28 January 2012

Ratatouille Open-faced Sandwiches

I confess, whenever I think of "ratatouille," the first thing that comes into my mind is the movie, rather than this delicious dish.  Is it the same for you?  I can't help it, being that I didn't even know what ratatouille truly was until well after seeing the film.  But now that this dish of sauteed eggplant, bell pepper, onion, zucchini, and tomato is growing on me, visions of animated chefs are thankfully receding and my mind tends more towards thoughts of Provence, from whence ratatouille hails.

Each ingredient is sauteed separately, consistent with French "Chef of the Century" Joël Robuchon's recommendation, ensuring that the vegetables retain their distinct flavors and characteristics.  They are then combined and simmered together until they meld into one united dish.

Ratatouille can be eaten as a side dish, or it can be the main part of a delightful vegetarian meal, serving it over pasta, potatoes, or bread.  And it's a great way to eat your vegetables!  My family and I enjoyed it very much for a simple lunch recently, spooned over crusty slices of toasted baguette and a smear of soft brie cheese.

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These ratatouille open-faced sandwiches would make a fantastic addition to a spread of appetizers, or a savory part of a brunch.  Just thinking about the sweet and tangy, soft vegetables over some good, crunchy bread is making me hungry for more!

Makes 6 servings

3 cups diced eggplant
2 tsp. sea salt
2 cups diced zucchini
2 cups diced yellow bell pepper
1 ½ cups diced mushroom
1 cup thinly sliced onion
1 cup white wine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. dried basil
Salt and pepper
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
Olive oil, for cooking

Place diced eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with 2 tsp. salt.  Let drain for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, working in batches, prepare the vegetables: heat a few tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the diced zucchini, then the bell pepper, then the diced mushroom, transferring cooked vegetables to a work bowl to keep warm, and adding more olive oil in between batches as needed.

Sauté the sliced onion, and when onion is soft, add the minced garlic and cook for about a minute.  Deglaze the pan with white wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and then add the diced tomatoes and herbs.  Stir the sauce to combine the ingredients well and bring to a boil, then gently fold in all the sautéed vegetables and cover pan.  Lower heat and simmer vegetables for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow flavors to meld.  Season with balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

As a serving suggestion, thickly cut French bread and toast the slices.  Spread toasted slices with a soft cheese such as brie or chevre and spoon ratatouille over.  Makes a delicious open-faced sandwich for lunch or snack!

23 January 2012

Apple Pandowdy with Tangerine Cream

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Winter in Southern California is pretty sweet.  Sunbathing at the end of December?  Check.  Navel oranges and tangerines hanging ripe on the trees in January?  Of course.  How could I ever want to move away from here!  (Sigh, yes, sometimes I do think about it, especially since I'll be needing to find a job this coming June....)

Stepping out of the house right now, I can pick a bowlful of fresh fruit from trees mere paces away.  One of my favorites are the sweet and tart little tangerines that we have.  They're cute and cheery, easily peeled snacks that are packed with Vitamin C.  My sister and I would eat them all the time when we played outside as kids, pretending we were foraging and living off the land in some wild country.  As we did then, we still eat these guys just as they are, segment by segment.  But over the years I've been collecting interesting recipes that use them in creative ways.

Going through my recipe clippings a couple weeks ago, I came across this one for tangerine cream from Ford's Filling Station.  Actually, the focus was more on the pear buckle, which was finished off with a dollop of cream, but for me, it was the tangerine-scented cream that really stood out.  The rest of the recipe, with its oodles of butter and sugar, left me more than a little aghast.

With the inspiration in place, however, it was easy to make some tweaks and I ended up with this delectable apple pandowdy.  What is a pandowdy, you ask?  Well, I didn't know this myself until I delved into the mysteries of cobblers versus crisps versus grunts versus buckles, but a pandowdy is a baked dessert in which a bottom layer of fruit is topped by a rolled-out crust.  Here, slices of Golden Delicious and Fuji apples soften and start to caramelize while a rich crust, fragrant with cardamom (yes I'm on an apple-cardamom kick!), sits golden and crunchy on top.

You can bake these up in individual ramekins for quick and easy serving, or, if you'd rather save time on the preparation end of things, simply assemble in a single shallow baking dish.  The tangerine cream is absolutely marvelous, so be sure you have a couple of tangerines on hand!

Apple Pandowdy with Tangerine Cream 
Inspired by Ford's Filling Station, in Bon Appetit October 2010
Serves 8-10

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 2/3 cup flour

3 pounds apples (Golden Delicious and Fuji)
2 Tbs. cornstarch
2 Tbs. (packed) brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. vanilla extract

for the tangerine cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tsp. superfine sugar
1 tsp. finely grated tangerine zest
2 Tbs. tangerine juice

Beat together butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, cardamom, and vanilla until smooth.  Slowly mix in the flour until well incorporated and dough clumps together, but do not over mix.  Form dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill 1 hour to overnight.

Peel, core, and slice apples into 1/4-inch slices.  Toss with cornstarch, brown sugar, ginger, and vanilla and spread evenly in an 8 x 10-inch pan.

Roll the dough out to fit the pan and place over the apples.  Cut about a dozen 1-inch steam vents over the surface of the dough, and bake in a preheated oven at 400 F for 30 minutes, until crust is golden brown and apples are soft.  Remove from oven and let cool 15 minutes.

While pandowdy is cooling, whip heavy cream together with sugar, tangerine zest, and tangerine juice until soft peaks form.  Scoop servings of pandowdy into dessert bowls and top with freshly whipped tangerine cream.

16 January 2012

Cardamom Custard Puffed Apple Pancake

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With my sister and my sweet nephew Teo visiting from across the country this week, I wanted to make a special breakfast for them.  And this lovely Cardamom Custard Puffed Apple Pancake really fit the occasion.  I've made puffed pancakes before, and they are perfect for a family breakfast.  It all gets baked up in one dish, so you're not stuck flipping pancakes at the stove.  It was so nice to simply whisk it up and pop it in the oven, and then when it was done, getting to sit down to breakfast with the rest of the crowd.


Nothing is so exciting for a three-year-old boy as seeing explosions, so I had a lot of fun with Teo peeking through the oven window as our pancake puffed and swelled like a souffle during baking.  He got such a kick out of watching it grow!  And he was even more excited when it came time to eat it.  He must've been the biggest eater at the breakfast table this morning, eating two servings and mooching off his mama's plate too!

Thin slices of Golden Delicious apples are first slightly caramelized in the baking dish, and then the batter is poured over and baked until it rises into a glorious puff (sadly the pancake deflates once you take it out of the oven...ah well).  I love how the edges of the pancake get nice and crusty while at the center of the pan it stays soft and custardy.  And the scent of vanilla and cardamom is heavenly!  My conclusion?  This is a no-fuss breakfast that's great for everyone in the family: fancy enough to get oohs and ahs from my mother, satisfying enough for my father, and tasty enough to be devoured by my nephew.  It's low in fat, low in sugar (don't want the little guy crashing off of a sugar high!), a good source of protein, and it has fruit in it too.  My family fueled up on this and then headed out for a leisurely morning walk along the beach.  It was fantastic being together, watching Teo's antics and letting our own inner kids come out, having some family fun in the brisk January sunshine.

Cardamom Custard Puffed Apple Pancake
Makes 4-5 Servings

2 Tbs. salted butter
2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
4 large eggs
3 Tbs. sugar
1 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Place butter in a 9 x 13 - inch baking dish and place dish in oven until hot and butter has melted.  Fan apple slices over the surface of the melted butter and return to oven for 10 minutes, until apples are softened and the edges of the dish are beginning to brown.

In a deep bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar, then whisk in milk, vanilla, salt, and cardamom.  Fold in flour and then blend with an immersion stick blender until completely smooth.  (Alternatively, mix all ingredients in a blender.)

Pour batter over the softened apples in the baking dish and return to the oven.  Bake until pancake is puffed and deep golden brown along the edges, about 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and dust with powdered sugar.  Serve immediately.

12 January 2012

Wine Cakes with Red Grapes

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With my aunt and uncle from Germany in town, I thought I'd bake some of these individual wine cakes with grapes for a family Kaffeetrinken one recent winter afternoon.  It's a recipe that I've been meaning to try out ever since I read it in an issue of Gourmet two years ago--it sounded marvelous--but then I don't know what happened, and here I am two years later, finally getting around to it.  Actually, I know what happened.  My stacks and stacks of dog-eared and book-marked Gourmet magazines attest loudly that I was facing an onslaught of too many interesting recipes to try and not enough time.  Isn't that how it often goes?  With hard copies of Gourmet no longer being produced (sadness!), I now at least have some respite from a monthly subscription to catch up on the cooking.  (I've also vowed not to buy any cookbooks--at least until I try every single one of those marked recipes!)

If anyone remembers the January 2009 issue, it was a stunningly beautiful spread of Italian dishes, from gorgeous spaghetti and meatballs to sauteed broccoli rabe and risottos.  Included was a recipe for these cakelets, a perfect, not-too-sweet ending to an Italian meal.  It sounded like it would be just the thing for a German Kaffeetrinken as well.  And it was!  Though it originally calls for vin santo (an Italian dessert wine), this recipe also works wonderfully with a nice sweet moscato, something that is more easily found in stores around here (and is more affordable, to boot).

It was so nice sitting around the table, reunited after not seeing each other for so long, catching up on how the various cousins and second cousins are doing, getting bits of news from the mother country.  Chit-chatting in German about little daily matters and enjoying a restful late afternoon together over cake.  Discussing the best way to cook schnitzel, the relative merits of German autos, my cousin's hunt for an apartment in Nürnberg.  Times like these come rarely, but when they do, I am all the more grateful for them.  They are a welcome break from the daily pattern of Southern California life, reminding me that life is not just about "me," but rather that I belong to a tapestry of family that extends around the world and back into centuries past.  Reconnecting with family like this brings back to mind what is important in life.  It doesn't hurt that there's cake on the table, either!

Wine Cakes with Grapes
Recipe from Gourmet, January 2009
Makes 6-12 individual cakes, depending on size

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
2/3 cup Moscato or other sweet wine
1 1/4 cups seedless red grapes (7 ounces)

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Generously butter muffin cups (a jumbo pan with 6-8 oz. cups or a regular pan with 12-4 oz. cups) and dust with flour, knocking out excess.

In one bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat butter with 2/3 cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in orange zest.

Add flour mixture in 2 batches alternately with wine, beginning and ending with flour and mixing until just incorporated.

Toss grapes with remaining tablespoon flour, then fold into batter.

Divide batter among muffin cups. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Bake until golden and springy to the touch (18-20 minutes for jumbo cups and about 15 minutes for regular cups). Cool in pan 5 minutes, then loosen with a knife and remove.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

05 January 2012

Kimchi Fried Rice (김치 볶음밥)

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I simply must share with you one of the easiest go-to meals ever.  And the most addictive.  It's comfort food like none other, and it probably ranks as one of the most frequently made dishes in the repertoire of Korean bachelors and students.  It's kimchi fried rice, or kimchi bokkeumbap (김치 볶음밥).

Visiting Korea last summer, I was so thrilled to get to have kimchi for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!  Now, not everybody in the States has as strong an affinity for this spicy fermented cabbage as I have, but wondrously, cooking kimchi (whether by boiling it in a soup, or frying it up with rice) removes some of the pungent fermented aroma that is so off-putting for many Westerners and transforms it into a downright flavorful vegetable.  The savory taste of cooked kimchi is truly delicious.

One of my favorite memories from my time in Korea was sitting down to breakfast with a colleague and his family.  His wife had made kimchi bokkeumbap for breakfast, and it was one of the tastiest meals ever.  I was delighted when she told me how to make it, and since then, I've made it a number of times, the most recent occasion being a breakfast for me and my brother.  We sat down to steaming bowls of rice fried with kimchi and sauteed onions and topped with a sesame-scented fried egg.  Ah, it was so delicious, breaking the yolk and stirring the egg into the rice, and eating it by big spoonfuls!  I can happily report that this recipe is brother-approved.

Well-fermented kimchi yields the best results, as it provides a depth of flavor not had from freshly-made kimchi.  And cold rice yields the best texture (as freshly steamed rice could result in a mushy mash), so this tasty and speedy meal is a convenient use for leftovers.  Enjoy!

Kimchi Fried Rice (김치 볶음밥)
Makes 2 servings

sesame oil, for cooking
1 cup diced onion
2 cups cold, cooked rice
1-2 Tbs. gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
1 1/2 cups chopped kimchi (and 1-2 Tbs. juices)
minced green onion for garnish (optional)
2 eggs

In a large non-stick pan, saute onion in a little sesame oil until onions are cooked and translucent.  Add the rice and stir to break up any clumps of rice and mix together with the onion.  Gochujang burns easily in the pan, so for best preparation, make an even bed of rice in the pan and then scoop the gochujang on top.  Add the chopped kimchi and any collected juices on top and use the kimchi to loosen up the gochujang and slowly stir it into the rice.

As rice is cooking, fry up the eggs in some sesame oil in a separate pan.  Divide fried rice among serving bowls, sprinkle with green onions, and top with a fried egg.