The Best Grilled Cheese

grilled cheese with comte, thyme & shallots

Grilled cheese, like pancakes, has always troubled me in the kitchen. Without fail, the bread burns before the cheese melts. Various techniques employed over the years have improved the final product slightly, but not so much as to leave me satisfied. So when I read the r.s.v.p. section of the September Bon Appetit, which supplied a recipe for a gruyère grilled cheese from L.A.’s Lucques, I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen.

The recipe calls for crisping country white bread slices in a skillet on one side before topping them with cheese and sautéed shallots. The open-faced halves finish cooking in the oven before being pressed together into a traditional sandwich.

It almost pains me that such a simple technique produces such a brilliant result: perfectly golden bread flanking perfectly melty cheese. Why could I have not figured this technique out on my own? Like 10 years ago? Such a find would have prevented years of shame and embarrassment and the inevitable self-questioning after every failed grilled cheese attempt: Who doesn’t know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich? Continue Reading →

11. September 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Entrees, Fall, Lunch, Vegetarian | 31 comments

Baked French Toast

Tartine Bread's baked French toast

Hi there. With it being the weekend and all, I won’t keep you. I just thought, in case you hadn’t decided on breakfast yet, that you might be interested in this baked French toast, a dish I find nearly impossible not to make at least once a weekend. The recipe comes from Tartine Bread, the book that introduced me to eggplant involtini and kale caesar salad, and like those two, this one’s a good one.

While I love this French toast above all for its texture — caramelized on the outside, not soggy on the inside — what distinguishes it from any other French toast I’ve had, baked or otherwise, is the presence of lemon zest, a most-unexpected and delicious flavor in a traditionally cinnamon-spiked dish.

There are a few keys to finding success with this French toast: Continue Reading →

07. September 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Bread, Breakfast | 17 comments

Eggplant Caviar on Grilled Bread

eggplant caviar

Last summer the eggplant chapter of Chez Panisse Vegetables treated me kindly, introducing me to a favorite pasta recipe as well as a most-delicious gratin with tomatoes and onions. And with this eggplant “caviar,” a mash-up of roasted eggplant, fresh parsley, and macerated shallots and garlic, the chapter just seems to keep on giving.

In each of these recipes, eggplant is roasted (as opposed to fried), which requires minimal oil, allowing the eggplant’s sweet flavor to really shine. And after a gentle mashing with a fork, the eggplant’s flesh becomes creamy, a perfect consistency to whip into a spread to spoon over grilled bread. Here, shallots and garlic that have soaked in vinegar add both sweetness and bite without taking over, but I imagine eggplant can hold its own in the presence of even stronger flavors — anchovies, olives, and roasted peppers come to mind.

With eggplant season peaking, now is the time to experiment. And for you eggplant lovers in particular — I know eggplant can be polarizing — get roasting. Continue Reading →

05. September 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, CSA, Sauces, dressings, jams & spreads, Vegetarian | 19 comments

A Sprouted Kitchen Feast

The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook

I couldn’t make a decision. And my attempts to organize my thoughts — adhering cute page flags to particularly tempting recipes — proved futile. In the midst of this frenzied state of drooling and tabbing, drooling and tabbing, my mother arrived at my doorstep with a bucket of feta (that’s normal, right?), a branch of oregano, and a dozen figs. And at once, my vision for our dinner became clear.

As my mother unloaded her basket of goodies into my pantry and fridge, I waved pages of The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook in front of her. Over every image we ooheh and ahhed; over every title we yummed and mmmmed. My mother soon understood my predicament: everything — from the roasted wild cod with meyer lemon and caper relish to the roasted tomato soup with cheesy toasts to the mushroom and brown rice veggie burgers — looked and sounded incredibly enticing.

But thanks to the ingredients my mother had just delivered, the decision was easy: dinner would be mediterranean baked feta with olives and roasted plum tartines with ricotta, substituting figs for the plums and my mother’s peasant bread for the wheat baguette — I never pass on my mother’s peasant bread. And having just read that Sara, the book’s author, encourages readers to “use the recipes as a starting point and to omit or add ingredients according to preferences,” I felt OK making a few changes. Figs seemed a suitable stand-in for plums, and Sara in fact recommends pears or persimmons in the fall. Yum.

We soon set to work mixing dough, slicing onions, halving tomatoes, making ricotta, mincing garlic and chopping parsley. And before we knew it, we had the makings of a beautiful spread, as colorful as Hugh’s (Sara’s husband) photos, as promising as Sara’s recipes.

The book, while not a small-plate cookbook, offers lots of wonderful ideas in this category. As I flipped through the pages, the recurring thought was: This would be fun for a party. And it makes sense as one of Sara’s goals for the book is to “share recipes that are simple enough to make after work but interesting enough to serve at a dinner party.” She certainly has achieved this. We have now eaten the baked feta with a hunk of bread twice this week for dinner — it is so good — and I have never been so eager to invite some friends over for dinner to show them my new tricks. The fig tartines, which disappeared in record time, lit up the table.

Beautifully photographed, thoughtfully written, the book is sure to inspire whoever comes across it. The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook is now available for purchase.

Preparing the baked feta:
olive topping, oregano, feta

feta, ready for the oven

baked feta with olives and tomatoes

Preparing the roasted fig tartines:
honey roasted figs

roasted fig bruschetta with ricotta and basil

Bucket of feta:
bucket of feta

Mom’s bread:
making my mom's bread

mom's bread

Recipes:

Roasted Plum (or fig) Tartines
Source: The Sprouted Kitchen

Note: I’ve supplied the recipe here just as it is written in the book so that you can take a look and make your own adjustments accordingly. As I noted above, I used figs in place of the plums, but roasted them exactly the same — with honey and salt for about 20 minutes. Also, I made homemade ricotta, which is so easy and delicious, and omitted the parmesan and chopped chives (was feeling a little lazy). Finally, I used fresh basil in place of the microgreens.

6 ripe plums
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons honey, warmed
1 1/3 cups ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped chives
1 whole grain baguette
1 cup microgreens for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Cut the plums into quarters (if using figs, cut them in half) and remove the pits. Gently toss the plum pieces with a pinch of salt and the warm honey. Spread them on the prepared baking sheet, cut side up. Bake until the edges are crisped and caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

3. While the plums are baking, in a bowl, stir together the ricotta, Parmesan, chives, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

4. Turn the oven up to 500ºF. Slice the baguette in half lengthwise. Place the halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet and bake the bread just until toasty, 4 to 5 minutes. Spread the ricotta mixture evenly on both halves and return to the oven just until warmed through, another 1 to 2 minutes. Evenly distribute the roasted plums on top of the cheese. Finish with a few grinds of pepper and garnish with the greens. Cut each baguette half into slices on the diagonal. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Mediterranean Baked Feta
Source: The Sprouted Kitchen

Note: Once you make this once, you’ll never need a recipe again. The quantity of the olive salad is dependent on how much feta you choose to warm up. I baked my block (as opposed to grilled) and served it with warm bread. Heaven.

1 (8- to 10-ounce) block of feta
1 cup assorted baby tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup Kalmata olives, pitted (I didn’t…lazy) and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Crackers, pita chips, or crostini, for dipping

1. Heat your grill to medium-high or preheat the oven to 400ºF. Set the block of feta in the middle of a piece of foil for grilling or in a small ovenproof baking dish twice the size of your block of cheese for baking.

2. In a bowl, mix the tomatoes, olives, onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, olive oil and a few grinds of pepper.

3. Pile the tomato mixture on top of the feta. For grilling, fold up the edges of the foil so that it will hold in any liquid as it cooks; put it straight on a grill; heat for 15 minutes to warm it through. For baking, put the baking dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. It will not melt, just get warm and soften.

4. Remove from the grill or oven and serve the dip hot with the crackers, pita chips, or crostini.

Honey Almond Butter
Source: The Sprouted Kitchen

Note: This almond butter is SO good. If I wasn’t afraid that I might burn out my Cuisinart’s motor, I would start making this for gifts immediately. I used maple syrup in place of the honey because I am obsessed with this particular Justin’s Nut Butter, but now that I know how to make it, there’s no going back.

2 cups raw almonds
1 teaspoon oil, such as almond, unrefined peanut or extra-virgin coconut (I used coconut and more than a teaspoon)
sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon (I omitted)
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup

1. Place the almonds in a food processor or Vitamix and process for about 1 minute. Add the oil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the cinnamon. Continue to process for another 8 to 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the food processor or Vitamix as needed. You will see a change in consistency from crumbs, to big clumps, to a large ball. Finally, as the oil is released from the almonds, the mixture will smooth itself out. If you want it even smoother, add a bit more oil.

2. When it is as smooth as you’d like it, stir in the honey or maple syrup. Add more salt to taste and transfer to a glass jar. It will keep covered in the fridge for up to 6 weeks. (I kept mine at room temperature. It disappeared in three days.)

maple almond butter

Maple almond butter spread on no-knead oatmeal toasting bread:
no-knead oatmeal bread with maple almond butter

29. August 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, Baking, Bread, Vegetarian | 34 comments

Real Frozen Yogurt

frozen yogurt

I’ve been eating frozen yogurt for 15 years. My sister, who used to run to TCBY during high school cross country “practice,” introduced me to it; roommates in college fueled the addiction; California taught me to consider it a major food group.

Over these past 15 years, I’ve genuinely loved each and every bowl of frozen yogurt I’ve eaten, despite how sugary and artificial tasting and generally crappy most of them have been. There’s just something about the ritual of getting a fro-yo with friends that makes whatever’s squirted into the bowl inconsequential, for me at least.

But when I took one bite of this homemade frozen yogurt, a David Lebovitz recipe made with full-fat Greek yogurt, I thought, “Ohhh. This is what frozen yogurt should taste like.” I couldn’t believe it. It actually tasted like, wait for it, frozen yogurt. Yes, like yogurt frozen. I know, I know, mind blowing.

Made with only three ingredients, Greek yogurt, sugar and vanilla, the base for this frozen yogurt comes together in about one minute, and after an hour of chilling, it’s ready to be churned — so simple, so delicious.

And that’s the only trouble with it. It’s so easy to make and so damn good. It’s impossible to walk by the freezer without giving a spoon a little dip-a-roo into its storage container. If you struggle with self-restraint, this is the sort of thing that should only be made while you have a houseful of guests prepared to tuck in immediately after it’s finished churning. Not a squirt will remain. I promise you.

frozen yogurt

yogurt, sugar, vanilla

yogurt, sugar, vanilla

frozen yogurt, churning

frozen yogurt

I thought some sort of granola “bowl” would make a nice vessel for serving this vanilla frozen yogurt. Using another Lebovitz recipe as a guide, I substituted in 1 cup of my granola bar mix for the sliced almonds. The result? Good, not great. Unfortunately, they were too sweet, and the sweetness masked the granola flavor. I’ll report back if I give them another go.

granola cup cookie batter

granola cups, unbaked and baked

granola cups

Frozen Yogurt
Source: The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
Yield = 1 quart

3 cups plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* Update 8/28: I think I prefer the 2/3 cup sugar quantity. I made about 5 batches without altering the sugar, but just made a batch tonight with 2/3 cup sugar — it’s just a touch less sweet but no less flavorful.

1. Mix together the yogurt, sugar and vanilla. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacture’s instructions.

frozen yogurt in granola bowls

22. August 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Desserts | 28 comments

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Piadines, sort of

piadines topped with kale caesar and grilled chicken

On May 25th, I pressed the “on” button on my food processor. I haven’t turned it off since. It’s just been going going going, churning out bowlfuls of the kitchn’s magical one-ingredient ice cream, batches of Bittman’s one-minute mayonnaise, and mason jars full of Darcy’s pesto.

The latest addition to the food processor’s regimen is caesar dressing, made in the same fashion as the Bittman mayonnaise, through the teeny hole of the food pusher insert. It works like a charm, and I’ve discovered that if I give the processor bowl a quick little rinsey rinse immediately after I’m finished using it, it’s as if I never dirtied it. Umpteen parts? No big deal. Back onto its base it goes; onto the next job it moves.

Anyway, I’m planning a dinner party and thought it might be fun to make little flatbreads — “piadines” I saw them called in a Michael Chiarello cookbook — piled high with caesar salad — boring, I know, but perhaps made interesting by kale — tossed with sliced grilled chicken breasts — boring, I know, but safe. I love this kind of thing, when bread and vegetable and meat are all wrapped up in one casual, fun, summery, light dish.

As you can see, I gave this idea a little test run, and while I still think it has potential, my piadines need a little bit of work. They puffed way up in the oven, almost like pita bread, making them better suited for falafel or chicken souvlaki. I’m looking for something thin thin, as my grandmother would say, and not too crisp but a little less imposing than what I made here. Despite the shape of the bread, however, the combo was delicious, and fortunately, I still have some time to experiment. In the meantime I might just run a few more things by you.

One last thing. If you’re looking for a rustic, summery dessert for one of your own get togethers, here’s something that might interest you: Stone Fruit Galettes with Homemade Frangipane. Make one dough (in the food processor), a batch of frangipane (also in the food processor), and assemble three tarts each perhaps with a different stone fruit. Plum is my favorite this year. Get the recipe over at Lifestyle Mirror:

stone fruit; peach galette

piadine topped with kale caesar salad with grilled chicken

Lahey no-knead pizza dough, risen

piadine dough balls

piadines ready for the oven

piadines in the oven

just-baked piadines

deflated piadines

uncooked chicken breasts seasoned with basil, salt and pepper

grilled chicken breasts

grilled chicken breasts

sliced grilled chicken breast

kale

kale caesar with grilled chicken

kale caesar salad with grilled chicken

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Piadines:
Serves: As many as you like

Notes: As I mentioned above, my piadines are not quite there. They were delicious, just not flat. I used the Lahey No Knead Pizza Dough, which I adore, and which I think might work if I handle the dough a little more aggressively — next time I might even use a rolling pin to remove as many air pockets as possible.

What’s great about something like this for a party is that nearly everything can be prepared ahead of time: kale washed, cheese grated, dressing made, chicken grilled (though it is nice when the chicken is freshly grilled). And with everything prepped, the salad can be assembled in seconds while the flatbreads are baking.

components:

Jim Lahey No Knead Pizza dough or your favorite pizza/flatbread/piadine dough portioned into 3-oz balls
kale, washed and torn into salad-sized pieces
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
caesar dressing (recipe below)
grilled chicken breasts (recipe for two below), sliced

to assemble:

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Stretch or roll dough balls into 5-inch rounds. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until lightly golden.

2. Meanwhile, place kale in a salad bowl with grated parmigiano and sliced grilled chicken breast. Toss with dressing to taste. Taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly.

3. Remove flatbreads from oven. Place one on each plate. Pile high with salad.

Food Processor Caesar Dressing:
Yield = 1.25 cups

3 cloves garlic
3 anchovies
pinch kosher salt
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar*
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

*Lemon juice is obviously more traditional, but white balsamic has a nice flavor, and using vinegar is also easier than juicing lemons… forgive my laziness.

1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the anchovies, garlic and salt until finely puréed. Add the yolk and quarter cup of white balsamic. Pulse until blended. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. (Your food processor should have a teeny hole in the food pusher insert in the top). When an emulsion forms you can add it a little faster. (Again, the little hole makes this unnecessary.)

Grilled Chicken Breasts
Yield = 2 breasts; serves 4 when sliced for a salad

2 chicken breasts
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh herb of choice — I like basil
olive oil

1. Preheat the grill to high. Season chicken breasts all over with salt and pepper. Toss with the fresh herb. Rub lightly with oil. Grill for 2 to 2.5 minutes a side if breasts are smallish. Let rest for five minutes before slicing.

17. August 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Bread, Chicken, Entrees, Sauces, dressings, jams & spreads | 19 comments

Linguine with Roasted Red Peppers, Crabmeat & Basil

linguini with crab and roasted red peppers

This time of year, all I want to eat is fresh fish. Grilled whole, pan-seared, raw — I don’t care. Unfortunately, the markets in my town make this sort of desired eating an impossibility. Where I live, the freshest fish comes from a can. Fortunately, canned fish is rather good.

I recently discovered Wild Planet products and particularly like the salmon, sardines and dungeness crab, all of which are nice to have on hand when throwing together dinner is the name of the game. The addition of a can of crabmeat to this favorite summer pasta dish not only made it a touch tastier but also a smidgen more complete, especially for those who don’t consider a sprinkling of cheese a suitable protein. Crabmeat of course could be substituted for any other canned fish or meat or left out altogether — it is a wonderful and summery dish on its own — but crab is a particularly tasty addition.

Finally, I have some exciting news for those of you wanting to try Afeltra pasta but without direct access to Eataly. A company called Po Valley Foods is selling Afeltra pasta online — they are currently accepting orders but note that the pasta won’t be available till the 15th. In the past few weeks I have tried a variety of their other pastas including the buckwheat and the la campofilone tagliatelle and linguine (featured in this post), all of which are incredibly delicious.

Finally, finally, commenters Kellie Ann and Allegra will receive a set of Julia Child notecards. Have a nice weekend everyone.

ingredients

halved red peppers

olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes

bubbling garlic-red pepper flake oil

linguini, basil, crab and roasted red peppers

linguini, basil, crab and roasted red peppers all tossed together

linguini with crab and roasted red peppers

Linguini with Roasted Red Peppers, Crabmeat & Basil
Serves 2

roasted red peppers*, about 4 whole, cut into slivers
2 to 3 cloves garlic, crushed
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. linguine** (or less — I used about 6 oz of dried fresh linguini)
kosher salt
6 oz. crabmeat — this Wild Planet Dungeness is fantastic
big bunch fresh basil
fresh cracked pepper if desired

*You could certainly use jarred, which would save time, but if you have the time, make them from scratch — they’re so easy and delicious!
**Use whatever shape pasta you like.

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a big pinch of kosher salt. (I add about a tablespoon). Place the oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a small skillet and turn heat to high. When the oil and garlic begin to sizzle, turn off the heat. (If you have an electric burner, as I do, remove pan from the heat source if the garlic begins to brown.)

2. Cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Drain pasta and place in a large bowl. Immediately toss with the garlic-red pepper flake oil. Add the sliced roasted red peppers, crab meat and fresh basil to the bowl. Toss together. Taste. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid if necessary. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary.

yummy pasta from Po Valley Foods

10. August 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Entrees, Fish, Pasta, Seafood | 28 comments

Julia Child Notecards + Farro Salad with Roasted Corn, Red peppers & Red Onions

I think every woman should have a blowtorch.

Most of you know that Julia Child would have celebrated her 100th birthday this August 15th. For months, chefs, restaurants, bloggers and many others across the country have been paying tribute to her life and legacy. I joined in on the fun over at PBS, adding a tribute inspired by a favorite Julia Child quote: No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize.

In recent weeks, I have found myself consumed by all things Julia. I’ve been referencing Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom more than ever, watching The French Chef (via Amazon and Roku) every night after dinner, and reading My Life in France before bed. All of the celebrations these past few months have inspired the creation of the above- and below-pictured notecards, too, featuring classic Julia Child quotes, ones that never fail to make me chuckle, and I hope you, too.

The cards are printed on luxe (190 gsm), natural white eco paper, and if you would like to order a set, they are available for purchase here. Of course I’d like to give a couple of boxes away, too. Just leave a comment if you’re interested.

Julia Child, on her show, The French Chef

Julia Child notecards (vertically oriented)

Julia Child notecards (horizontally oriented)

If you're afraid of butter, use cream.

No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize.

The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook.

Fat gives things flavor.

Everything in moderation...including moderation.

Life itself is the proper binge.

In cooking, you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.

And now for a recipe, a non-Julia-Child-inspired-but-delicious-none-the-less recipe. Since discovering semi-pearled farro several months ago, it, in some sort of salad variation, has become a weekly staple. This is the latest, a combination of roasted corn, fresh-squeezed lime juice, cilantro, minced chili peppers and diced peppers and onions. If you strategize by chopping the vegetables and herbs while the corn is roasting and the farro is simmering, this salad can come together in just about 20 minutes. It yields a lot, thanks to all of the add-ins, and tastes better with each passing day.

summer farro salad

ingredients for summer farro salad

corn, ready to be roasted

roasted corn, red pepper, red onion and cilantro

Farro Salad with Roasted Corn, Red Pepper & Red Onion
Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish

2 ears of corn, kernels removed
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper to taste
2 red peppers, diced
1 red onion, diced
1 cup of semi-pearled farro*
cilantro, a lot (or as much as you like)
1 hot chili pepper, such as Thai bird or jalapeno, minced
fresh-squeezed lime juice or white balsamic vinegar (I used a combination — about 1 tablespoon lime juice and 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar)
Tabasco (optional)

*Roland semi-pearled farro is particularly nice but any type of farro or grain — wheat berry, barley, etc. — will work nicely. You might be able to find semi-pearled farro at your local supermarket, but if not, you can order it here. Of course, whole farro will work just as well.

1. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Place a pot of water on to boil. Toss corn kernels with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste on a sheet pan. Place in the oven. Roast for about 12 to 15 minutes or until the corn is just beginning to char.

2. Meanwhile, add farro to pot of boiling water. Add a big pinch of kosher salt. Cook for about 15 minutes — taste a few kernels after 15 minutes. For me it takes just a minute more than 15.

3. Drain the farro, and add to a large bowl. Season with a big pinch of kosher salt. Drizzle olive oil over the farro while it’s still warm. I haven’t been measuring, but if you’re looking for some guidance, start with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Squeeze lime juice and/or white balsamic over top — again, you don’t have to measure, but if you like to, start with about 1 tablespoon each of lime juice and vinegar (or two tablespoons of either lime juice or vinegar) and adjust after everything has all been mixed together.

4. Add the roasted corn, diced red pepper, red onion, cilantro and chili pepper to the bowl. Toss with a large spoon. Taste. If it’s a little dry, add more oil and/or lime juice and white balsamic. If it needs a little more seasoning, add more salt. I add about 10 large dashes of Tabasco for taste more than for heat — the chili pepper adds enough heat — but this seasoning is optional.

roasted corn, onion, red pepper & farro salad

02. August 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Salads, Side dishes, Vegetarian | 109 comments

Fries with Lemon Salt & Rosemary

fries with lemon salt & rosemary

Lemon sugar revolutionized baking for me. Lemon salt promises to do the same for everything else. Though my use of this flavored salt extends to this single recipe — “straw potatoes” seasoned with lemon salt (thanks to April Bloomfield) and fried with rosemary (thanks to Jamie Oliver) — the possibilities are endless. Salt might just become lemon salt from here on out.

I know deep frying can be intimidating — vats of hot oil are never fun — and somewhat wasteful — even small-batch frying requires a fair amount of oil — and smelly — your kitchen (house?) inevitably will smell of fast-food — but sometimes these sorts of annoyances are worth the trouble. This is one such case. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.

julienned potatoes

lemon zest & salt

mortar & pestle with sea salt and lemon zest

potatoes, rosemary, lemon salt

fries with lemon salt & rosemary

fries with lemon salt & rosemary

A few notes:

• This recipe requires a mandoline — the fine shape of the julienned potato allows them to fry up first time around (as opposed to thick-cut fries, which require a double fry) — and calls for deep frying.
• When deep frying, be very careful. Use a pot with high sides to be safe, and make sure the oil is not filled as far as half-way up the sides — two or three inches should do.
• Fry in small batches: If you add too many potatoes to the hot oil, the oil will bubble over the side of the pan and creep along your stove top, creating a huge mess and posing a serious danger to you and anyone crawling around your floor. Too many potatoes at one time, too, will bring the temperature of the oil down, which will cause the potatoes to take longer to cook also making them soggy in the process.

April Bloomfield’s Rosemary Straw Potatoes with Lemon Salt
Source: Cooking with Jamie

for the lemon salt:
zest of one lemon
4 tablespoons sea salt (I used 3)

sunflower oil (I used a mix of canola and vegetable oil)
1 3/4 lb. potatoes, peeled and julienned* (I used Yukon Gold, and I didn’t peel)
a few sprigs of rosemary

* The potatoes can be julienned in advance — about an hour or so — before they start turning slightly brown. A little brown is OK, but too much brown is probably not a good idea. Storing the potatoes in water will prevent browning, but you also must dry the potatoes very well before you start frying, which is kind of a pain.

1. Make the lemon salt: In a mortar and pestle, bash together the lemon zest and salt until salt is flavored, colored, and fine. Place in a dish. Use whatever you need right away or allow it to dry out for a couple of hours before storing it. (I made my lemon salt a day in advance and stored it in the mortar wrapped in plastic wrap.)

2. Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil in a sturdy, high-sided pan; bring to deep-frying temperature (350°F; to avoid oil catching fire, be sure to maintain its temperature at 350°F). Jamie’s tip: place a potato in the cold oil before you turn the burner on. When the potato rises to the top of the oil and begins to turn golden brown, the oil is ready. Remove the potato piece and start frying in small batches.

3. Pat the julienne strips dry with some paper towels to remove any excess starch. Making sure you’ve got a slotted spoon or spider (which is like a flat colander with a handle) and a big pile of paper towels to one side (I did not use paper towels, but instead transfered the finished fries to a large aluminum bowl, which allows for easy tossing), carefully place some of your potatoes into the pan of oil (don’t overcrowd it) for a couple of minutes (1 to 2) until golden brown and crisp. Cook potatoes in batches until they are all used up. Add the rosemary for the last 30 seconds. (Note: It’s hard to judge when the last 30 seconds will be, but the rosemary can be in the oil for as few as 10 seconds. I basically added the rosemary in at the last few seconds of each batch). Remove the potatoes and rosemary to the paper towels (or a large bowl) to soak up any excess oil; dust with your lemon salt. Serve immediately, perhaps alongside a blue cheese burger as they are at the Spotted Pig.

27. July 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: CSA, Side dishes, Vegetarian | 43 comments

Homemade Vanilla Extract, Moo Labels

vanilla bottles

I know it’s hard to think about the holiday gift-giving season when it’s 1000 degrees outside, but if you’re the type that likes to be prepared, I suppose it’s never too early. Here’s a fun little project to undertake the next time you find yourself trapped indoors this summer: homemade vanilla extract.

To start, you’ll need some vanilla beans. IndriVanilla, supplier of Fair Trade bourbon vanilla beans at beyond reasonable prices, is a great source. Since discovering them back in January, I have reintroduced vanilla beans to my pantry and have never been happier.

Next, a little alcohol. I made two batches with what I had on hand — vodka and rum — but the type of alcohol can vary from Frangelico to butterscotch schnapps to spiced rum to amaretto, all of with which Whitney Olsen, owner of IndriVanilla, has experimented. With 50+ variations of extract now bottled, Whitney has learned a few things, namely that the longer the beans steep and the more that are used, the stronger the vanilla extract will taste. And, moreover, because sugars in lower-proof alcohols can inhibit steeping, the higher the proof of the alcohol — 80 or above is ideal — the better the extract will taste.

And that’s really it. With vanilla beans and alcohol on hand, you are all set to start making homemade extract. The process couldn’t be more simple: heat alcohol just to its boiling point; pour it over split vanilla beans; let the extract steep for at least six weeks.

If you feel like turning your homemade vanilla into gifts, here’s what you’ll need:

Bottles. I, for once, was practical (thanks to guidance by Whitney) and didn’t order cute cork-topped bottles, which leak and apparently can impart unpleasant odors. I ordered 4-oz. amber glass bottles on Uline. Each bottle holds about 7 tablespoons (just under 1/2 cup) of liquid. At $1.05 a piece, my 24 bottles cost $25.20 and shipping brought the total to $36.81, making the ultimate cost per bottle $1.53.

Labels. There are lots of great resources for printing labels at home, but I love Moo.com, so I ordered my labels there. If you like the look of these, I’ve enclosed links to the files below, which you can download and order from Moo, too. There are three color options, and depending on when you get around to making the vanilla, you can choose a label with the appropriate 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 5- or 6-month-aged stamp.

Got it? Get crackin’. At the very least, order some beans and pick up some alcohol. The bottling and labeling can wait for a day this winter when you might find yourself trapped indoors again with any luck snow falling outside your windows.

filling the vanilla

vanilla bottles

vanilla beans

vanilla caviar

vanilla caviar

vanilla beans

vodka & rum

beans in jar

ball jars

bottles overhead

homemade vanilla, bottled


Homemade Vanilla Extract

Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated; much guidance sought from owner of IndriVanilla, Whitney Olsen, who happens to be the nicest person on the planet and is always willing to offer advice with anything vanilla related. Check out her FB page for recipes and ideas.

Whitney’s notes:
• For the Indonesian vanilla beans (the variety IndriVanilla supplies), Whitney believes that rum complements the flavor of the vanilla best.
• For strong extract ready to use in 6-8 weeks, you’ll want to use a minimum of 3 luxury vanilla beans or 4 ultra-premium vanilla beans or 5 gourmet vanilla beans per 8 oz. of alcohol.
• Steep for a minimum of 6 weeks, but the longer the better.
• Cheesecloth or coffee filters work well for straining if you wish to do so.

Cooks Illustrated proportions:
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup alcohol of choice (Cooks Illustrated used Smirnoff vodka; Whitney recommends something with a proof of at least 80)

1. Split a fresh bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds and split pod in a sealable container such as a mason jar. Meanwhile, heat the alcohol just to a boil, then pour over seeds and pod. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Seal the container and store at room temperature for at least 6 weeks. Strain the extract, if desired (I didn’t), and store in a cool, dark place. The extract should keep indefinitely.

Labels for Download:
Order a pack of 50 on Moo for $16.99

Red Label, Aged 1 month
Red Label, Aged 2 months
Red Label, Aged 3 months
Red Label, Aged 4 months
Red Label, Aged 5 months
Red Label, Aged 6 months

Green Label, Aged 1 month
Green Label, Aged 2 months
Green Label, Aged 3 months
Green Label, Aged 4 months
Green Label, Aged 5 months
Green Label, Aged 6 months

Blue Label, Aged 1 month
Blue Label, Aged 2 months
Blue Label, Aged 3 months
Blue Label, Aged 4 months
Blue Label, Aged 5 months
Blue Label, Aged 6 months

Box of Moo labels:
box of Moo labels

moo labels

homemade for you

20. July 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: craft, Gifts, Sauces, dressings, jams & spreads | 62 comments

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