31 March 2012

Italian Breakfast Bread

Ah, there is nothing quite so indulgent as an Italian breakfast.  A cappuccino, a sweet pastry, and well, then you can face the day.  My days of late have been unbelievably busy, as I am in the midst of wrapping up the last major experiments for my doctoral program and am under the gun to finish writing my dissertation.  It's been hard hanging in there, getting up each morning to slog through the work that must be done, and having a morning treat sometimes makes the biggest difference in getting the day going.  I've been missing you, friends, and have been itching to do more blogging.  Until the craziness settles down, though, I won't be around as much.  But, I wanted to let you know that I'm thinking of you, and I wanted to share with you a delicious sweet Italian breakfast bread that will have you hopping out of bed to start your mornings too.  It's a fantastic recipe to try out for Easter next week!

Springtime in the Italian culinary world means it's time for yeast-leavened breads, tender green peas, and eggs.  Food that is symbolic of the new life emerging this time of year.  And just like fresh green shoots springing from the ground, or the celebration of new life at Easter, this breakfast bread, rising and puffing up out of its baking pan, is a beautiful thing.

Every Easter, for as long as I can remember, my mother has baked a traditional Easter bread.  When us kids were younger, she would give us half of the dough, letting us shape our own bunny loaves, decorating the bunnies with raisin faces and buttons down their fronts.  With the other half, she would form a braided wreath, tucking colored eggs into the loaf, according to our Italian family tradition of symbolizing the new life that arises from Jesus' crown of thorns.

Sharing similarities with our original family recipe, this bread is a lightly-sweet, yeast-leavened bread, enriched with egg and studded with golden raisins, dried cranberries, and chunks of candied lemon peel.  With a golden, crusty exterior and a soft and fluffy interior, this bread is delicious just as it is, or toasted with a bit of butter.

And I imagine leftovers would make an absolutely amazing bread pudding, should you be wanting something a little more decadent!  Best wishes to you this springtime, and happy Easter!

Italian Sweet Breakfast Bread
Adapted from Lacy Lynn
Makes one 10-inch round loaf

2 ½ tsp. active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 Tbs. white sugar
2 eggs
½ cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
4-5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ cup chopped candied lemon peel

In the bowl of a large stand mixer, combine yeast, water and sugar. Cover and let stand 10 minutes, or until foamy.  (If yeast does not foam, discard and begin again with new yeast.)  Add eggs, yogurt, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt. Mix well. With the paddle attachment of the stand mixer, stir in flour ½ cup at a time, scraping sides of bowl down, until dough starts to form (after adding ~3 cups).  Switch to the dough hook and continue adding flour (about 1 more cup) until dough forms a manageable mass.  Continue kneading for 5 to 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary, until dough is soft and pliable, but not sticky (up to 5 cups).

Form dough into a large ball and coat all sides with vegetable oil.  (I like to lift the dough out of the bowl, pour a tablespoon of oil in, then turn the dough around in the oil until the dough, as well as the sides of the bowl, are greased.)  Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down in bowl, transfer to a floured surface, and knead in the dried fruits.  The goal is to get the fruits uniformly throughout the dough without any of them actually bursting out into the exterior of the bread (as they will burn if exposed in the oven).

Form dough into a ball and place in a greased 9-10 inch round pan.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and cool rise in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, remove pan from refrigerator and let come to room temperature (about 1 hour before baking).  Bake in a preheated oven at 350 F  for 45 minutes, or until loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  (If bread browns too quickly on top, cover with a piece of foil.)

22 March 2012

Signs of Spring: Baby Radish Greens Kimchi

When I'm down and tired, I really just crave some good, clean comfort food.  Something that hits the spot and comfortably fills the tummy, yet super healthy so that it doesn't weigh me down even more.  I think I've now added this 열무김치 (yeolmu kimchi) to that list of comfort foods.  Pungent and spicy, fermented yet bright green and crunchy, this baby radish greens kimchi is feel-good food that goes perfectly with a bowl of steaming rice.

I first had yeolmu kimchi last summer while visiting Korea.  My friend, Ashley, took me to a fantastic mandu (dumpling) restaurant right next door to her home, and we shared a bubbling casserole loaded with goodies (including the most enormous dumplings I've ever seen) and a fantastically crispy bindaetteok.  The banchan were simple: some kkakdugi and some of this yeolmu kimchi, served in a bowl with ice shavings.  Sipping spoonfuls of the refreshingly icy-cold kimchi juices that hot August day, we talked about food, we talked about k-drama stars, we talked about some of the sights of Seoul we'd be checking out that day.

Since that time, I've wanted to learn how to make it, but lacking a good recipe, as well as the requisite baby radish greens, I haven't had the opportunity.  Until recently, that is.  Browsing through my local Saturday morning farmers market (farmer's market?  farmers' market?), I came across one vendor that had two bunches--get this, only two bunches--of small white radishes with beautiful green tops.  I doubt the radishes were the same variety as the kind traditionally used in yeolmu kimchi, the traditional variety having narrowly tapered roots and these being the more globe-shaped kind, but the greens looked good and so I snapped them up.

One of the things I love about blogging is getting to tap into a great network of cooking friends' recipes.  Going over to Holly's blog, Beyond Kimchee, I found her recipe and tried it out.  You can see in these pictures my yeolmu kimchi just before I set it off to ferment.  After aging it at room temperature for a couple days, I then let it hang out in the refrigerator, as Holly suggested, to let the flavors meld even more.  It was hard, I tell you, having to wait all week!

But in the end, the taste was well worth it.  It's fermented, dear reader, so be forewarned if you don't care for that sort of pungency...but in my book it is absolutely delicious.  Thank you for sharing the recipe, Holly, and thank God for Springtime and baby radishes!

17 March 2012

Lentil Curry Potato Salad

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!  For those of you celebrating today, I thought I'd share a delicious--and "green"--dish for the occasion.  I just love lentils, and wanting a healthy and satisfying meal one day, I decided to try out a recipe developed by my friend Brien Seay.  Brien, formerly a cook at Chez Panisse and now a purveyor of high quality, all-natural herbs and spices, has come up with a gem of a recipe.  This delicious dish is just the thing for a simple supper (especially in this Lenten season) or for a twist on your ordinary side of potatoes for your St. Paddy's day feast.

Soft, curry-simmered lentils and chunks of potato are gently tossed with a red wine vinaigrette and finished off with fresh herbs. (I used cilantro here, but you could switch this out for Italian flat leaf parsley if you like.)  And it's not just the taste that has me coming back for more; full of health-boosting spices, fiber, and protein, this is a dish you can feel really good about eating!

For more of Brien's recipes and to browse his seasonings for sale, check out his website for The Culinary Collection.

Curry Lentil Salad with Potatoes
Adapted from The Culinary Collection

4 medium red skinned potatoes
1 1/2 cups green lentils
6 cups water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. cumin
3/4 tsp. asafoetida
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbs. olive oil
Leaves from 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Cook whole potatoes in water until done.  Cool thoroughly, then peel and cut into 1/2-inch cubes.

In a large pot, whisk together 6 cups water, salt, curry powder, cumin, and asafoetida.  Bring to a boil, then add the lentils, reduce heat, and simmer until lentils are done, about 30 minutes.  Drain lentils, reserving cooking liquid.

Transfer lentils to a large mixing bowl and let cool to room temperature (cooling first will prevent them from getting mushy when tossing the salad).  When cool, sprinkle with red wine vinegar, olive oil, and cilantro, add the cubed potatoes, and toss gently to combine.

Check seasoning and add more salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, adding reserved cooking liquid as desired if salad appears too dry.  Serve at room temperature.

12 March 2012

It's just this one special ingredient...

It's just this one special ingredient that makes the difference.  Dear readers, if you haven't met this culinary wonder, let me introduce you now to my new friend 새우젓.  What was that, you ask?  My friend's name is saewoojeot, pronounced "say-oo-jawt," and in English is best described as "salted shrimps."

Honestly, it is no understatement to say that saewoojeot has revolutionized my kimchi making.  Oh wow.  I love kimchi in all its many forms, but one of my favorites for the past few years has been the cubed radish kimchi 깍두기 (kkakdugi).  It's deeply-flavored, crunchy and refreshing, and it's a wonderful aid to digestion.  A while ago I shared one recipe that I'd been working off of, but to be honest, it didn't quite hit the mark for me.  I've been trying various kkakdugi recipes here and there in the meantime, pursuing this holy grail, and now I think I have finally found the recipe for me.

I've always been in suspense after mixing up a fresh batch of this radish kimchi, waiting impatiently for it to ferment and for the flavors to develop.  Wondering if it will taste the way I know it ought to taste.  Then being left slightly disappointed each time I tasted my successive kkakdugi attempts.  So when it came to this one, let me tell you I was utterly transported with joy I was when I realized this was it!

Unlike several other recipes I've tried, this one requires saewoojeot.  These salted shrimps are suuuuper salty and briny, but they give a depth of flavor that was never had before.  And I think it is what makes all the difference. So where did this wonderful recipe come from?  From Hyosun Ro, blogger behind "Eating and Living."   Using the finest Korean radish for this kkakdugi (my experimentation shows why you shouldn't use regular daikon), I made it pretty much exactly as she directs,  although I did omit the raw fresh shrimp.

For ease of mixing and mincing the ingredients of the kimchi paste, I used an immersion stick blender (though a small food processor would be another great option).  Make sure you take the time to massage the paste onto each cube of radish--with disposable gloves, this process is a breeze and will ensure the best kimchi.

So grab yourself a jar of saewoojeot next time you're at a Korean market and then head on over to check out Hyosun's recipe.  You won't be disappointed!

Wait...there's a little extra for today!

Quick Korean lesson:

The Korean radish used in kkakdugi is known as...
무 (Hangeul)
mu  (Revised Romanization)
moo (my pronunciation guide for you)

The Korean language is written using Hangeul, a phonetic alphabet system of consonants and vowels.  Each syllable is written to fill the space of a square and includes a starting consonant (or place holder for syllables starting with a vowel sound), a vowel, and sometimes a final consonant.

It is easy to learn how to write mu, because we're just working with a single syllable!  ㅁ = "m" and ㅜ = the "oo" sound (transliterated properly as "u").  So stack them into the space of a single square, working top to bottom, and you get 무!  Pretty cool, hunh?

Bonus question of the day:  Where else on this post can you spot the  ㅜ ("oo") vowel?

04 March 2012

Bibimguksu (비빔국수) Korean Spicy Cold Noodles

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What is going on with this weather?!  Can it really be in the upper 80's today?  Thank you yes, I'll take more of this for forever!

It really feels like winter is over in Santa Barbara.  Of course, the fog monster will probably rear its ugly head, jealous of us Santa Barbarans frolicking happily in the sun, but let me just block that thought out of my mind and concentrate on enjoying this glorious day right now.  It's been so rejuvenating basking in the warm sunshine all day long...early morning run, walking around downtown, eating lunch outside, nodding off over my Chinese vocabulary notes while sunbathing...

With this kind of hot weather today, I'm definitely reminded of my time in East Asia last summer.  Being that it was hot and humid there round the clock, I definitely enjoyed cool drinks like barley tea (both 麥茶 in Taiwan and 보리차 in Korea) and cool dishes like 刨冰 and 콩국수.

One dish I particularly enjoyed in Korea was 비빔국수 (bibimguksu), cold somyeon noodles coated with a tangy gochujang (red pepper paste) sauce, with an egg and cucumber slivers on top.  I'd been visiting the traditional Korean Folk Village with a colleague and his family, and we stopped for a bite to eat in the midst of our explorations.  It sure was tasty, and thankfully, bibimguksu is an easy dish to whip up at home, especially if you have a jar of cho-gochujang mixed up and sitting in the fridge like I had today.  Add a few veggies, and it's a nice balanced meal or snack good for any hot day!

Side note: the noodles pictured here are not the thin, round somyeon noodles that are normally used in this dish.   All I had in the house at the moment was jjajangmyeon noodles, but heh, they worked in a pinch.

Bibimguksu (비빔국수) Spicy Cold Noodles
Makes 1 serving

1 egg
2 oz. wheat noodles
2 Tbs. cho-gochujang (recipe follows)
1 cup broccoli florets, thinly sliced
black sesame seeds and cucumber slivers, for garnish

Place egg in a medium pot and fill pot 3/4 full with water.  Cover pot, place over high heat and bring water to a boil.  When water is boiling, add noodles and cook (uncovered) according to package directions.

Remove noodles when done and rinse with cold water and ice cubes.  Add broccoli to boiling water and cook until just tender but still bright green.  Drain egg and broccoli and cool with cold water and ice cubes.

Arrange broccoli in a serving bowl.  Mix cooked, drained noodles with cho-gochujang sauce in a separate bowl, then arrange the noodles over the broccoli, and garnish with cucumber, hard-boiled egg, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Cho-Gochujang (초 고추장)
(Sweet and Sour Korean Chili Paste Sauce)

3 Tbs. Korean red chili paste (gochujang, 고추장)
2 Tbs. superfine sugar (or honey)
2 Tbs. rice (or apple cider) vinegar
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. roasted sesame oil
1 tsp. sesame seeds

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.  A delicious condiment, this sauce is great on almost anything!  Store any leftover sauce in the refrigerator for later use.

01 March 2012

Retro Canapés: Chicken Mousse in Tomato Cups

Every now and then, I get the itch to throw a party.  Like a pull-out-all-the-stops kind of party.  Something with linen cocktail napkins, mood music, fancy drinks and eats, elegant dress code.  So that's what I've been wrapped up with this past weekend, hosting about a dozen friends for a "Fabulous Fifties" cocktail party--an evening of costumes, cocktails, and canapés galore.  It was such a blast seeing everyone decked out in their 50's glam, sampling some amazing canapés (each guest brought a platter to enter into the evening's canapé competition), sipping fancy cocktails straight out of Gourmet magazine's 1950's issues, and spending an evening together with good friends.

I think I have just as much fun planning a party as I do the night of the party itself.  This time, I got hours of entertainment reading about the 50's, organizing trivia quizzes, researching authentic recipes of the era, and dreaming about all the little details.


What many people probably already know is that the 50's were a time of convenience foods, mayonnaise- and sour cream-laden concoctions, aspics, and other culinary marvels.  (Okay, I held back from saying "horrors" just there...I guess not all of it was terrible-tasting, and some aspics can be down-right beautiful!)  One recipe that struck me as absolutely fascinating was a recipe for ham -or- chicken mousse.  Wow, a mousse made out of meat?  I then realized that this could actually be quite delicious, spritzed into tomato cups, for example, for a tasty little cracker-free canapé.

And indeed it was delicious.  The soft and creamy chicken filling plus juicy and refreshing tomato is such a good combination, and the swirled mousse and contrasting colors of parsley and tomato make them a delightful sight for the eyes.  Serve these as an hors d'oeuvre or as one of many dishes for a Smorgasbord buffet supper.

So, from my "1950's" kitchen, here's a little something to enjoy!  What are your favorite flavors of the nineteen-fifties?

Chicken Mousse in Pearl Tomato Cups
Makes 30 tomato cups

1 (12.5 oz.) can chicken, drained, with broth reserved
2 tsp. gelatin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
150 ml heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
15 pearl tomatoes (1-2 inches in diameter)
Italian flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Place powdered gelatin in a small bowl and sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the reserved chicken broth over.  Let sit 5-10 minutes to soften.

Place drained canned chicken in the small bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground and begins to form a paste.  Add softened gelatin and cayenne pepper and pulse food processor until well incorporated.

Transfer chicken to a medium mixing bowl.  Add half of the whipped cream to the chicken and mix together.  Gently fold in the remaining whipped cream.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then place in the refrigerator and chill to allow mousse to stiffen (at least 30 minutes).

Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes.  Cut tomatoes in half along the equator.  Using a melon baller, scoop out and discard (or save for another use) the flesh and seeds.  Pat tomatoes dry with a paper towel, then lightly sprinkle with salt and freshly-ground black pepper.

Fit a pastry bag with an open star tip and fill bag with mousse, then fill each tomato cup with a plump, decorative swirl of mousse.  Garnish each tomato with a whole parsley leaf or a sprinkling of finely minced parsley.  Serve chilled (can be made several hours ahead, keep refrigerated).