Five Things I Cooked This Week
When I stepped off the plane from Jordan the first thing I wanted to eat was something with an Asian flair. It was good while it lasted, but my palate had grown weary of the hummus and lamb and various and sundry Middle Eastern spices. I remembered a dish I used to make long ago that used ramen noodles (yes, the ones you get in a square packet), raw bok choy and cabbage, spring onions (scallions to you and me) and whatever else tickles your fancy. Simply break up a brick of the ramen noodles and put them on a baking sheet. Add to this a nice handful of slivered almonds and some sesame seeds and put this into a 375 degree oven for about ten minutes - until it's all a lovely golden brown. While this is baking slice up some savoy cabbage and bok choy into thin, long pieces. I added orange peppers, chopped green onion and canned mandarin oranges but sugar snap peas or shredded carrots would be nice too. Just think of ingredients that are going to stand up to a dressing without wilting right away. I wanted to make a batch and keep it in the fridge to pull out and gorge on at will. For the dressing, dissolve 2 teaspoons of sugar in 3 tablespoons of rice vinegar. Now add 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil - stir like mad to combine. To finish the whole thing off, in a large bowl combine all of your veggies, pour in your toasted noodle and nut mixture and pour the dressing over it all. Toss!Before I left for Amman I wanted to use up all of the herbs I had in the fridge - for some reason there was a ridiculous amount sitting in the crisper drawer turning brown. Yes, I may have had too much time on my hands, but in an effort to be thrifty, I made pesto. Couldn't be easier to put a bunch of basil or parsley (or a mix of the two) in a food processor (stalks and all), a couple of cloves of garlic and a little bit of salt. Turn on the machine and when it starts to not do much more, add a bit of nice olive oil through the tube until it becomes the consistency you'd like. Add in more grated parmesan cheese than you think you should and voila, pesto! I placed mine in ice cube trays in the freezer and then when I came home from Amman and was craving some starch, I pulled out one cube and added it to some penne that I boiled along with my batons of asparagus. More cheese on top and you have a delightful, quick dinner that just reeks of springtime.You may have noticed that I've been on a bit of a macaroon rampage lately. It all started with an innocent trip to Balthazar Bakery when it opened an I succumbed to the pleasures of their raspberry macaroon with lemon and white chocolate. Recently I was lucky enough to try Little Social, the brassiere headed by Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton of Pollen Street Social (they are just across the street from each other). For dessert there was no question what I'd be trying - the pink peppercorn macarons with lemon lime curd and passionfruit ice cream. Oh, my was it delicious! Now I will be writing up the entire meal shortly, but in the meantime I was flipping through my April Food & Wine Magazine and came across a recipe for basically the very same dessert. Now, this was my first real attempt at macarons as they were always one of those things (like sushi) that I've always thought better left to the professionals. However, this recipe is relatively straightforward (if you have all of the gear required i.e. kitchen aid mixer and food processor). I did go through many a mixing bowl, but the end result was worth it. I would double the amount of pink peppercorns she calls for in this version, just to really pump up the spice factor, and if you're game, a little lime juice and zest mixed in with the lemon is a treat. I even had the mini rose petals that I bought at that wonderful spice seller in Jordan to add to the top. I was pretty pleased with myself and yes, they're all gone.We've discussed smoke trout before. I think it's becoming a pantry staple for me - as I pick up all of the different smokey varieties when I stop by the grocery. This week I threw it together with some beets. The results? Divine! First you must roast your beets (unpeeled and wrapped in foil) for about an hour in a 350 degree oven (a knife inserted in the middle should pierce the veg easily when cooked). Let those cool - I usually just leave them in the foil in the fridge and pull them out as needed for things, I crave them all the time. So, take your cooked beets and cut them into large chunks. Put them on a bed of rocket (arugula to you and me), flake the trout over the top and then add a large dollop of creme fraiche. Garnish the whole plate with a very liberal snip of chives, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. This is now one of my favorite lunchtime treats.My final dish this week was inspired by one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants, Delfina on 18th Street in the Mission. It's been around for ever now, but when it opened back 1998 it was all the rage. I first visited in 2002 and it quickly became a favorite of mine for out-of-town visitors....really an excuse for an excellent meal out with friends. Anyway, strangely, the one dish that really stands out in my memory is their salt cod brandade starter served with lovely crispy fennel seed flatbread. Salt cod is one of those things that even I think looks somewhat daunting in the shops. It requires soaking in water, changing the water several times, then figuring out what to do with it. However, I've been seeing lots of plump looking salt cod at one of the delis near me and as I thought back to that delicious ramekin full of fishy gooeyness I knew I had to try and recreate it. I wasn't about to mess around with recipes for the cod brandade itself. I turned to the New York Times for what looked very much like the version we had been taught at the French Culinary Institute (for some reason we had an entire two days on reconstituting preserved foods). However, for the fennel seed flat bread, I figured I'd be able to do this on my own. It was all as good as I remembered (although I might had soaked my cod for just a bit longer as it was all on the salty side).1/4 teaspoon salt3/4 cup water2 cups flourolive oilfennel seeds & Maldon sea saltDissolve the salt in the water and then add the flour, stirring to form a dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it comes together. Roll out the dough as thinly as possible and place on your baking sheet(s). Brush the dough with olive oil and scatter the fennel seeds and sea salt on top. Use a fork to poke holes all over the top. Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Break up into pieces and serve with the hot brandade.