dough hook, and knead for 3-5 minutes, adding flour or water to make a soft dough.
  8. Oil a metal bowl. Put dough into bowl, move around so it has a layer of oil.
  9. Let rise for ~1 hour in a warm place.
  10. Punch down, and cut into 8 pieces.
  11. Roll into balls, then let rest for 15 minutes.
  12. Shape balls into flat, 5-inch pancakes, and let rise 20 minutes.
  13. Meanwhile, put a baking or pizza stone into the oven and preheat to 450F. (an upside-down cookie sheet can double as a baking stone)
  14. Put three to four pitas at a time onto baking stone and bake for 3-4 minutes, until puffed but not brown.
  15. Wrap in a damp towel to keep warm.

Vegetarian Moo Shu Stirfry

One take on Moo Shu, which we made as a dish to use up some leftovers. Really, one of the better Asian quick stir-frys I've ever eaten! The sauce has a silky texture, thoroughly flavorful but not heavy, and lightly coats the vegetables. The explosion of flavors from the matchstick ginger was awesome, although some more faint-at-heart might prefer mincing or grating it. The daikon radish had seen better days, but perked up when cooked to complement everything else. It was loosely based on this recipe from Very tasty with brown rice, if it is started a little earlier in the rice cooker. We used Tah Tsai greens fresh from the garden, but any mild, slightly sweet, Asian mustard green would work really well, like baby bok choi or gailaan.

Moo Shu Stir Fry

Serves 4

1/2 tofu cake, cut into 1/4" cubes (I love SprouTofu brand - very flavorful, for tofu)
2 Tbl soy sauce
2 Tbl rice wine (mirin)
1 Tbl cornstarch
1 handful presliced dried Chinese shiitake, or about 4 whole dried shiitake
boiling water to cover mushrooms
1.5 Tbl oyster sauce
1 Tbl sugar
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 Tbl peanut oil
1 (3-inch) knob fresh ginger, julienned
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced on diagonal
1 (6-inch) length daikon radish, peeled and julienned
2 large supermarket carrots, peeled and julienned
2 stalks celery, sliced on the diagonal
1/2 large onion, sliced into medium rounds, then half-moons
2 heads (about 1 lb) Tah Tsai
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  1. In a medium bowl, combine together 1 Tbl soy sauce, 1.5 tablespoons rice wine, and cornstarch.
  2. Let marinate 30 minutes.
  3. Rehydrate shiitakes in a small bowl with boiling water to cover. Cover with a small plate and set aside for 10 minutes.
  4. In small bowl, stir together remaining 1Tbl soy sauce, remaining 1/2 Tbl rice wine, and the oyster sauce and sugar. Set next to the stove.
  5. Have all ingredients ready by the stove. Remove shiitakes from water.
  6. In wok or heavy large sauté pan over moderately high heat, heat peanut oil until hot but not smoking.
  7. Add ginger, garlic, half of scallions (reserve remainder for garnish), and tofu and stir-fry until tofu is heated through and caramelized, about 5 minutes.
  8. Add daikon, carrots, celery, and onions, cooking until just barely translucent.
  9. Add mushrooms and tah tsai, and stir-fry until vegetables are tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
  10. Add eggs and soy sauce-rice wine-oyster sauce mixture and stir-fry until heated through, about 1 minute.
  11. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.
  12. Serve hot with rice, or moo-shu pancakes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pão de Queijo - Brazilian cheese bread

This long-running post, started before our vacation to Brazil, is finally ready for publishing. Why did it take so long, you might ask? Because it's bread! And not just any bread, but a bread dear to any Brazilian's heart.

Pão de queijo (meaning "cheese bread") is certainly THE snack and breakfast staple of many parts of Brazil. In Minas Gerais, where people proudly boast the best cheese is made, it is very common in every snack shop, gas station mini-mart, and lunch shop. My experience was that they certainly had variation, but they are ubiquitously very salty, very cheesy, and mostly very chewy. The best ones had an incredible texture, somewhere between chewy and soft. And I loved the ones stuffed with cheese and chicken.

Although I did get lessons on how to make the little buggers in Ouro Preto by the cook at our hostel (I highly recommend them!), the poofs came out very dense and very chewy when I tried the same recipe at home in the States. This was followed by a solid week of cheesy-poofs, using different variations of recipes found online - it helps if you can read Portuguese! - and the help of a woman at a local Brazilian bakery. (Actually, this isn't quite accurate - I visited ALL the three Brazilian stores in the area, and asked at each one of them for help. Each one gave me a new little nugget of knowledge)


Type of manioc flour - sweet or sour?
Various recipes all over the web recommend using one or the other, or both, or just indicate 'tapioca flour'. I was advised in my cooking lesson to only use sweet; some recipes use sour, and some use both. Which to use?

Manioc starch (both sweet and sour) is the flour ground from cassava, or manioc, root. The root is grated, squeezed with water, and the starch in the water is allowed to settle and dried in the sun. This "sweet" starch (polvilho doce) is tapioca flour, used to make tapioca pearls or sticks. To make "sour" starch, the starch/water solution may be fermented under anaerobic conditions before drying in the sun. Like any sourdough starter, it contains a variety of Lactobacillus bacteria, which eat the starch and convert it to acids.

Apparently, there has been quite a bit of research on the bread making potential (BMP!) of sour starch. This paper details sour starch's production - cool! Various factors, such as the degree of exposure to UV light while drying, significantly improve the expansion ability of the flour when baking (and therefore BMP) of the starch. The BMP of sweet starch is much lower - the fermentation process of making sour starch, and the subsequent UV and heat exposure, is what creates the ability of the starch to expand during cooking or baking.

So, the upshot: use sour starch!

What kind of oil to use?
In Brazil, I was oh-so-excited to use olive oil in my pão de queijo at home! The flavor of most pães I had seemed like a clean slate for complex flavors, different cheeses, etc. The Week Of Pão upon my return, however, I discovered that all of my experiments with 'complex flavors' were dense and chewy, and did not 'poof' at all. So I scoured the web, and found a wiki recipe that explicitly stated "do NOT use olive oil." To my immense disappointment and some relief, changing the oil did improve the poofs. I will continue to experiment with more flavorful oils, but lighter oils are certainly better able to get it up.

The other revelation was that many recipes used either all butter or half butter and oil. The young woman at the Brazilian bakery indicated that butter is important for the texture - go figure. So that's what I'm using.

How many eggs?
In Brazil, it was easy: 6 per kilo of starch.

But, these were medium-sized eggs, which supermarkets (at least around my hometown) don't even sell. The key is the texture, as in all bread-making ventures. Pour the liquids into the flour, then add only as many eggs as needed to get a fairly silky, springy dough (you'll only get close to wheat flour, not spot-on). I usually add about two and a half per 5oo grams of flour.

Every bread baker has that 'aha' moment, when the breakthrough happens; that glorious moment when you see the connection between flour, water and yeast and that soft, pillowy and elastic living being that you are kneading. I've experienced this for bread; using manioc flour is a completely different animal. Uh, bread. But that moment is still out there for experiencing.

What kind of cheese?
Interestingly, this seems to be the question that concerns Brazilians the most. Their beloved Minas cheese (from the state of Minas Gerais) is distinctive, and very hard to find outside of Brazil. A quick trip to my local Whole Foods did the job, though - I walked up to the counter and said, "I need a cheese nerd." And I got one, who asked me to describe, specifically, what Minas cheese was like. My description was something like, "semi-hard, pretty salty, subtly tangy, but with a good deal of 'foot-iness'." After a wonderful round of tasting only four cheeses, we went with the very first one: a sheep's milk Rustico with peppercorns. The 'sheep-iness' was the 'foot-iness' I was looking for, and the texture was about right. The price... well, I don't eat THAT many of them (about $5 for the amount I needed for one recipe).

If you want to fill it with cheese, I can't recommend Parrano Robusto highly enough. Heaven. Truly heaven. But it makes the rolls rise less.

How salty to make it?
If there's anything I remember about the pães (heck, any of the cuisine!) of Brazil is the amount of salt - MUCH more than I am used to. 2 tsp seems about right for this recipe, but up to 1.5 Tbl might be more authentic. A salty cheese is key here, too - cheddar is a tasty cheese, but you'll have to ramp your salt WAY up! The addition of Parrano Robusto makes this a salty but super-tasty treat.

Ok, without further adieu, my current state of understanding for pão de queijo. If you have comments on further improvements, PLEASE let me know. This is a work in progress.

Pão de Queijo
500 grams (1 package) polvilho azedo (sour manioc starch, or 'sour starch')
2 tsp salt
1/4 cup refined, flavorless oil (soy for authenticity - otherwise try canola, safflower, etc.)
1/4 cup butter (or margarine, again, for authenticity)
1 cup whole milk
2-3 eggs
1/4-1/3 lb sheep's milk semi-hard cheese (sheep's milk rustico with peppercorns), grated
optional: 1/4-1/2 lb Parrano Robusto, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  1. Place half the polvilho and salt gently together in a bowl (like cornstarch, it will billow!). Mix gently.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring the milk, butter and oil to a simmer for 5 minutes. You must be able to see little bubbles of the milk above the oil!
  3. Make a well in the center of the polvilho and pour in the hot liquid.
  4. Mix with a wooden spoon or KitchenAid (with paddle attachment) until all the dough gets moist.
  5. Let rest at least 1/2 hour, until it cools.
  6. Turn on the KitchenAid and add the remaining polvilho, a little at a time, until everything is well-incorporated. The dough should NOT stick together at this point. If it does, add more polvilho until you have a uniform bowl of crumbs.
  7. Add the eggs, lightly beaten, one at a time, until the dough just comes together without cracking and has no lumps (not kidding!). Note: this is HARD WORK. Recruit a machine, or get ready for a workout.
  8. Once this comes together, you have two options: add another half egg to make a sticky dough, or move on. Regardless of which one you choose, IT MUST BE FREE OF LUMPS.
  9. Remove the dough from the KitchenAid and add the grated cheese, kneading with your hands until the cheese is evenly distributed.
  10. Preheat oven to 375F, and place a medium ramekin filled with water on the rack.
  11. Make little balls of dough by greasing your hands with more oil and rolling 1.5 Tbl of dough between your palms. If your batter is dry, this is easy. If the batter is wet, measure the dough with the help of a spoon and keep greasing your hands after every other ball. The oil should help keep the dough from sticking to your hands.
  12. Place balls on a baking sheet, with at least 1 inch between them (they will expand... hopefully).
  13. If stuffing with cheese, push one cheese cube into each ball, seal the seam, and place seam-side down on the baking sheet.
  14. Slide the balls into the preheated oven for between 20-30 minutes, just until the rolls have a golden hue between the golden flecks of grated cheese.
These balls turn out well (some say even better!) if they are frozen before baking, which makes them very convenient. Place a sheet of waxed paper on a baking sheet, roll dough into balls, and place the whole baking sheet into the freezer. Wait until they're frozen rock-solid, then consolidate in a large Ziploc freezer baggie. To bake, place in a preheated 375F oven with a ramekin of water for 40+ minutes, until they are golden brown on top.


Monday, March 16, 2009

A Moroccan Feast

This menu was aided by the fact that I was hungry... but even the next day, all the flavors of these foods together made me swoon.

A Moroccan Feast for Four
(or two, if that's what you've got)

Parsnip hummus
The Best Tzatziki
Nigella-scented Moroccan rolls

Pat's Berber Kale
Simple Horiatiki
Roasted chicken with preserved lemon sauce
Pomegranate molasses in club soda

Sweet almond milk flavored with orange-blossom water

The Best Tzatziki

Pat, who hates all things yogurt, even likes this. The secret: Greek whole-milk yogurt. Absolutely, utterly creamy, without the tang of That Other Yogurt. With a Moroccan feast, you can't go wrong with this dish. Also goes well with any other kind of Middle Eastern dish that needs creaminess.

The Best Tzatziki
Serves 2-3, depending on appetite

1/2 cup English cucumber, grated with the large holes of a box grater
1 clove garlic, finely grated or pressed
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1 small container Greek-style whole-milk plain yogurt
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
black pepper to taste

  1. Over the sink, squeeze handfuls of the grated cucumber until no liquid remains.
  2. In a bowl, mix cucumber and remaining ingredients.
  3. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. It is better several hours later, if you can wait that long.

Parsnip Hummus

One of my new favorite cookbooks, Spice; Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, by Ana Sortun, has an unusual arrangement of chapters and recipes with unusual seasonings paired together. The recipes are not that difficult, but have all been terribly delicious.

This recipe is an unusual take on hummus, which I love, but is much lighter-feeling on the tongue and uses parsnips (a local winter treat) rather than garbanzos. The texture is very creamy and quite a bit sweeter than regular hummus, and definitely gives a feeling of the Pacific Northwest in winter.

Warning: this contains butter, and it is heavenly.

Creamy Parsnip Hummus with Parsley

Adapted from Spice
Serves 2-4

1/2 lb parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1-2 Tbl tahini
2 Tbl freshly squeezed lemon juice
2-3 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbl unsalted, cultured butter, cut into small pieces
3 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
garnish: 1 Tbl chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
optional: sumac & kalamata olives, for garnish

  1. In a medium saucepan, cover the parsnips with water and bring them to a boil over high heat.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the parsnips fo about 20 minutes, until they are tender but not mushy. Drain.
  3. Mix the tahini with the lemon juice until there are no lumps.
  4. Combine the cooked parsnips and the butter in a food processor. Process until smooth.
  5. Add the tahnini mixture and remaining ingredients (except garnishes) and puree until smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape sides of bowl a couple times with a spatula, if needed.
  6. Let cool, or eat slightly warm sprinkled with garnishes.
  7. Serve with Nigella-scented rolls, tzatziki and ajvar.

Nigella-scented Moroccan rolls

This is not a French baguette.

In truth, it is unlike any savory breads of Europe. Dense, cakey and dry, the sole purpose of this sweet and delicately-fragranced roll is to sop up the juices and sauces from a Moroccan dinner. Its use as a sponge is very effective, and makes for a really delicious accompaniment to hommous, ajvar, tzatziki, or any tagine. Pat says this is very much like the breads in Morocco - DO NOT eat this alone, but DO make it with other dishes. We had it last night with our Moroccan dinner, and it was fabulous.

Nigella-scented Moroccan Rolls
Adapted from Authentic Recipes from Morocco by Fatema Hal
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 tsp active dried yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fine semolina flour
1/2 tsp whole nigella seeds
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

  1. Dissolve the yeast in a little of the warm water and set aside.
  2. Combine the flours and the nigella seeds, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer. Using the paddle attachement, mix well (~1 minute or so).
  3. Stop the machine and make a well in the center of the flours.
  4. Add the melted butter and whole egg to the well.
  5. Use the paddle attachment to mix on the lowest setting until combined, ~45 seconds or so. Stop machine to scrape down sides of bowl with a spatula.
  6. Start the machine on the lowest setting and slowly add the yeast.
  7. Add the remaining water until the dough holds together.
  8. Using the dough hook, knead the dough on the lowest setting for 7-8 minutes.
  9. Remove from bowl and divide dough into 6 equal pieces (I use a board scraper or knife).
  10. Roll into balls, sprinkle flour over, and set to rest for 1-2 hours in a warm place.
  11. Preheat oven to 400F, or 200C.
  12. Flatten the balls of dough and place on a baking sheet.
  13. Brush tops with egg wash and prick a few times with a fork.
  14. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden.

Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemon Sauce (slowcooker)

This recipe is adapted from Authentic Recipes From Morocco; 60 simple and delicious recipes from the land of the tagine, by Fatema Hal. The recipes really are deceptively simple, but the flavors of unusual spices paired with high-quality ingredients are mouth-wateringly delicious. This dish would have been okay with a 'natural' or organic chicken, but free-range chickens really do have much better flavor.

The long cooking times for many Moroccan main dishes are great for adapting to slowcookers, which takes longer than the recipes but gets the food put away for a couple hours to attend to salads and side dishes, as well as friendly conversation. This paired extremely well with Pat's Berber Kale, Tzatziki, Parsnip Hommous and some Nigella-scented Moroccan Rolls.

Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemon Sauce

serves 6
preparation time: 20-30 minutes
cooking time: 2 hours

2 cups hot water or chicken broth
several saffron threads
1 free-range chicken, cleaned and dried*
2 heaping tsp whole nigella seeds - one tsp crushed
6 Tbl olive oil
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 large preserved Meyer lemon, quartered**

  1. In a bowl, add the saffron to the hot water or broth. Set aside.
  2. Rub the chicken with 1 tsp of crushed nigella seeds.
  3. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat.
  4. Add the onions, ginger, salt, pepper and chicken.
  5. Brown the chicken on all sides, about 5 minutes per side.
  6. Remove the chicken to the insert of a slowcooker, breast-side up.
  7. Add the saffron, cilantro, whole nigella seeds, and preserved lemon to the onion and oil mixture. Stir until just heated.
  8. Pour onion mixture over chicken in slowcooker.
  9. Cover and set on HIGH for 2 hours.
  10. To serve, place the chicken on a warmed platter. Skim off the top layer of oil and reserve for a dipping oil (heaven in a dish, really). Pour remaining sauce over the chicken and dig in.
*The drier the skin, the better the chicken will brown.
**The preserved lemons are Meyer lemons with a Safi spicing recommended by Paula Wolfert - ours are nearly a year old and have a great perfume with a lot of sour, bitter and salty flavors.
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