Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)

When I used to have to go to the Upper East Side for work, I loved going to this little sliver of an Italian restaurant called Tre Otto.  I always ordered the melanzane alla parmigiana, which was actually an appetizer, but quite filling with their awesome bread.  It wasn't the usual eggplant parmesan with fried, breaded eggplants cutlets (although an eggplant parm sub is my go to order at  pizza/deli joints); this was layers of delicate eggplant, fresh basil, and the most delicious tomato sauce topped with fresh mozzarella and baked to perfection.  Sadly, I no longer go to New York for work, and apparently Tre Otto is no more, but luckily, I've been able to recreate the dish at home!


Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)
serves 2 

1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb.)
Kosher salt
Extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
28-oz. can of San Marzano whole, peeled tomatoes
Small handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly


Slice the eggplant into 1/4"-1/2"slices, either lengthwise or crosswise, whatever will best fit into your baking dish.  Place the slices on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet or on paper towels and lightly salt on both sides.  Set aside while you start the tomato sauce.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large saucepan over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and cook for minute or two, until softened but not browned.  Add the tomatoes with their juices (I like to use kitchen shears to cut the tomatoes up in the can before adding them) and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer while you cook the eggplant, stirring occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.


By now, the eggplant slices should have started to sweat.  Rinse under cold water and pat dry.  Add enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of a large skillet and heat on medium-high.  Add only enough eggplant slices to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer.  Brush the top of the eggplant slices with olive oil while they are cooking.  Cook each side for a couple of minutes until soft and cooked through.


By now the tomato sauce should be almost done.  Stir and few times and mash any leftover big pieces of tomato.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Stir the chopped basil into the tomato sauce and remove from heat.


Lightly brush the bottom of a small baking dish or two individual sized ramekins with olive oil.  Start with a layer of tomato sauce, then add a layer of eggplant, a sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese, and a layer of fresh mozzarella.


Repeat layers, finishing with a layer of tomato sauce and cheese.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Let sit for 10 minutes before serving with some crusty bread.


You may have leftover sauce and/or mozzarella cheese, which would be perfect for making a margherita pizza!

Previously:  Salt and Pepper Tofu
Last Year:  Brown Butter Vinaigrette Lobster Buns

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Salt and Pepper Tofu


The picture above probably doesn't look that impressive, but that there was the best tofu I've ever had in the Western Hemisphere.  It's the salt and pepper tofu from Northwest Tofu, which my friend Mitchell recommended to me the last time I was in Seattle.  It's a simple enough dish--tofu dusted with starch, salt, and pepper and then deep fried--but that description barely does it justice.  The crust is super thin and light, but full of crispy texture and perfectly seasoned.  The tofu itself is so soft and custardy it pretty much melts in your mouth.


I tried to recreate the dish at home using firm silken tofu, cornstarch, and finely ground Sichuan peppercorns and sea salt.  I think it turned out pretty well for my first attempt, but the coating got a little thicker than I wanted, and the tofu was firmer than I remember the original being.  I can't imagine trying to keep a cube of soft silken tofu intact through the coating and frying phases though; the firm tofu was already breaking up a bit even though I was trying to be very careful.  That said, I think my version was still really tasty.  =)  Next time I might try using tapioca flour or potato starch instead of cornstarch just to see if that ends up being closer to what I remember.


Salt and Pepper Tofu
serves 1-2

12 oz. package of firm silken tofu
5 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons sea salt, finely ground
1 teaspoon Sichuan or black peppercorns, finely ground
Vegetable oil, for frying

Pat the tofu dry with paper towels.  Cut into 1" cubes.

Mix together the cornstarch, salt, and ground pepper.  Pour enough oil into a saucepan to reach 1" depth and heat over medium high.  The oil is ready for frying when it reaches 350°F or bubbles start to form when you dip a wooden utensil in the oil. 

Working in small batches, carefully coat the tofu cubes in a thin layer of the cornstarch mixture, the thinner the better.  Fry the tofu, turning after a minute or so, until all sides are a pale, golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels.  Serve immediately.


Next:  Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)
Previously:  Crispy Skinned Salmon Teriyaki
Last Year:  Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Crispy Skinned Salmon Teriyaki

The other best meal I've had in my life (besides lunch at L'Arpège) was at Eric Ripert's Blue at the Ritz Carlton on Grand Cayman.  I ordered the tasting menu, and course after course of the best seafood I'd ever had were brought out to me starting with his signature Tuna Foie Gras.


I'm usually not a fan of foie gras not only because of the animal cruelty behind it, but also because I just don't really think it lives up to the hype.  But I'll admit, that dish was the first time I liked foie gras.  

Sadly, I've never been to Ripert's outpost in New York, La Bernardin, but I will gladly try his genius recipe for making crispy-skinned fish.  The technique is surprisingly simple and uses a secret ingredient:  Wondra flour.  If you can't find this in your supermarket, you can substitute with all-purpose flour or fine cornmeal.  

I decided to take the recipe a step further and marinate the salmon first and then slather it with some homemade teriyaki sauce at the end.  I liked this technique because instead of a dry slab of salmon meat topped with a corn syrup sweetened soy sauce, you get a moist, flavorful fillet of salmon with a crispy skin. 


Crispy Skinned Salmon Teriyaki (adapted from Food52)
serves 4

4 six oz. skin-on salmon fillets
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup sake or rice wine
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed in 1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon canola oil
Wondra flour for dusting
Chopped scallions and sesame seed for garnishing

Mix together the soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar and heat in the microwave on high for a minute.  Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Transfer to a small baking dish and add the salmon fillets, skin side up.  Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to overnight.


Preheat the oven to 400°F. 

Remove the salmon from the baking dish and reserve the marinade.  Dry the skin with a paper towel and dust with Wondra flour, blowing off the excess.


Pour the marinade into a small saucepan and heat on medium until it starts to simmer.  Add the cornstarch slurry and stir until the teriyaki sauce thickens.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large, oven- and flame-proof sauté pan on the stovetop until the oil is very hot, but not smoking.  Put the fish in the pan, skin side down, and press down on the fish with a spatula. Sear on the stovetop over medium heat until golden brown on the bottom, about 3 minutes. 


Turn the fish over, put the pan in the oven, and cook another 2 to 3 minutes, until a metal skewer can be easily inserted into the center of the fillet and, if left for 5 seconds, feels just warm when touched to your lip. 


Remove from the oven, turn the fillets over again, and brush with the teriyaki sauce.  Garnish with chopped scallions and sesame seeds and serve immediately.


Next:  Salt and Pepper Tofu
Previously:  Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie
Last Year:  Mozzarella Stuffed Arancini (Risotto Balls)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie


I've never heard of an Atlantic Beach Pie, but once I saw this post on Food52, I knew I had to make it.  It's an amalgam of some of my favorite things:  a salty-sweet buttery crust made out of saltines, a tart citrus filling, and a simple topping of whipped cream garnished a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.  It kind of reminds me of the Momofuku Milk Bar Grapefruit Pie I made once, but a whole lot easier to make.  It's no surprise that I would love a pie with this name since I'm such an East Coast kind of gal.  =)


For the citrus juice that goes into the filling, I just used a half cup of the juice I got from juicing the zested lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit I used for making the citrus cured salmon.  The next time I make this, I will probably use the recommended lemon and/or lime mixture so that the tartness really shines through.


Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie (adapted from Food52)
makes 1 pie

1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers (about 6 oz. or 60 crackers)
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup citrus juice
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
Coarse sea salt, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor or your hands. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an 8-inch pie pan. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.


While the crust is cooling (it doesn't need to be cold), whisk the egg yolks into the milk, then whisk in the citrus juice.  Continue whisking until the mixture thickens.


Pour into the shell and bake for 16 minutes until the filling has set.  Cool on a wire rack until the pie has reached room temperature and then transfer to the refrigerator.  The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced.


Whip the heavy cream just until stiff peaks appear (if you keep whipping too much you'll make butter).  Top the chilled pie with the whipped cream and garnish with a sprinkling of sea salt.


By the way, this is what happens when you try to carefully cut a slice and transfer it to a plate to take a picture.  Fail.  Still yummy, though! 


Next:  Crispy Skinned Salmon Teriyaki
Previously:  Citrus Cured Salmon
Last Year:  Crimini Mushroom Risotto

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Citrus Cured Salmon


Ever since I saw Jen's post for Thomas Keller's citrus marinated salmon, I've wanted to try it out.  I love cold-smoked salmon, and the thought that I could make something similar at home was really intriguing to me.  I was in Seattle again recently, and went to Pike Place Market specifically to get another Copper River sockeye salmon just for this purpose.  Since the salmon is never actually cooked, you'll want to get the freshest sushi-grade salmon available and treat it as you would if preparing sushi by keeping it chilled as much as possible.


Jen's recipe calls for a teaspoon and a half each of lime zest, lemon zest, orange zest, and grapefruit zest, but it's okay if you don't have all four citrus fruits; you just need about 2 tablespoons total of citrus zest for this recipe.  Since I had the time to cure my salmon for a full 24 hours, I chose not to press the salmon while curing it, trusting that time and salt would perform the necessary osmosis.

The change in texture of the cured salmon is pretty spectacular.  It's a lot more dense and almost gummy like pâte de fruit.  By itself, the cured salmon can be pretty salty, but served with some
crème fraîche or sour cream and crackers, it makes for a wonderfully impressive appetizer!


Citrus Cured Salmon (adapted from Tiny Urban Kitchen)
serves 6-8

Zest from 1 pink grapefruit
Zest from 1 orange
Zest from 1 lemon
Zest from 1 lime
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 salmon filet, skin removed (about 2 lbs.)


Mix the zests, salt, and sugar together.

Feel along the salmon and if there are any pin bones, remove them with tweezers or pliers.


Line a large tray with enough plastic wrap to completely wrap the filet.  Spoon half of the salt mixture onto the tray in the shape of the filet.  Place the filet on top, and spoon the rest of the salt mixture on top of the salmon.  Spread the salt mixture evenly over the fish. 


 Wrap well with the plastic wrap, and transfer the tray to the refrigerator.  Let cure for 24 hours.


Unwrap the salmon and rinse under cold water.  Pat dry and transfer to a cutting board.  With a sharp knife, cut thin slices at an angle against the grain.


Serve with crème fraîche, sour cream, or cream cheese and crackers or bread.  I served mine with chive cream cheese and hearty crispbread.


After you've zested the fruits, you'll want to use them right away for something else or else they'll dry up really quickly.  I recommend juicing them; I used the juice to make an Atlantic Beach Pie!

Next:  Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie
Previously:  Coconut Ice Cream with Mango Passion Caramel Swirl
Last Year:  Shakshuka Pizza

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Coconut Ice Cream with Mango Passion Caramel Swirl


When I messed up my first batch of mango passion caramels by making something more akin to caramel sauce, I knew I didn't want to waste it so I poured it into a jar and left it in my fridge until I could figure out what to do with it.  Since it didn't turn hard when frozen, it seemed ideal to swirl into an ice cream...a white ice cream would be good to showcase the color...what would go well with mango and passion fruit...coconut ice cream!

I've made a few coconut ice creams before, but this time I wanted to try making one using Jeni's ice cream base as a template.  Her Bangkok Peanut ice cream used some coconut milk, but I decided to amp up the coconut flavor by using a whole can of coconut milk and cutting back on the whole milk and heavy cream.  The result is unbelievably creamy and a perfect balance for the tart mango passion caramel swirl.  Eating this ice cream is like a free trip to a tropical island!


Coconut Ice Cream with Mango Passion Caramel Swirl
makes about 1 quart

3/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
13.5 oz. can coconut milk (not light)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Mango Passion Caramel Sauce*

Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.  Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth.

Combine the remaining milk, the coconut milk, cream, sugar, and corn syrup in a 4-quart saucepan.  Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes.  Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry.

Return the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat.


Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth.  Chill the mixture thoroughly.  Churn according to your ice cream maker's instructions.




Pack the ice cream into a storage container, alternating it with layers of the mango passion caramel sauce and ending with a spoonful of sauce; do not mix.  Freeze until hard, at least 4 hours.


*Make the mango passion caramel sauce by following the directions for making mango passion caramels, double the amount of corn syrup, and only heat the caramel to 230°F.  Allow the caramel sauce to cool to room temperature before using.  The recipe will make more than you need for this ice cream recipe; you can use the rest for topping pancakes, pouring over other ice creams, etc.


Next:  Citrus Cured Salmon
Previously:  Sea Salt Cold Cream Coffee
Last Year:  Almond Pesto Pizza

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sea Salt Cold Brew Coffee


I was in Irvine recently for a family vacation, and one of the places I looked forward to going to the most was 85°C, a cafe and bakery chain from Taiwan.  Their most popular drink is probably the sea salt coffee, an iced coffee drink with cream and a pinch of sea salt for that salty-sweet flavor dimension.


Since I had some extra cream from making the mango passion caramels, I decided to try to recreate the sea salt coffee at home using cold brew coffee.  Instead of making a simple syrup in order to sweeten the iced coffee, I just added brown sugar to the ground coffee like I do for the magical cold brew coffee.  The sugar naturally dissolves all on its own during the overnight cold brew process.


For extra funsies, I topped the drink with some Hawaiian black lava sea salt, but you can use regular sea salt or skip that step if you like.  I particularly liked how it looked once I started swirling it around.


Sea Salt Cold Brew Coffee
makes 3-4 drinks

1/2 cup coffee beans, ground
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for garnishing if desired
Ice cubes

Combine the ground coffee with the brown sugar in a 2-cup French press or measuring cup.  Add enough cold, filtered water to reach the 2 cup line.  Stir to make sure all the coffee grounds get wet.  Let sit a few minutes and then stir one more time to disperse all the coffee grounds that have floated to the top.  Cover and let sit overnight at room temperature.

The next day, press and/or filter the cold brew coffee.  Store in the refrigerator until needed.

Whip together the heavy cream and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt until the cream has thickened but before it reaches soft peaks.


Add 3-4 ice cubes to each glass and fill with coffee, leaving at least a half inch of space on top. Spoon the cream on top and garnish with additional sea salt, if desired.  Serve with a straw and stir to combine the coffee and cream layers.


The next time I make coconut whipped cream, I might try to see if it would work well as a replacement for the heavy cream here.

Next:  Coconut Ice Cream with Mango Passion Caramel Swirl
Previously:  Jacques Genin's Mango Passion Caramels
Last Year:  Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream with Matcha Mochi Bits

I am submitting this post to Asian Food Fest #10 Aug 2014 : Taiwan hosted by travelling-foodies.