Let it be, let it be…

Since I have no formal culinary training and learned to cook by reading cookbooks or by watching and talking to my mother and grandmother, I have had to painfully work my way through many mistakes.  And I’m still learning!  There always seems to be some new ingredient, technique, or flavor profile to learn and explore.  I love making the kitchen my lifelong science experiment.

That said, one of the earlier lessons I had to learn was how to ‘let it be’ and let a protein properly sear.  Less is more.  So here’s to less poking, prodding, and moving around, in order to allow for a proper maillard reaction and the tasty results that ensue!  The seared protein will release on its own from a well-heated pan once it’s ready to be flipped.

For a quick weeknight dinner the other night, I made Seared Scallops with Avocado and Watermelon Radishes, inspired by this gorgeous recipe from Epicurious.

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Seared Scallops with Avocado and Watermelon Radish

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 small watermelon radishes, very thinly sliced on a mandoline
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon yuzu juice
  • Kosher salt
  • 8 sea scallops (about 1 pound), side muscles removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 avocado, very thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated grapefruit zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grapefruit juice
  • a few sprigs of cilantro, as garnish

Instructions:

  1. Toss daikon, vinegar, and yuzu juice in a medium bowl; season with salt.  Set aside.
  2. Pat scallops dry and season scallops with salt. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high heat until almost smoking. Add scallops and cook until seared and golden brown but still raw in the center, about 2 minutes per side; transfer to a plate. Let cool slightly, then slice each scallop crosswise into 2 rounds.
  3. Divide avocado among plates; drizzle with lemon juice and season with salt.
  4. Set scallops on avocado and drizzle grapefruit juice and oil over.  Top with grapefruit zest and season with salt to taste. Arrange reserved and drained watermelon radishes over and among the scallops.  Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.

Mini quiches for everybody!

Even when I was younger, I never felt that enthusiastic about the rigmarole of Valentine’s Day.  I’m hardly alone in thinking this, regardless of being single or in a relationship.  J and I were even dismayed last year when we made the mistake of going out for dinner during the weekend, and found that the menu for the pink and red holiday had been extended to the entire weekend.  Ugh.

That said, there is much joy to be found in life’s little pleasures and small, everyday gestures of love and affection.  For me, that means cooking and spending time with family and J.  I made these mini mushroom, spinach, and proscuitto quiches for an impromptu brunch with his family yesterday.  Crustless and portion-controlled, these savory bites were full of protein, vegetables, and flavor!

Mini quiches

Mini Mushroom, Spinach, and Proscuitto Quiches (makes ~12)

  • 2 small shallots, sliced
  • 1/2 tbl butter
  • 1/2 tbl olive oil
  • 10 oz crimini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 6 slices proscuitto (~3 oz), coarsely chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup 1% milk (or skim milk)
  • 1/3 cup grated cheese (fontina or gruyere; I used white cheddar since that’s what we had)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Lightly coat a 12-cup nonstick muffin pan with olive oil.
  2. In a nonstick skillet, heat the butter and olive oil.  Add the mushrooms, shallot, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook until shallots are soft and the mushrooms are dry and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir in the baby spinach until the spinach is just wilted, but still bright green, 2 minutes.  Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In the same skillet over medium heat, crisp the proscuitto.  Set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, egg whites, and milk until well combined.  Season with a little salt and pepper.  Stir in the cheese.  Divide the egg mixture evenly between the muffin tins, filling them about halfway.  Top evenly with the mushroom and spinach mixture and then the crisped proscuitto.
  5. Bake until the quiches are well risen, golden brown and set, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Bisous, bisous, bisous!  Quiche, quiche, quiche!  😉

and to all, a good night!
and to all, a good night!

On rain and kneading

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This past weekend was spent close to hearth and home, escaping the wind, rain, and fog outside.  January has been relatively dry (too dry), and rain was desperately needed on this coast.  I’ve enjoyed the sunshine, but was so glad to welcome the rain that I went running outside, quieting my own inner thoughts by watching the stormy seas.

Once back inside, I decided to try baking a wheat baguette for the first time.  From scratch.  I have never tried making my own bread, and in NYC I was spoiled by being near Maison Kayser,  where I discovered the Baguette Monge and realized what Colette meant by saying this in my favorite Pixar movie, Ratatouille:

“How do you tell how good bread is without tasting it? Not the smell, not the look, but the sound of the crust. Listen [bread crackles].  Oh, the symphony of crackle.  Only good bread sound this way.”  
screen-shot-2013-08-01-at-9-11-15-amI am not a huge bread-eater, but I can definitely appreciate a good crusty baguette, and there are certain dishes that beg for a freshly baked slice of bread to sop up the good flavors – cioppino, Vietnamese bo kho, mussels in saffron broth, shakshouka…

And so, here we go!  My first attempt at a wheat baguette, based on Dan Leader’s 4-hr Baguette (perfect project for a rainy day):

Dan Leader’s 4 Hour Baguette (Wheat version

For full step-by-step pictures go here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups tap water, heated to 115° F
  • tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour*
  • tsp kosher salt (3 tsp if using Diamond Crystal kosher salt, i.e. 3/8 oz)
  • Canola oil, for greasing bowl
  • 1/2 cup ice cubes

Instructions:

  1. Whisk together water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl; let sit until yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add both flours, and stir with a spatula until dough forms and all flour is absorbed; let dough sit to allow flour to hydrate, about 20 minutes.
  3. Add salt, then transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutesIMG_3166
  4. Transfer dough ball to a lightly greased bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place bowl in a cold oven or microwave. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
  5. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and shape into an 8-inch x 6-inch rectangle. Fold the 8-inch sides toward the middle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center, like a T-shirt.
  6. Return dough, seam side down, to the bowl. Cover with plastic again, and return to oven. Let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  7. Remove bowl with dough from oven, and place a cast–iron skillet or pan with oven-safe handle on the bottom rack of oven; position another rack above skillet, and place a baking stone or upside down or rimless sheet pan on it.
  8. Heat oven to 475° F.
  9. While oven is heating, transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and cut into three equal pieces; shape each piece into a 14-inch rope.
  10. Flour a sheet of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet; place ropes, evenly spaced, on paper. Lift paper between ropes to form pleats; place two tightly rolled kitchen towels under long edges of paper, creating supports for the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let sit until it doubles in size, about 50 minutes.IMG_3168
  11. Uncover; remove towels, and flatten paper to space out loaves. Using a sharp razor, knife, bread lame, or scissors, slash the top of each baguette at a 30–degree angle in four spots; each slash should be about 4 inches long.
  12. Pull out the oven rack with the stone or baking sheet on it and, using the corner of the parchment paper as a guide, slide the loaves, still on the parchment paper, onto the baking stone or pan. Place ice cubes in skillet (this produces steam that lets the loaves rise fully before a crust forms).
  13. Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes; cool before serving.  Enjoy the symphony of the crackly crust!IMG_3172 IMG_3174

Not anywhere nearly as good as Maison Kayser, but such huge satisfaction from knowing I kneaded and baked that bread myself!

*I initially tried 50% whole wheat flour, which yielded a denser, heartier loaf.  I liked both.

Good things come in small packages

When people ask me if I like surprises, I’m usually a little wary…I’m not that into surprises, particularly if they involve some sort of unwanted public attention or an ‘adventure’ I’m not quite prepared for.  That said, I do like spontaneity, as any of my sometimes exasperated friends and family will attest…as structured as my weekdays can be due to work, my weekends often devolve into spontaneous mini (mis)adventures as I bumble around doing errands, chores, and whatever else catches my whimsy, in the kitchen and outside of the house.  In the cities I’ve lived in, I often can not resist the urge to explore yet another neighborhood or find an excuse to get outside to satisfy my restlessness.

In the kitchen, one package I never mind opening is anything en papillote.  I first tried the technique a few years ago, and recently rediscovered the delight of being presented with a ‘surprise’ for dinner.  😉 This is a wonderful, light, and elegant way to serve salmon, which packs a powerhouse of omega-3 fats, lean protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12/B3/B6, selenium, and phosphorus.  The recipe is also easily adapted to use other ingredients you may have at hand – capers and lemons, tomatoes and olives, asparagus and leeks – the possibilities are endless!

Salmon with Citrus and Fennel en Papillote (serves 2)

Ingredients:

2 skinless salmon filets (about 4-5 oz and 1 inch thick), preferably wild

4 tsp olive oil, divided use

1/2 small blood orange, thinly sliced

1/2 lemon (I used Meyer), thinly sliced with seeds removed

2-3 tsp lemon juice (from other 1/2 of lemon)

1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

4 sprigs dill, roughly chopped

kosher salt

freshly ground pepper

parchment paper

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut four 12-by-17-inch pieces of parchment paper. Fold each in half crosswise to make a crease, then unfold and lay flat.

2.  In a bowl, toss together 2 tsp olive oil, sliced fennel, blood orange, and lemon slices.
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3.  Season salmon fillets liberally with salt and pepper.

4.  Arrange fennel in a small mound on parchment paper near the crease.  Place salmon on top of the fennel and drizzle with 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp lemon juice.  Top with dill and then layer orange and lemon slices on top, alternating slices.
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5.  Fold each piece of parchment over, then make small overlapping pleats to seal open sides, creating half-moon-shaped packets.

6.  Bake on rimmed baking sheet for about 10 minutes, until packets are slightly puffed.
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7. Transfer to plates and carefully cut packets open with kitchen shears or a small knife.  Enjoy!
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Not your usual spaghetti…

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Do you fear the carbs?

I spend a good portion of my patient time counseling patients on how to manage their weight and diabetes, and often that involves talking about food choices, nutrition, and exercise (yes!  a few of my favorite things!).  Some of my patients hardly know where to start, while others have embraced multiple fads (Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Grain Brain, Gluten-free, etc), sometimes even eliminating whole food groups or cooking (i.e. only eating raw) in their efforts to lose weight and feel better.  There is a lot of controversy over carbohydrates, which have recently been cast as the new enemy in our fight against diabetes and obesity.

I wish I had an answer for “Which diet is the best diet,” but I don’t.  The best diet is the one you actually adhere to, the one you can follow sustainably.  For me, that means a more plant-based diet that emphasizes fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, while also incorporating lean protein, whole grains, and good fats.   Make your calories count, and be mindful of avoiding foods that are highly caloric but not necessarily nutritious.   It’s amazing how different 2,000 calories can look on your plate, depending on what you choose.

I think that carbohydrates (whole grain, unprocessed and unrefined ones) do have a place in our diet and can be enjoyed in moderation.  For those seeking to expand their options beyond pasta, however, the following is a tasty rendition of spaghetti squash – this would never be a substitute for pasta…it stands alone as a tasty interpretation of this now very popular squash, which is low in calories, high in fiber, and contains folic acid, potassium, vitamin A, and beta-carotene. 

Spaghetti Squash with Prosciutto, Lemony Kale, and Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, sliced thinly
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 slices proscuitto, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 packed cups of chopped kale leaves
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ¼ cup oven roasted cherry tomatoes*
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • salt & pepper
  • optional: freshly grated parmesan cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Slice squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds.  Drizzle cut surface with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place the squash on a baking sheet, cut side up. Roast for about ~30-45 min until the flesh is tender and you can scrape noodle-like strands with a fork.
  3. Remove squash from the oven, cool slightly and use a fork to scrape the squash into strands.  Set aside.
  4. In a large skillet over medium heat, add about 1 tbl olive oil to the pan.  Saute shallot and proscuitto until slightly crisp.  Add garlic, rosemary, and chile flakes.
  5. Add the kale leaves and a good pinch of salt.  Stir in lemon juice.
  6. Once the kale is partially wilted, add the squash strands, a little grated cheese, the oven roasted cherry tomatoes, and salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to incorporate.
  7. Remove from heat and top with toasted pine nuts and extra grated cheese.

* for oven roasted cherry tomatoes – halve cherry tomatoes crosswise and toss with a little olive oil, making sure they are evenly coated.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Stir in minced herbs if using (e.g. thyme or rosemary).  Roast in preheated oven at 250 degrees F for about 1 hr or until shriveled and almost dry, with a little juice.