Take the white sauce challenge!

White Sauce

White Sauce work-in-progress

The other night I made shish kabob and wanted some white sauce to drizzle on the accompanying pilaf. You know, like the Halal Guys white sauce dished out from their truck in Manhattan. But not exactly. I also wanted it to be light and refreshing like a traditional Greek tsadziki (but without the pureed cucumber which makes it too watery). And it wouldn’t be bad if it had a family resemblance to the garlic spread (thicker than a sauce) at Goood Frickin’ Chicken in San Francisco.

For my baseline effort I assembled ½ c mayo, ¼ c greek yoghurt, 1 very large garlic clove, 2 T white vinegar, ½ dried dill weed and a pinch each of sumac and white pepper. Whirled until puréed with an immersion blender. The result was too thin, but otherwise not bad at all. Use it as a starting point if you would like to play along; we will be returning to this challenge periodically during 2018.

By the way, if you want to have some Internet fun google “Halal Guys White Sauce Recipe”. You will be delighted with the range of emollients and spices in these experiments, many apparently goaded on by the Halal Guys themselves. It isn’t actually that great a sauce to begin with, so we definitely will do better.

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Food for Thought: Ottolenghi on Kindle

The other day I discovered that Yotam Ottolenghi’s eponymous first book is just $2.99 in the Kindle edition. What a great deal! This book did not get the attention of his two subsequent books, Jerusalem and Plenty, but it’s loaded with good stuff and is in many ways more accessible because it’s a pastiche of recipes served at his restaurant, not all of them Middle Eastern, in general using more familiar ingredients.

For example, here’s an adaptation of “Cucumber and poppy seed salad”: peel, halve and core 1 lb (2 large) cucumbers then cut on the bias into 1-inch slices. Mix with two mild long red chilis, seeded and cut lengthwise into thin strips; if you can’t find such peppers, substitute 1/2 red bell pepper cut into thin strips. Add 3 T finely chopped cilantro, 1/2 c safflower or other mild oil, 4 T rice vinegar, 2 T sugar, 2 T poppyseed. Mix thoroughly then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately; if any is left over drain the liquid that will accumulate before serving. See? Easy and good!

I think in general Kindle cookbooks are more practical than paper because you can prop up your tablet in an accessible but safe location and refer to it as you cook. A couple of my chef friends disagree; they like the tactile pleasure of the physical book. But I think they would then adapt the recipes to their own method rather than following them to the degree a home cook would.

Anyway, Ottolenghi on Kindle is such a great bargain you”ll have money left over to get the hardcover if you like. Check it out!

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Recipe: Mom’s Tangy Lemon Bars

Tangy Lemon Bars

Mom’s Tangy Lemon Bars. You can blot the top with a paper towel while still warm to remove the froth, but I like it the way it is.

My mother loved the lemon bars from Putnam Market in Saratoga Springs, so in honor of her 100th birthday I whipped up a close approximation based on a recipe from Alice Medrich. These are really easy to make and very, very good. Makes 16 two-bite bars.

1 stick (8 T) unsalted butter, melted
2 T sugar
3/4 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
1 c AP flour

For the topping:
1 c + 2 T sugar
3 T AP flour
3 large eggs
1 1/2 t finely grated lemon zest*
1/2 c fresh squeezed lemon juice, strained**

Method: Line an 8×8 inch baking pan with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the bottom third. Melt butter and mix in vanilla, 2 T sugar, salt and 1 C flour. Transfer this crust/batter to the baking pan and use a spoon or your fingers to spread it so the pan is evenly covered to the edges. Bake 25-30 minutes until edges are brown and center is a golden brown.

Lemon Bars

Lemon Bars after slicing

While the crust is baking, whisk eggs until well beaten and mix in other ingredients. After the crust is done, lower oven temperature to 300, pull out oven rack for access and pour lemon/egg mixture over crust. Bake 20-25 minutes until eggs are firm and no longer jiggly. Cool completely before slicing into 16 2-inch squares or larger or smaller bars as you wish. Medrich advises that if you don’t want a foamy top (as pictured) you can blot gently with a paper towel and you can also sift on powdered sugar.

*This is a lot of lemon zest, harvested from two good-sized lemons using a microplane. But don’t stint because this is key to the recipe.
**You can also substitute Lakewood Organic Lemon Juice for some or all of the fresh squeezed lemon juice.

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Recipe: Pickled Turnips Mediterranean-style

Pickled Turnips

Pickled Turnips Mediterranean-Style

The pickled turnips at Falafel’s Drive-In in Cupertino, CA were so good I’d order extras on the side. Here’s my re-creation, with help from the Jerusalem cookbook. (I’ve tweaked Ottolenghi’s recipe which I feel is not sour enough.) A good accompaniment to hummus or shish kabob, or as a component of a mezze platter.

2-3 lbs turnips of similar size
1 medium or 2 small beets
1/2 jalapeño, sliced thin (optional)
1 3/4 c distilled white vinegar
3 c water
Kosher salt

Method: peel the turnips and beets and cut into 1-inch chunks. Place in a non-reactive bowl and sprinkle with 1 T salt, then toss with spoon or your hands (they will turn pink) till all surfaces are coated. Cover with a plate and cure overnight. The next day, transfer the vegetables and their juices to a large jar. Add chiles and 3 T salt, then vinegar and water; close the jar and shake to dissolve the salt. Add more water and vinegar in a ratio of 7 parts vinegar to 12 parts water to cover the vegetables. Place in a well-lit spot for 4 days. The pickles will be ready when they have a nice tang and no longer taste raw. Will keep in refrigerator for a couple of months.

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Hacking the Ribeye Cap Steak from Salt & Char

Rib Cap Plated

Ribeye Cap Steak, plated, with compound butter

I have long been fascinated by the ribeye cap steak at Salt & Char, the high end steakhouse in downtown Saratoga Springs, NY. When Bobby Flay proclaimed it the “best thing I ever ate” on a recent Cooking Channel show, I decided it was time to try making this dish at home. Luckily, it was holiday season and I was able to get a nice deal on a large-end half rib roast at a local market.

Rib Roast Cap On

Rib roast with rib cap on (at right)

The rib cap is a layer of tender, marbled flesh on the outside of the roast, separated from the rib eye by a layer of fat. It’s hard to find at retail because, as my butcher explained, you have to compromise the rest of the roast to harvest it. Luckily I had some compliant diners who were willing to participate in my experiment.

Rib Roast Cap Off

Now the rib cap has been removed and is ready to butterfly, truss and slice.

My rib cap weighed 8 ounces when removed. (Salt & Char advertises theirs as 9 oz. which means they get two servings from a full prime rib. Maybe it comes from a larger cow, or includes more of the interior fat.) Following the technique demonstrated by Chef Braden Reardon on the TV show I butterflied and trussed it, then cut across the roll to create 4 appetizer steaks. I followed the Salt & Char saucing ingredient list to make a compound butter out of beurre noisette (clarified from a 4 oz stick), 1 t chopped fresh rosemary, ¼ c roasted garlic cloves, ¼ c chopped red onion and a bit of salt and pepper. This was pureed with an immersion blender and allowed to harden slightly.

Rib Caps Aged

Mini rib caps ready to cook, after a couple days of refrigerator aging.

The steaks themselves I cooked off in a very hot cast iron skillet with Kosher salt. 2 minutes per side and 5 minutes resting time produced a nice medium rare. The result was very popular: tender with lots of beefy flavor. It probably wasn’t as good as Salt & Char’s dish, but it also wasn’t $78, which they charge for the 9 oz rib cap made with Wagyu beef.

And as to the rest of the rib roast, the absence of the rib cap made no difference in presentation or accceptance. It looked and ate like a standard prime rib roast. So, no reason not to try this yourself. Just be sure to leave a full layer of fat on the exterior of the roast so you won’t lose that lovely crispy crust.

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Recipe: KFC-Style Black Eyed Pea Salad (AKA Kentucky Caviar)

Black Eyed Pea Salad

KFC-Style Black Eyed Pea Salad

In the South, folks eat black eyed peas around New Years Day for good luck. Thus it occurred to us to take our very popular KFC Three-Bean Salad and modify it for a KFC-Style Black Eyed Pea Salad. The result was beyond satisfactory. Seasoned black eyed peas are often presented as “Texas Caviar” so you might as well call this “Kentucky Caviar”. Makes about 12 servings.

4 c cooked black eye peas, tender but not soft*
1 t salt
1/4 c chopped red or green bell pepper, or a mixture
1/4 c chopped white or red onion
1/4 c cider vinegar
2 T sugar
3/4 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
1/4 c vegetable oil

Method: place cooked black eyed** peas, chopped peppers and onions in a serving bowl. Add all dry ingredients to a jar, pour in vinegar, shake until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add oil, shake to emulsify, pour over bowl ingredients and mix gently with a spoon. Marinate at least 6 hours before serving, preferably overnight.

*Unless you have fresh black eyed peas available, start with dried. 1/2 pound dried peas will yield 4 cups cooked. Cover dried peas with a generous amount of water in a saucepan, bring to boil, turn off heat and let soak one hour or more. Add 1 t salt and more water to cover if needed, and simmer for 1 hour or until peas are tender but have not become mushy. Cool to room temperature and drain before using in salad.

**By the way, I am using this punctuation rendition because it seems the most accepted on the web, and it’s the name of the pop group. But I really don’t like it. “Black Eyed” implies that somebody put eyes in the peas, or made the existing eyes black, neither of which is true. Also, I’m on the fence as to whether the two words should be hyphenated or even be a single word, eg “blackeye”. Thoughts?

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Our most popular recipe of 2017 is…

Three bean salad KFC style

Three bean salad KFC style (plus bonus garbanzos)

… The Colonel’s KFC Three-Bean Salad! This copycat recipe edged out perennial favorite Vincent’s Garlic Cole Slaw in cumulative page views over the past few weeks, and the margin is now too great to be reversed. So we’re calling it, four days early.

The source of these clicks is not hard to discern. If you google “KFC three-bean salad” you’ll see our picture at the top of the page, oddly next to someone else’s recipe. Those who try the recipe will be well rewarded for the hunt. It’s got a nice sweet-sour balance that’s just a tad more tart than KFC’s late lamented prep. And though it’s made almost entirely from canned ingredients, the dressing gives it a fresh taste. It’s a painless, delicious way to eat your veggies.

If you haven’t tried it, please make some KFC three-bean salad today and include the bonus garbanzos. Even better, try this modification using black eyed peas. Just the thing to celebrate the new year.

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Recipe: Fermented Beet Pickles

Fermented Beet Pickles

Fermented Beet Pickles

Fermented beet pickles are similar to sauerkraut in texture and flavor profile, but made with beets. (If you’re looking for the traditional sweet beet pickles, here they are.) Toss them in a salad, or serve on a mezze plate with other pickled and prepared things. The optional middle eastern spices add some nice complexity and are highly recommended. Makes 2 pints.

2 lbs firm red beets, cleaned and peeled
1/4 c kosher, non-iodized salt
1 T cumin seed, optional
1 1/2 t ground sumac, optional

Method: shred the beets with the coarse side of a box grater. Transfer to a glass or ceramic fermenting vessel (a wide mouth canning jar works fine), adding a big spoonful of beets, a small spoonful of salt, repeating until the salt is evenly distributed among all the beet shreds. Press the top layer down and cover with something that is as close to the diameter of the fermenting vessel as possible; a slightly smaller canning jar, with something in it to add weight, is ideal. Cover with a dishtowel and leave in a dark cool place for 3-5 days until fermentation begins and the beets have thrown off some liquid.

Transfer to a bowl (or leave in the jar, if there’s room to really mix the pickles with a big spoon) and mix in some salt water (1 T kosher salt dissolved in 1 pint water) and the optional spices; return to fermentation vessel, press down and continue to add water until top surface of beets is covered. Check daily for fermentation and taste, and spoon off any mold that develops. After another week the beets should be noticeably and pleasantly sour; you can let them ferment a little longer or refrigerate to slow the process. Refrigerated beet pickles should keep a month or more.

VARIATION: substitute 1 T caraway seeds for the cumin and sumac. You now have an eastern European beet pickle you can use to make borscht.

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Recipe: Middle Eastern Lentil Salad with Cilantro

Middle Eastern Lentil Salad

Middle Eastern Lentil Salad with Cilantro

Christopher Kimball of Cook’s Illustrated came up with a novel cooking technique for this Middle Eastern Lentil Salad. The lentils are soaked, then cooked in the oven so they maintain their individual identity. This goes well on a mezze platter with some tabbouleh, turnip pickles, hummus and maybe some fermented beets. About 10 small servings.

1 c lentils (French preferred as they hold their shape better)
4 c hot water
1 T Kosher salt
2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded or chopped, about 3/4 c
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/8 t cayenne pepper
1 t Kosher salt
2 c chicken broth
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed but intact
1 bay leaf
3 T good olive oil
2 T lemon juice
1/4 c chopped cilantro (or mint or shiso or other bitter herb, if you don’t like cilantro)

Method: dissolve 1 T salt in hot water and add lentils; soak for one hour; drain. Meanwhile, toss the carrot with cumin, cinnamon, cayenne and 1 t salt in a serving bowl. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Transfer drained lentils to an oven safe dish; add chicken stock, bay leaf and garlic. Cover and bake 50 minutes or until lentils are tender. Check occasionally and add water if necessary. When lentils are done, remove bay leaf and garlic and pour off any excess liquid. Add to the serving bowl with the carrots and mix thoroughly. (This step will cook the carrots slightly.) When cool, toss with oil and lemon juice and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed, then stir in chopped cilantro. Serve cold or at room temperature.

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Recipe: Michael Bauer’s Bacon Chex Mix

Chex Mix

Chex Mix, waitin’ for the bacon. This photo was taken by Evan-Amos as a part of Vanamo Media, which creates public domain works for educational purposes.

Though best known as the feared and fussy restaurant critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, Michael Bauer had a midwestern upbringing rich in middle American pleasures like snack mix and bacon. Here, he (actually his mom) combines them in a bacon chex mix that’s perfect for holiday parties. Just don’t leave any out for Santa, because he won’t be able to get back up the chimney. Makes 50 cups, enough for a really big party; leftovers will keep though you might want to refrigerate and reheat before serving.

7 cups Rice Chex (7 ounces)
7 cups Wheat Chex (11 ounces)
7 cups Corn Chex (7 ounces)
1 box Cheerios (15 ounces)
1 package thin pretzels (9 ounces)
1 can Spanish peanuts (12.5 ounces)
1/3 cup bacon grease
1/2 cup margarine
2 tablespoons Tabasco
1 heaping teaspoon chili powder (with salt)

Method: combine the cereals, pretzels and peanuts in a large roasting pan. Melt bacon grease and margarine (I guess you could use butter but I’d go hard-core and buy real margarine); add Tabasco; pour over dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle on the chili powder and stir again. Bake in a preheated 200 degrees oven for 2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

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