29 January 2010

Pearled Barley and Mushroom Risotto

Questo risotto e veramente fantastico.  There's just something about this dish that calls for speaking in Italian...the language of love, of the home hearth, of good food...oh, is it heavenly.  The way the slowly-cooked pearls of barley gently release their creaminess during hours of simmering, the way the mushrooms meld in with the Parmigiano, and the way each silky spoonful and al dente bite satisfies and nourishes.  This risotto is truly fantastic.

Well, okay, let's come back down to earth.  It's not really a risotto, since it's made with barley, and it's much easier to make than a risotto.  But that, arguably, makes it even better!  Risotto, a traditional dish from the cereal-growing Po Valley of northeastern Italy, is made from high-starch, medium-grained rice (such as the Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, and Arborio varieties).  I usually shy away from making risotto the classic way, in which hot broth is added to the rice one cupful at a time, the rice being stirred continuously until the broth is absorbed between additions.  So much stirring!  But it is the starch of the grains themselves, and not actual cream, that binds the dish together, and if you want to get the characteristic creamy texture for your risotto, much stirring will be asked of you.

But not if you make this Pearled Barley and Mushroom Risotto!  My version, starring pearled barley picked up from the bulk section at Tri-County Produce, makes a delicious risotto and it is so easy to make!  Slow-cooking--not stirring--is what develops the starch, and the mushrooms are cooked right along with the barley, so there are few pots to wash.  Using vegetable broth, this would make a great vegetarian main course for four.  Or, cook it as I did with some chicken broth and serve alongside your favorite roast or sausages as a side dish for six.  Either way, I think you'll agree, this pearled barley "risotto" is fantastico.

Pearled Barley and Mushroom Risotto
Serves 4-6

1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed then minced
1 1/4 cups pearled barley
1/2 cup dry white wine (or for a twist, sweet Marsala)
1/2 tsp. dried basil flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth or water, for a vegetarian dish)
3/4 lb. brown mushrooms
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in in a large pot over medium-high heat, the saute onion until nearly translucent.  Add garlic and continue to cook, stirring, until garlic is softened and fragrant.  Stir in pearled barley to coat with oil and let roast 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add wine and let boil until reduced by half, then add salt, pepper, basil flakes, and chicken broth (or water, if using).

Simmer barley on very low heat for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally, until barley is tender (it will still have an al dente bite to it, thanks to the hearty exterior).  Alternatively, cook 45 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring more frequently.

While barley is cooking, clean and chop mushrooms into small dice.  When barley is nearly done, add mushrooms and continue cooking until mushrooms are done.

When barley is finished cooking, stir in 1/4 cup grated parmesan and check seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as needed.  Serve sprinkled with finely chopped fresh parsley and pass extra Parmigiano at the table.

23 January 2010

Homemade Banh Mi

I love living in Santa Barbara, but I confess there are times when living in a small town gets frustrating...like whenever I start craving boba nai cha, or bibimbap, or banh mi.  We've got some standard sushi places, but when it comes down to it, there really is a sad lack of good Asian food around here.  And given that many of my forays into Asian cuisine miss the mark that I was aiming for, my cravings go largely unfulfilled.  Except for maybe these banh mi.  Traditional Vietmese street food, these sandwiches are SO good: crunchy baguette filled with savory pork meatballs and garnished with sriracha mayonaise, lightly pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro, and jalapeno slivers.  For your next burger night, try making these guys instead!

A couple notes, first, about the recipe.  To get coarsely grated carrot and daikon, I used this OXO lemon zester.  Pulling it down the length of the carrot and the daikon, I got nicely curling strips which held their shape well.  (You could use a box grater, I suppose, but it might not look as pretty!)

If you aren't familiar with daikon, it's a large white radish, shaped something like a very thick carrot.  It releases a lot of water during grating, so I recommend draining it briefly before adding the pickling ingredients.

Since ground pork is not readily available in the stores around here, I grind my own at home.  If you plan to grind your own pork, make sure the meat is very cold (semi-frozen is even better!) so that it passes through the grinder without getting mashed.  I also recommend chilling the ground meat before mixing it with the rest of the ingredients to obtain the most tender meatballs.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 4 sandwiches

Hot Chili Mayonnaise
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons sriracha or other hot chili sauce
dash salt

Pickled Vegetables
2 cups coarsely grated carrots
2 cups coarsely grated daikon
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/8 cup sugar
1 tsp. finely ground sea salt

1 pound ground pork, chilled
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 Tbs. fish sauce
1 Tbs. sriracha
1 Tbs. sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. finely ground sea salt

Vegetable oil, for cooking
1 par-baked French baguette
Thinly sliced jalapeno chilies
1/2 bunch cilantro, stems trimmed

Mix together hot chili mayonnaise ingredients; cover, then chill until needed.  (Can be made 1 day ahead).  Place grated carrots and daikon in separate bowls.  Whisk sugar and salt into vinegar until dissolved, then divide evenly over carrots and daikon.  Let vegetables marinate 1 hour at room temperature, stirring occasionally.  (I like to pickle the vegetables separately, so that the carrot juice doesn't stain the daikon orange.  If made ahead, cover and chill until needed.)

Place ground pork in a large bowl and sprinkle remaining meatball ingredients evenly over the surface.  Gently mix ingredients together, avoiding overworking the mixture.  Chill 30 minutes, covered.  Using a tablespoon for each meatball, roll mixture into 1-inch balls.  (Can be made 1 day ahead.  Cover and chill.)

Heat 1-2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then cook meatballs (in two batches, to avoid overcrowding) until brown on all sides and cooked through, about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, bake par-baked baguette according to package instructions.  Transfer meatballs to a rimmed baking sheet and keep warm in oven.

Cut baguette into four pieces and then split each piece, leaving top and bottom pieces attached on one side.  Pull out enough of the soft interior bread from each side to leave a 1/2-inch thick baguette shell.  Spread hot chili mayonnaise over each side, and then tuck in jalapenos, cilantro, meatballs, and drained pickled vegetables.  Enjoy!

18 January 2010

Giant Buttermilk Soda Muffins

I have been making these giant breakfast muffins for several years now, and every time I pull a batch from the oven I wonder why I'm not making these every week.  These muffins (made with plenty of whole wheat flour, a smidgen of butter, and low-fat buttermilk) have the tender texture of biscuits, yet they are definitely much healthier--and more satisfying--than any biscuit I've had.  They have been the focal point of many a leisurely breakfast at home and have also gone out into the local mountains, fueling many a hungry rock climbing friend during chilly morning sessions on the rocks.

With the rain pouring down today, I felt like some tea and hearty muffins hot from the oven would be the perfect thing for breakfast.  I just love the golden crust on these guys, the way the buttermilk works together with the baking powder and soda to give a glorious lift to the dough, and the golden raisins that dot the muffins with little nuggets of sweetness.  So I turned to this recipe (published in Bon Appetit, but originally from The Overlook Inn Bed and Breakfast in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia), and in the time it took for my oven to pre-heat, I had these muffins mixed up and scooped into the muffin tin.  Really, I should be--could be--making these guys every week!

So what is the best way to enjoy these?  Fresh out of the oven, split open and slathered with some whipped cream cheese and drizzled with honey.  Or spread with homemade apricot jam.  Today I had a little pot of sage honey from San Marcos Farms, a sweet favor from the wedding of my dear friends Mary and Andy, so I used that.  Oh, so delicious.

Giant Soda Muffins
Makes 8

1½ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 Tbs. butter, room temperature
1 cup golden raisins (chopped dried apricots would be good too)
1¼ cups buttermilk
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400°F.  While oven heats, whisk first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Blend butter into flour until incorporated, then stir in raisins and coat well with flour mixture. Whisk buttermilk and egg together, then add to dry ingredients and stir to blend.

Using an ice cream scoop, divide batter among 8 large muffin cups lined with muffin papers.  Bake muffins until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 23 minutes. Remove muffins from pan. Cool slightly on rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Store any leftover muffins in an airtight container.  To get leftover muffins back to fresh-baked glory, remove the muffin paper and toast the entire muffin in a toaster oven.  You'll end up with that delicious, crunchy crust again.  Enjoy!

10 January 2010

Arugula and Edamame Crostini

Here is an appetizer that is an absolute delight: Arugula and Edamame Crostini.  To me, it is a quintessential Californian snack, fusing the Mediterranean flavors of Italian rucola (arugula), olive oil, and parmigiano reggiano with the tender bite of Asian edamame, and sparkling with a good squeeze of lemon straight from the garden.  It's fresh, bright green, and packs in healthy phytochemicals and satisfying protein.  This is definitely an appetizer that you can feel good about nibbling on!

photo by Roland Bello, Gourmet Magazine

Arugula and Edamame Crostini
Serves 8, adapted from Gourmet Magazine

1 baguette
1 garlic clove, peeled

1 cup shelled fresh or frozen edamame (3/4 lbs. in pods)
2 cups (packed) fresh arugula
1/4 cup olive oil
3 Tbs. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper

Slice baguette on the diagonal to make 16-20 (1/3-inch) slices.  Arrange slices, in batches, on the rack of a toaster oven and toast until golden brown.  While toasts are still warm, rub the garlic clove over one of the cut surfaces.  Set aside.  (Toasts may be made up to a day in advance and stored in an airtight container.)

Place edamame in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.  Transfer half of the chopped edamame to a large mixing bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and process until smooth.  Add to mixing bowl and stir to combine.  Check seasoning and add more lemon juice, salt, and pepper as desired.  (The edamame spread can be made several days in advance; store covered and refrigerated.)

To serve, spoon the arugula edamame mixture over the baguette toasts.

03 January 2010

Galette des Rois

Golden, buttery, flaky puff pastry enveloping a soft, delicately scented almond filling.  This is the galette des rois.  An exquisite French pastry, yes--but I'm here today to tell you that it is within your power to bake this delicious pastry in your very own kitchen.  Really?  Don't be surprised if you start thinking you're a professional pastry chef when you taste this!  I nearly got carried away by my own visions of grandeur...it was just so good, and so beautiful.

Now that we're starting into January, it's time for making and eating galette des rois, or "cake of the kings," the traditional French pastry eaten in celebration of Epiphany.  According to the gospel of Matthew, the infant Jesus was visited by three kings, and church tradition has it that these kings (named Caspar, Balthasaar, and Melchior, if you were wondering) arrived 12 days after the birth of Christ to pay him homage.  This twelfth day of Christmas, which falls on January 6, is known as Epiphany.

For centuries, Epiphany has been marked by the eating of king cakes as well as by the tomfoolery associated with Epiphany Eve (also known as Twelfth Night).  One of the most famous traditions is the eating of the king cake, in which a dried bean or trinket has been hidden.  The one who finds the bean in their slice is then crowned king or queen of the day and may bid their "subjects" to do all sorts of silly things!

In France, the galette des rois is enjoyed in the days preceding and following Epiphany.  If you happen to be far from a French bakery, however, don't despair!  Like I'm telling you, it is easy to make a delectable galette of your own at home, thanks especially to frozen puff pastry now available in most supermarkets.  (Of course, you're welcome to make your own puff pastry from scratch, but the hours spent rolling layers of butter and dough by hand would bump the difficulty level of this pastry from "easy" to "you've got to be kidding me.")   After reading up on the making of galette des rois, I came up with this straightforward recipe that yields perfect results.  I served this just yesterday at a Twelfth Night soiree, and as my guests loved the crisp and flaky puff pastry and soft almond filling so much, I realized this was a recipe to share!

Galette des Rois

10 ounces marzipan (60% almond paste, 40% sugar)
2 Tbs. softened butter
2 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. flour
2 eggs
1 tsp. rum
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 large dried bean
2 sheets puff pastry (from one 17 oz. package), thawed
1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water
powdered sugar

Roll out the puff pastry sheets to erase the creases and cut two 10-inch circles.  Chill pastry dough.  Meanwhile, beat together marzipan, butter, sugar, flour, eggs, rum, and vanilla until smooth to create the frangipane filling.

Spread the frangipane over one of the pastry circles, leaving a one-inch border.  Press the bean into the filling.  Moisten the border with water, then place the second circle over and press to seal the border.  Pierce the top layer in a few places to allow steam to vent during baking, and brush top with egg wash.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 425 F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F and continue baking 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.  (Don't open the oven door during the first half of the baking period; the pastry dough needs sustained heat in order to rise, and cool drafts could deflate the glorious puff!)  Let galette cool, then dust with powdered sugar.

01 January 2010

Spaghetti bolognese for the soul

As two birthdays and New Year's Eve converged last night, my family celebrated with an evening of food and games around the table.  Mounds of succulent spaghetti bolognese, chilled champagne, several rounds of Boggle, induction into the mysteries of Texas Hold 'Em (for some reason I find it really hard to wrap my mind around the rules of poker), ensuing hilarity (have you ever laughed so hard you couldn't breathe?), and a German-style birthday cake saw us out of 2009.  If this was a harbinger of what the new year will be like, then 2010 will be a very, very good year.

The first red sauce I learned how to make was based on the recipe from my grandmother, with a combination of garlic, onions, tomato paste, and crushed tomatoes.  Over the years, I've tried delicious variations, like cutting out the tomato paste, adding carrots and sometimes celery, or adding in a little wine.  Then I came across a recipe that used milk.  As the descendant of southern Italians, I found the idea of dairy in a red sauce to be quite foreign.  Sure, I generously sprinkle the parmigiano on at the table, but to actually cook the sauce along with the cheese and with milk?!  A bit skeptical, I wanted to try it out, half hoping it'd be a disaster and proving the non-dairy way of my heritage was superior.

But when I tasted that sauce, savored the depth of its flavor and the silkiness that made it cling to the spaghetti strands and linger on my tastebuds, I knew that bolognese was a keeper. Smelling the fragrance of garlic, pancetta, and tomato and twirling and eating large forkfuls of spaghetti coated with meaty bolognese sauce was so totally down to earth yet exquisitely satisfying.  I've made this several times now, and every time it's a winner.  Simmer it long and let the flavors meld, don't be shy about using milk, and above all, sit down and eat this meal with some loved ones.  This is a dish that draws people together, feeding body and soul.

Spaghetti Bolognese
Serves 4-6

4 oz. pancetta, chopped to fine diced
1/2 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 tsp. salt
6 oz. tomato paste
1/3 cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano
1 cup milk
ground black pepper

1 lb. spaghetti (I used Barilla's spaghetti rigati)
Handful of Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, minced
Extra parmigiano reggiano for the table

Saute pancetta in a large pot over medium heat, until fat is rendered and pancetta is crisp.  Drain pancetta on paper towels and wipe out pot.  Return pancetta to pot and add diced onions, continuing to cook until onions are soft.  Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, then add ground beef and sprinkle with salt.

Cook ground beef, breaking up lumps, until meat is no longer pink.  Add tomato paste, grated cheese, and milk, and stir to combine.  Cover sauce and simmer on low heat 2 hours.  Skim off fat, and then, for the best sauce, continue to simmer 2-4 more hours.  Check seasoning and add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then cook spaghetti until al dente.  Scoop spaghetti from boiling water and add to bolognese sauce, adding cooking water from the pasta pot as needed to loosen the sauce.  Stir to coat spaghetti strands with sauce.

To serve, mound spaghetti into wide bowls, scoop extra meat over, and sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley.  Pass extra parmigiano and black pepper at the table.


Curious about the German-style birthday cake we had?  With my German baking heritage, I was interested in a recipe a friend found for Apfel K√§sekuchen (Apple Cheese Cake).  The crust is made from a yeast dough and the creamy topping, made from quark, is more tangy than an American cheesecake.  With our familiarity and preference for German desserts, my family found it pretty tasty.  If you do try making this, though, I must warn you that the flour measurements posted in this recipe are not exact, and I had to keep adding more flour to make it work.