Thursday, April 18, 2019

Perfectly Delicious Tea Sandwiches, Ideal for Snacks, Dinner Parties and Picnics on an Airplane

Tea sandwiches aren't just for fancy tea rooms. They are easy-to-make and enjoyable for just about any occasion.  They look elegant, so they enhance a dinner party table. Easy-to-eat, they're ideal for afternoon snacks or picnics.



Usually made with white bread and also called finger sandwiches, the crustless sandwiches have fillings that can feature salmon, beef, tuna, crab, ham, chicken and cucumber. 

Fun to make, delicious to eat

When I'm working at my desk, a plate of tea sandwiches and a cup of hot coffee keep me happy all afternoon.

I have two favorites. One is made with chopped hardboiled eggs mixed together with finely chopped parsley, carrots and capers, flavored with mayonnaise, sea salt and freshly ground back pepper.


The other is as delicious as it is elegantly simple.

Thin radish slices are placed on buttered bread, seasoned with flake salt and freshly ground black pepper. For added flavor, I top the radishes with slices of homemade picked onions. 

On airplanes, I make a picnic lunch to counteract tedium and discomfort. After I'm settled into my too-snug seat,  I look for ways to make the experience more fun. I put on headphones, watch a movie and pamper myself with a meal of tea sandwiches.

No matter the turbulence, the discomfort of sitting too close to a stranger or the lack of leg room, when I'm snacking on my elegant sandwiches, I'm happy.

Quality above all

Tea sandwiches are only as good as the ingredients. 

Ideally the eggs and radishes come from a farmers market or a quality grocery store. Use sweet butter (unsalted), Best Foods/Heilman's Mayonnaise (my preference) and a good quality white bread. Marukai, our local Japanese Market, carries baked goods from MamMoth Bakery.  I use the bakery's thin-sliced white bread. 

Tea sandwiches can be as heavily seasoned as you enjoy, or, like the egg salad and radish sandwiches, lightly seasoned with flake salt (or sea salt) and freshly ground black pepper. 

Pickled Spring Onions

Spring onions are scallions that have matured in the ground and developed a fat bulb.


Thin-sliced pickled spring onions brighten the flavor of the radishes. Prepare them a week before use. Kept refrigerated in a sealed jar, the onions will last for months as their flavor evolves. Besides placing in tea sandwiches, serve the pickled spring onions with seared steak and roast chicken or added to stews.

Only use kosher salt that is additive-free like Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt.

Ingredients

1 bunch spring onions, washed, root ends and discolored leaves removed

2 cups water

2 cups white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1/4 - 1/3 cup kosher salt, depending on preference

4 dried bay leaves

Pinch hot pepper flakes (optional)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Sterilize a large glass jar by boiling in water or cleaned in dish washer.

Leaving 2" of greens attached to the bulbs, cut off the remaining length. Place the bulbs and all the greens into the jar.

Stir kosher salt into water to dissolve. Mix together with vinegar. Add aromatics and olive oil. Stir well. Since the pickled spring onions will have the same flavor as the brine, taste and adjust seasonings by adding more kosher salt, vinegar or water as desired.

Pour brine into the glass jar. Make more brine if needed to cover the onions. Place into refrigerator for a week before using.

Thin-Sliced Radish and Sweet Butter Tea Sandwiches

These days, there are a great many radish varietals at farmers markets. If you like one of the exotic radishes available, use those. 



For me, a basic red-on-the-outside, white-on-the-inside, fat radish reminds me of the appetizers my dad liked. After a long day at work, he'd settle into his favorite easy chair, sip a Seagram's 7 and 7 and enjoy a pre-dinner plate of appetizers that often included radishes. 


My mom taught me to soak the radishes in clean, cold water for ten minutes. That loosens any dirt so the radishes can be easily cleaned with a damp cloth.


Serve the radishes open faced or sandwich-style. Layer the radishes one-deep or pile them on as much as you like. 

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 bunch radishes, greens and root discarded, soaked in cold water 10 minutes, washed clean of any grit

6-8 slices, thin sliced white bread, crusts removed

2 tablespoons sweet butter

Flake salt or finely ground sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 spring onion bulbs, sliced thin (optional)

Directions

Cut the crustless bread slices in half or in quarters. Arrange them on a cutting board and butter them, assemble-line fashion.


Using a sharp knife, slice the radishes into paper-thin rounds.



Arrange the radishes on the buttered bread. Add sliced spring onion onions (optional). Season with flake salt and black pepper. Serve open-faced or as a sandwich.

Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches

Use good quality, extra large eggs and fresh Italian parsley.


The egg salad can be spiced up by adding pepper flakes, curry powder or any spices you enjoy. I prefer a simpler flavoring.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

6-8 slices, thin sliced white bread, crusts removed

4 extra large eggs

1/4 cup Italian parsley, leaves only, washed, pat dried, finely chopped

1 tablespoon capers, drained, pat dried, finely chopped

2 tablespoons mayonnaise, preferably Best Foods/Hellman's, taste and add more mayonnaise as desired

1 teaspoon kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

Place eggs in a large sauce pan, add kosher salt and cover with water. Place on a high flame, bring to a boil  and cook 10 minutes. Drain eggs and cool with cold water.


When cooled, peel and discard shells.


Finely chop the eggs. Place in mixing bowl. Add parsley, capers and mayonnaise. Mix well. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.


If not used immediately, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to three days.


Cut the crustless bread slices in half or in quarters. Using a flat knife, spread egg salad on the bread. Serve open-faced or as a sandwich.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Cold Weather, Hot Plantains, Delicious Costa Rican Patacones

As a remedy to rain, snow and cold temperatures, patacones, a Costa Rican treat, will brighten up a meal. Warm, crisp and savory, patacones are one of many ways to prepare plantains.


I was intimidated by plantains. Having eaten them in Latin American restaurants, I knew they were good when served with roast chicken, rice and beans. But seeing them in the market, I had no idea how to cook them.


A trip to Costa Rica changed all that when a chef demonstrated how plantains are easy to prepare and delicious.

Plantains vs. Bananas

Unlike bananas, their ready-to-eat cousins, plantains need to be cooked before being eaten. Naturally fibrous and a good source of potassium, while they look like fat bananas, they are starchy when green and become sweeter as their thick bark-like peel turns black.


Delightfully easy to cook, plantains are used to create side dishes and desserts.

Available all year round and grown primarily in the southern hemisphere, plantains are cooked in a great many ways. Steamed, deep fried, sautéed, boiled, baked and grilled.

The first time I visited a Mexican market in Los Angeles, I noticed what I thought were bunches of very large bananas with mottled yellow and black skins. I thought the fruit was spoiled. In fact, those were plantains not bananas. I subsequently learned that when the peel turns from green to yellow and finally to black, the starches in the plantain have converted into sugars.

Patacones - a Costa Rican Treat

In his kitchen at Villa Buena Onda, an upscale boutique hotel on the Pacific Coast in Costa Rica's Guanacaste Provence, Chef Gabriel Navarette demonstrated how to prepare patacones.


Plantains are easy to make, I cook them all the time. The only difficulty is finding a market that sells them. Not available in supermarkets in most U.S. cities, it is best to find markets serving the Spanish-speaking community. Those markets, usually mom-and-pop businesses, are also a good source of mangoes, papayas, tomatillos, chayote, fresh chiles, Latin spices and a good selection of dried beans and rice.

Navarette demonstrated how to prepare plantains three ways.

He stuffed green plantains with cheese and baked them in the oven. He flattened green plantains and fried them twice to make patacones, thick, crispy chips served with pico de gallo, black beans, guacamole or ceviche. And, he caramelized yellow plantains to serve alongside black beans and rice for the Costa Rican dish called casado which always has a protein such as chicken, fish, pork or beef.


Villa Buena Onda, known locally as VBO, is an intimate destination with eight rooms. Feeling more like a private home than a hotel, a stay at VBO includes all three meals. Having a personal chef during the stay makes the experience even more luxurious. Navarette and his fellow chefs make each dish to order.

Navarette studies at Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje, a prominent school training professionals in many fields. He worked in resort and hotel kitchens, moving up the ranks from server to line cook, then as a sous chef and finally as the head chef at VBO for the past ten years.

What attracted me to his food, as well as that of his cousin Chef Diego Chavarria on the weekend and Chef Rosa Balmaceda in the morning, was that each dish tasted home cooked, plated in the most beautiful five-star way.


Aided by translator Céasar Allonso Carballo, Navarrete was happy to show me how to cook plantains. I was amazed at how easy they are to prepare.


Cooking black plantains to serve as a dessert is the essence of simplicity. Peel each plantain, heat a half-inch of safflower or corn oil in a carbon steel pan over a medium flame, cut the plantain into rounds or in half lengthwise and cut into 5-inch long sections.  Fry on both sides until lightly browned, drain on paper towels and serve. All that can be done in five to eight minutes. The sweet plantains are an excellent way to end a meal.

Crisp and savory patacones are slightly more complicated to prepare, but not much more so.

Patacones from the kitchen of Villa Buena Onda

Yellow or black plantains should not be used to make patacones because they are too soft.

In the VBO kitchen, Navarette uses a deep fryer to cook patacones. That is fast and easy so he can keep up with the orders, but I discovered at home that by using a carbon steel pan I was able to achieve a similar result using less oil with an easier clean up.

The oil may be reused by straining out cooked bits and storing in a refrigerated, air-tight container.

Enjoy the patacones with an ice-cold beer and, as the Costa Rica's say, Pura vida! Life is good because everything is OK.

Prep time:  5 minutes

Cooking time:  10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield:  4 servings

Ingredients

2 green plantains, washed

8 cups corn or safflower oil in a deep fryer or 1 cup oil in a sauté pan

Sea salt and black pepper to taste (optional)

Directions


1. Cut the ends off each green plantain. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut along the length of the tough peel being careful not to cut the flesh of the plantain. Pry off the peel and discard.

2. Preheat oil in a deep fryer to 350 F or a half-inch of oil in a large sauté pan over a medium flame.

3. Cut each plantain into 5 or 6 equal sized rounds.


4. Place the rounds into the deep fryer for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. In the sauté pan, turn frequently for even cooking, which take about 5 to 8 minutes to brown.


5. Remove, drain on paper towels and allow to cool.

6. Prepare one round at a time. Put the round on a prep surface. Place a sturdy plate on top of the round. Press firmly in the middle of the plate until the plantain round flattens. Work assembly-line fashion until all plantains are flattened.


7. Place the flattened plantains into the deep fryer for 2 minutes, or 4 minutes in the oil in the sauté pan as before. Turn as necessary to cook until lightly browned on all sides.

8. Remove from the oil, place on paper towels to drain and cool.

9. Season with sea salt and black pepper (optional).


10. Serve at room temperature with sides of black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream or ceviche or all four so guests and mix and match.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Cold Weather, Hot Wings - Kimchi Hot and Sweet Chicken Wings

Right now, it's cold and rainy in Los Angeles. Which makes me think about warm comfort food. It's also playoff season in NFL-land and only weeks away from Super Bowl Sunday.

Comfort food comes in all sizes, shapes and flavors. With the rain pattering on the roof, I enjoyed time in the warm kitchen making one of my favorite taste treats. Kimchi chicken wings. They are great because they're succulent, spicy and sweet. And they are easy to make.

Chicken wings can be expensive. I buy mine in the Vietnamese markets in Little Saigon. You can buy wings either as the part with two bones or the one that looks like a miniature drumstick or, as I prefer, to buy the whole wing and cut the parts apart and use the wing tips to make stock.

Kimchi Chicken Wings


The wings can be cooked the day ahead and refrigerated, then reheated and served hot or at room temperature.

Servies 4

Ingredients

2 1/2 pounds chicken wings, washed, pat dried, separated into 2-bone sections and drumsticks 
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup kimchi, finely shredded
2 tablespoons kimchi water 
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, washed, peeled, sliced thin
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Directions

In a large bowl, dissolve the brown sugar in the kimchi water, olive oil, and soy sauce to create a marinade.  Add kimchi, onion slices and chicken wings to the marinade. Mix well, cover or transfer to a plastic bag and seal and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil or a Silpat sheet for easy clean up. Place a wire rack on the tray.

Remove the wings from the marinade. Arrange the wings on the rack being careful to leave at least a 1/2" between them so they cook evenly.


Put in oven. Bake 30 minutes.

While the wings cook, place the marinade with the kimchi and onions into a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir, reduce and thicken. Set aside.

Turn over the wings with tongs. Using a spoon, spread half the marinade on one side. Return to the oven and bake another 30 minutes.

Turn over the wings with tongs. Spread the remaining half of the marinade on the second side.

Bake another 30 minutes.

The wings should be tender and golden brown. If not, turn the wings over and continue baking another 10 minutes. Check again and continue baking at 10 minute intervals, turning the wings each time, until they are done.

Remove the wings from the rack and plate to serve hot. Reserve any of the marinade drippings on the bottom of the baking pan and spread on the wings or place into a small ramekin to accompany the wings. 

Make sure everyone has plenty of napkins and a chilled drink of choice.

Variations

Add 1 tablespoon julienned garlic and 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley to the marinade



Just before serving, top with 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallion

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving Favorites Meet at the Table

It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the 4th of July.  Now the sun sets at 4:30, the leaves are falling from our trees and it's time to get ready for Thanksgiving.

Thursday we'll have friends and family around our table. We'll celebrate one another with a toast and give thanks for all our good fortune.

To be ready for the event takes planning. Even the most expansive meal begins with small tasks like peeling a carrot and making pie crust. We wanted to share our way of getting our meal from farm to table.


To prepare the turkey I'm consulting my own e-book: 10 Delicious Holiday Recipes.


As important as having good recipes, good planning and sharing the effort makes all the difference: Planning Well Makes for a Better Thanksgiving

Step 1 - invite the guests and see who will bring their favorite Thanksgiving dish
Step 2 - pull out the recipes we want to make
Step 3 - clean the house
Step 4 - borrow extra chairs
Step 5 - pull the extra table out of the garage
Step 6 - shop
Step 7 - cook
Step 8 - eat
Step 9 - clean up
Step 10 - lie down

Dietary restrictions are part of the calculations since some guests need to avoid gluten, some land based-animal proteins, others eschew sugar and for a few nuts are an issue. Avoiding those ingredients doesn't mean missing out on the fun.

Included in the mix of dishes there will be a pan charred salmon seasoned simply with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. The galette, this year's "apple pie," will not have almonds.

For everyone who can enjoy the traditional favorites there will be a large turkey stuffed with Michelle's Corn Bread Stuffing with Italian sausages, pecans and dried apricots, which is a labor of love because she eats neither corn bread nor sausages (nor, for that matter, turkey).


The appetizers will include my personal favorite, deviled eggs with anchovies and capers, as well as delicious cheeses--supplied by our friend from Paris who stays with us during the holidays--a selection of olives, charred pistachios in the shell flavored with dried spices, sea salt and cayenne pepper and turkey liver-shiitake mushroom pate, another personal favorite.

For side dishes there will be freshly made cranberry sauce, roasted whole tomatoes, roasted sweet potatoes--the little ones which are sweeter and not starchy--, garlic-parsley mashed potatoes, oven roasted Brussels sprouts--quartered, seasoned with sea salt, black pepper, olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar and roasted whole tomatoes.

Salads this year will be one with arugula with persimmons, a beet "carpaccio" salad, a toasted hazelnuts and cheddar cheese, black kale salad dressed with a vinaigrette and homemade rosemary croutons and--another personal favorite--frisee with blue cheese and chopped green olives.

And there will be pickles: kosher dill and Moroccan mixed vegetable pickles.


Friends are bringing desserts--a big bowl of mixed berries and selection of ice creams, a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie. I will contribute a apple galette and a banana chocolate chip walnut cake in the shape of a castle.


Have a great Thanksgiving.  Here are some of the recipes for our dinner.

Corn Bread Stuffing with Sausages, Dried Apricots, and Pecans

Over the years my wife has developed a crowd-pleasing stuffing with a contrast of textures: soft (corn bread), spicy (sausage), chewy (dried apricots), and crunchy (pecans).

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 boxes corn bread mix
3 celery stalks, washed, ends trimmed, leaves discarded
1 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, pat dried, finely chopped
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 stick sweet butter
1/2 - 1 cup turkey or chicken stock
4 Italian style sweet sausages
1 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Make the corn bread the night before and leave the pan on the counter so the corn bread dries out. Use any cornbread mix you like. My wife uses Jiffy. It's inexpensive and tastes great. The instructions are on the box.

Saute the sausages whole in a frying pan with a little olive oil until browned, remove, cut into bite-sized pieces, and set aside. Pour off the excess fat. Add the celery, mushrooms, onion, and garlic into the pan with the stick of butter and saute. Season with sea salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, then add 1/2 cup of the stock, toss well and summer 15 minutes. Add more stock as needed. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper. 

Cut the cornbread into chunks and crumble into a large mixing bowl. Add the apricots, pecans, and the saute. Stir well and set aside until you're ready to stuff the turkey.


Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30-45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, stems trimmed, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method

Toss the Brussels sprouts with olive oil and seasoning, put in a roasting pan with enough room so they don't sit on top of each other. Roast in a preheated 350 F degree oven 30-45 minutes, turning every 5-10 minutes for even cooking.

They'll come out of the oven so warm and sweet, they'll get eaten before they arrive at the table.

Roasted Whole Tomatoes

A side dish, full of flavor and perfect to serve alongside turkey and stuffing.


Ripe and over ripe tomatoes work best. If you shop at farmers' markets, keep an eye out for discounted tomatoes. 

When they're roasting, tomatoes give off a clear liquid. The flavor is pure essence of tomato. The wonderful chef, cookbook writer, and founder of Fra'ManiPaul Bertolli was famous for hanging tomatoes in cheese cloth and capturing the clear tomato water that he called "the blood of the fruit."

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 90 minutes

Ingredients

3 pounds ripe tomatoes (washed, stems removed)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the whole tomatoes on a Silpat sheet or a piece of aluminum foil on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Roast for 90 minutes. When the tomatoes are removed from the pan, be certain to spatula off all the seasoned olive oil and tomato water. That liquid is full of flavor. Spoon the liquid over the tomatoes.

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Method

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 F degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve immediately.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Ready. Set. Time to Pickle - Kosher and Moroccan-Style Pickles for Thanksgiving and Anytime


Pickles are delicious anytime of the year. For many years I have made my two favorite kinds of pickles for Thanksgiving. Kosher dill pickles and Moroccan-style pickled vegetables. Part of our Thanksgiving tradition is to post these recipes to share them with you. That way, our tables will connect on this very wonderful holiday.






No doubt the people who made the first pickles thought they had made a mistake. Somebody accidentally forgot about some raw vegetables in a pot with an acid and salt. Surprise, surprise. A week later, the vegetables weren’t moldy, no bugs had eaten them and, deliciously, they had a nice crunch and tang. Thus was born, the pickle!
In the 1920s, my great-grandfather made pickles on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Grandmother Caroline used to tell stories about working in their little grocery store as a child. When customers would want pickles, she would hop off the counter and go out front to the pickle barrels and fish out the ones they wanted.
I never knew her parents. I never ate their pickles, but I must have brine in my veins because wherever I travel, I am always on the look out for pickles.

Moroccan pickled veggies

In Morocco at a cooking class in Marrakech at La Maison Arabe, Amaggie Wafa and Ayada Benijei taught us to make Berber bread, couscous with chicken and vegetables, chicken tagine with preserved lemons and clarified butter, tomato marmalade, eggplant-tomato salad and preserved vegetables.
The cooking class lasted four hours. The time it took to show us how to make preserved or pickled vegetables: five minutes.
To Wafa and Benijei, the process was so easy, there were no pickle recipes. A little of this, a little of that, throw the vegetables into a jar, shake it up, put it in a cupboard and in a week, voila, you have pickles.

Pickle recipes tip from Grandma

From my grandmother I learned that making kosher dill pickles was a little more complicated. In retrospect, I think that’s because pickling cukes are more prone to decay than are the carrots, parsnip, fennel and green beans used in Morocco.
Every Thanksgiving I make both.
Pickles are very personal. What one person loves might be too salty or vinegary to another. It may take you several tries before you settle on the mix of salt, vinegar and spices that suits your palate.

Garlic is usually added to brine. My grandmother didn't put garlic in hers and I don't put any in mine so I indicated garlic as optional.

Lower East Side Kosher Dill Pickles

When making kosher dill pickles keep in mind four very important steps:
1. Select pickling cukes, not salad cucumbers, and pick ones without blemishes or soft spots.
2. Taste the brine to confirm you like the balance of salt-to-vinegar. The flavor of the brine will approximate the flavor of the pickles.
3. Once the cukes are in the brine, they must be kept submerged in an open container.
4. When the pickles have achieved the degree of pickling you like, which could take three days to a week, store the pickles in the brine, seal and keep in a refrigerator where they will last for several weeks.
Ingredients
8 cups water
¼ cup kosher salt
1 cup white wine vinegar or yellow Iranian vinegar (my preference)
4 garlic cloves, skin removed, root end trimmed off, cut into thin strips (optional)
5 dried bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
10 whole mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or 1 dried Sichuan pepper, split open
5 sprigs of fresh dill
5 pounds small pickling cucumbers, washed, stems removed, dried
Directions
1. In a non-reactive pot, heat the water and vinegar on a medium flame. When the water gently simmers, add the salt and stir to dissolve. Do not allow the water to boil.
2. Dip your finger in the brine, taste and adjust the flavor with a bit more salt, water or vinegar.
3. Place the garlic and spices in the bottom of a gallon glass or plastic container. Arrange the cucumbers inside.
4. Pour in the hot brine being careful to cover the cucumbers. Reserve 1 cup of brine.
5. To keep the cucumbers submerged in the brine, find a plastic cup that is not as wide as the mouth of the container. Place the reserved cup of brine into the plastic cup and put into the container to press down on the cucumbers.
6. Place the container in a dark, cool corner of the kitchen. Check daily to make sure the cucumbers are submerged. If the brine evaporates, use the reserved brine in the plastic cup, replenishing the liquid in the cup with water to weigh down the cukes.
7. After three days, remove one cucumber and sample. If you like your pickles crisp, that may be enough time. If they aren’t pickled enough for you, let them stay on the counter another few days.
8. When you like how they taste, remove the cup and seal the top. Refrigerate the container.

Moroccan Style Preserved Vegetables

In Morocco, virtually any vegetable can be preserved. In the class, we were shown green beans, fennel, parsnips and carrots. Experiment and see what you like, including asparagus, zucchini, beets, daikon, eggplant, daikon and broccoli.



For myself, over the years I have settled on onions, carrots, cauliflower florets and green cabbage.
Whatever you try, prepare the vegetable by washing, peeling and cutting them into pieces similar in size, about a 1/4"
The fun thing about pickling is you can personalize your pickles, making them any way you like.

Save the pickling brine. It is delicious poured over warm Japanese rice or mixed with olive oil to make a salad dressing.
Ingredients
2 whole carrots, ends trimmed, washed, peeled, cut into rounds, ¼-inch thick

1 medium yellow onion, washed, root and stem ends removed, peeled, sliced lengthwise (root to stem) 1/4" slices
1 small whole green cabbage, washed, any brown outer leaves removed and discarded, cut in half, cut out core and reserve for soup, cut into 1/4" squares

1 small white cauliflower, washed, leaves removed (instructions below)
4 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or 1 dried Sichuan pepper, split open, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 garlic clove, skin removed, root end trimmed off, cut into thin strips (optional)
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1½ cups white wine or yellow Iranian vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Directions
1. Sterilize two quart-sized glass or plastic containers.

2. Finalize the prep on the cauliflower by using a sharp pairing knife to create 1" long florets about 1/4" thick. Use the remaining stems for a stir fry or soup.


3. Toss the vegetables together to mix well in a large bowl.

4. Place the mixed vegetables into the two jars.

5. Add equal amounts of the aromatics to each jar.
6. Combine the kosher salt, water and vinegar. Mix well. Taste. If you find the mixture too acidic, slowly add water until you like the flavor. If not salty enough, add a small amount of kosher salt
7. Pour the water-vinegar mixture into the jars, making sure the liquid covers the vegetables. If more liquid is needed, make more brine and reserve any left over.

8. Top off each jar with equal amounts of olive oil.
9. Seal the jars and shake well to dissolve the salt and mix the aromatics.
10. Refrigerate. Wait one week and taste. Wait longer if they aren’t pickled enough. They will keep in the refrigerator for months.

  

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Ready. Set. Brine. Feta-Brined Roasted Whole Chicken

Does brining matter? That's what a friend and I asked ourselves when we were making fried chicken. Like budding scientists, we did a controlled experiment.

We brined two pieces of thigh meat overnight in a solution of water, kosher salt and white sugar with black peppercorns and bay leaves. The next day, we washed off the brine and aromatics and gave those thighs the same amount of time in a buttermilk soak as the unbrined pieces. Then we dredged them in seasoned flour and fried them. The resulting differences were amazing.

No doubt about it. The brined chicken was more tender and moist.


Knowing that brining made a difference led me to try brining a whole chicken. The results, just like the fried chicken, were very good. Now I use the same technique when prepping our turkey for Thanksgiving.

Then, one day Googling around the internet when I should have been writing, I stumbled on a recipe that changed the way I had been brining.

Melissa Clark, the wonderful New York Times food writer, is always on the look out for ways to improve on familiar techniques and dishes. In the article I read, she talked about adding feta to the brine before roasting a whole chicken. Salty, crumbly cheese in a brine. Brilliant!

What follows is my riff on her original idea which is less of an improvement and more of a dirt path off the road she already paved.

Feta-Brined Roasted Whole Chicken

As with anything in life, begin with good ingredients and you'll achieve better results. That is especially true in cooking. So, buy a good plump, pale-pink skinned chicken, one that was raised without hormones. 

Size matters, especially depending on how many you are serving. A five-pound chicken is good for a dinner of four as long as there is a salad course before and side dishes served with the entre. If the chicken is one of several proteins, say a brown sugar salmon filetpork ribs or charred steaks, then one chicken will serve up to eight.

My mother and grandmother taught me that to waste food is a sin. In this case, that means always reserve the pan drippings, giblets, neck, heart, bones and carcass of the chicken to make a best-ever stock that you can use to make a to-die-for chicken-vegetable-rice soup or chicken and dumplings.

If a liver came with the chicken, use it to make a tasty mushroom-chicken liver pate to serve as an amuse bouche.

Only use Diamond Crystal kosher salt. All the other brands I've seen put in chemical additives. Diamond Crystal does not.

Line a roasting sheet tray with 1" sides with aluminum foil or a Silpat sheet.  A sheet tray with sides lower than a roasting pan facilitates browning on the sides of the chicken.


 Serves 4

Time to brine: at least one hour or overnight

Time to prep: 15 minutes

Time to cook: 60 - 90 minutes depending on size of chicken

Time to rest before serving: 5 minutes

Special Cooking Tools 

Roasting rack

Cooking Twine

12"-14" kitchen tongs

Roasting sheet tray (with a 1" rim)

Aluminum foil and Silpat sheet to fit the roasting sheet tray

Ingredients for roasting

1 whole 5 pound chicken, liver, giblets, neck and heart removed, washed

Ingredients for the brine

1/4 cup fresh feta, preferably Bulgarian (because it is less expensive), crumbled

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon white sugar

4 bay leaves, whole

1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Ingredients for the topping

1 medium onion, washed, top and root end removed, peeled, sliced thin

1/2 cup Italian parsley, stems and leaves, washed, drained, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh feta, Bulgarian, crumbled

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Small bowl of flake salt (optional) on the table

Directions for brining

Use twine to tie together the legs and wings.

Place the chicken, salt, sugar and aromatics into a large heavy plastic bag or a container with a lid. Fill with cold water until the chicken is submerged. Seal. If using a plastic bag, place in a large bowl so the water doesn't leak.

Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Directions for Roasting

Preheat oven to 400F.  Place the roasting rack on top of a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and a Silpat sheet for easier cleanup.

Remove the chicken from the brine. Rinse, pat dry and allow to rest uncovered for 10 minutes.

Drain the brine and remove the feta and reserve.

In a bowl, mix together the feta from the brine, the additional feta, onion, parsley, sea salt and black pepper.

Rub olive oil over the chicken. Add remaining olive oil to the feta-onion-parlsey topping and mix well. Set aside.

Place chicken onto the roasting rack, breast down and put into the preheated oven. Roast for thirty to forty-five minutes or until the skin is brown and crisp to the touch.

Reduce oven to 350F.

Using tongs, turn over the chicken, being careful not to tear the skin. Place the chicken breast-side up on the roasting rack.

Cover the breast-side up chicken with the feta-onion-parlsey topping.  The mound of onions will seem large, but will greatly reduce during cooking. If any bits fall onto the bottom of the baking tray, no worries, you can scoop them up later.


Return to the oven. After 30 minutes, check for doneness. Wiggle a chicken leg. If there is resistance, the chicken needs more time. If the topping is getting too brown, place a sheet of aluminum over the top like a tent. Roast another 15 minutes and check for doneness. Continue roasting until the leg moves freely.

Remove from the oven and place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top so the chicken rests for 5 minutes.

Remove aluminum foil. Carve in the kitchen or at the table. Use a recently sharpened knife or kitchen sheers. Plate the chicken with the charred onion-feta-parsley mix on top.

Serve hot with sides of roasted potatoes, squash or salt boiled spinach.

Place a small bowl of flake salt on the table. The crunch of the salt will add to the pleasures of the dish.

Preparing the stock

Once the chicken has been carved, reserve all the bones and pan drippings. If there isn't time to make stock that night, refrigerate and make the next day. Add the reserved heart and gizzard. Place in a large pot with water to cover and simmer 60 minutes. After straining, the stock can be refrigerated and used within two days or frozen in sealed containers and used for up to six months. Discard bones and carcass after removing any bits of meat to use in chicken-vegetable soup.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Ready. Set. Go. Time to Think About Thanksgiving and Electric Knife Sharpeners

Thanksgiving was my mother's favorite holiday, a time when family and friends gather together, share a meal and talk about what they hope for the coming year.

It is never too early to start thinking about Thanksgiving. Right about now, my wife and I like to go over the guest list and send out emails to confirm who will be coming.


We'll review the recipes we want to use, culling out ones that weren't as good last year as we hoped and searching for dishes that take us in new directions as we confirm our standby favorites like roasted Brussel sprouts, cornbread stuffing with apricots and shiitake mushrooms, kosher and Moroccan style pickles, whole roasted tomatoes, made-from-scratch cranberry sauce and so many more. I'm getting hungry as I write this!


We'll check that we have all the kitchen implements we need. Roasting pans, turkey baster, oven thermometer and, most importantly, that our knives will be sharp.

Which is why I'm posting this article now.

A Good Knife is a Sharp Knife

If you enjoy cooking, you know the value of a good knife. There is nothing so unsatisfying as using dull knives to prepare a big meal like Thanksgiving dinner. The chopping and carving that should be a delight become a tedious, unhappy chore.


Over the years, I have put together a good collection of carbon stainless steel knives. I prefer Japanese style knives with their thiner blades and harder steel.

I have a filleting knife, a half dozen pairing knives, a serrated bread knife, utility knifes and several chefs knives. I also have a sushi knife for those occasions when I want to make thin slices of raw fish to serve on steamed rice or on a fresh green salad.


I want my knives with me wherever I am. Even when I travel, packed safely in my checked luggage, I always carry one of the pairing knives and a chef knife.

Cooking is one of the best ways to explore a destination if you have a kitchen where you are staying. Shopping puts you close to the local rhythms of life and cooking with fresh, local products is so much fun.

Or, if you are staying with friends, nothing says "thank you for letting me be a guest in your home" than making a meal for your hosts.

But a knife is only as good its edge. When you feel the knife drag as you slice a carrot or cut through a chicken breast, you know it's time to sharpen the blade.

For many years I used a steel rod, the kind butchers use to carve a thick pork chop or trim a rack of spareribs. But when the steel rod didn't give me the sharp edge I wanted, I switched to an electric knife sharpener. That made all the deference. Every couple of weeks, when I noticed that slicing a tomato wasn't as easy as it used to be, I'd run the knives through the sharpener and I'd be back in business.

I was perfectly happy with the knife sharpener I had, and then, I was asked to try the Work Sharp E5.

The Work Sharp E5 Electric Kitchen Knife Sharpener

When I used my old knife sharpener, my knives sharpened up nicely, but they didn't hold their edge. Now that I've been using the E5, I find my knives are sharper than before and they hold their edge longer.


Created by Work Sharp Culinary, the E5 and its sister the E3 sharpen every type of kitchen knife.

The more expensive E5 sharpens as well as the E3 with the added advantage of timed sharpening. Draw the knife through the sharpening slot, once, twice or as many times as necessary. The machine can sense when the edge is sharp and turns off.

To finish the sharpening processes, both the E3 and E5 come with a ceramic honing rod for fine tuning your blades. The E5 honing rod has an ingenious addition. On the side of the handle, a v-shaped notch is actually a MicoForge, designed to clean up the edge of your knife blade, extending its sharpness and giving you more control when you are slicing.


The E3 and E5 will also sharpen blades that are sharp on only one side like serrated bread knives, scissors, kitchen shears and my Japanese sushi knife.

Unlike my old sharpener which relies on factory installed disks to straighten and sharpen. The E3 and E5 use replaceable belts of varying grades (extra coarse, coarse, medium and fine). Color coded, they are easily replaced by flipping open the front panel and threading around three rollers. The belts slide off and on with ease.

The 17° guide that comes with the E3 and E5 works well with both East and West style knives. For a finer edge, I was given an Upgrade Kit which includes 15° (East) and 20° (West) guides and an expanded selection of belts.

Since my knives are mostly made in Japan, I switched out the 17° for the 15° guide. I'll be interested to see if I notice a difference in time.

Right now I'm seeing a big improvement in the sharpness of my knives.  Of course, the true test will be Thanksgiving, when all hands and all knives will be pressed into action to bring the half a dozen salads, dozen side dishes and a carved turkey to the table.

Perfectly Delicious Tea Sandwiches, Ideal for Snacks, Dinner Parties and Picnics on an Airplane

Tea sandwiches aren't just for fancy tea rooms. They are easy-to-make and enjoyable for just about any occasion.  They look elegant, so...