Benriner Mandoline & Turning Slicer, Kevlar Gloves

sliced cucumbers, potatoes and summer squash

Shortly after posting the summer squash spaghetti entry, I received a message on Facebook from a reader. It said: “I just ordered the mandoline! My husband is shaking his head. Just wait!” Shortly after reading the comment, a few images flashed through my head: a dismembered finger, an angry husband, and a couple sitting in the ER waiting room cursing my name. What had I done?! Statements and suggestions from that post had to be followed up, sooner rather than later.

Let’s start from the beginning. In that post, I noted that I prefered my Benriner mandoline to my Benriner turning slicer for the long thin wisps it creates. This is true. The Benriner mandoline is great for, among many reasons, creating julienned summer squash and cucumbers, for slicing potatoes into rounds to be baked or fried into chips, and for thinly slicing radishes and kohlrabi for salads. Moreover, it, unlike some mandolines, can be adjusted so that it truly makes paper-thin slices (others stop at 1/4-inch or 1/8-inch).

What I perhaps love most about the Benriner mandoline, however, is its size, which measures only 13.5 x 6 x 1-inch, making it compact enough to fit right against the inside wall of any of my kitchen cupboards, allowing for easy access and stowage. Having never owned any other mandoline, I have only my mother’s to compare, which sits in the same cumbersome box in which it was packaged and lives someplace in her basement. It’s no wonder she never uses it.

The Benriner mandoline is not perfect, however, and if you decide to get one, it is important to keep a few things in mind:

1. Because it is handheld, it is necessary to have some way of securing its bottom edge while you are using it. I have a wooden cutting board with a back raised ledge (see videos below), which works perfectly, but a wall (if your counters aren’t too deep) or a brick (maybe?) could serve the same purpose.

2. Because it does not have one of those protective plastic shields — or if it came with one, I have no idea where it is — it has the potential to seriously injure whoever is operating it. With this is mind, reader Dee G left a great comment on the pasta post: “Love my mandoline, and I use it with no fear after purchasing kevlar gloves from Amazon. I could never make the pushing thing work for me and always used my fingers…a dangerous proposition. Those gloves are simply fantastic! And you really only need one, so buy a pair and share with a friend. I promise you’ll use that mandoline much more often!”

Dee G was right. The gloves give you all the confidence you need to pass any vegetable swiftly down the mandoline plane right through the razor sharp blade. I purchased these kevlar gloves and would like to share one half of my pair with one of you. Leave a comment if you are interested.

3. Finally, Kevlar glove on or off, the Benriner mandoline is not the best tool for certain jobs. Julienning potatoes, for instance, I found to be very challenging with the Benriner mandoline. In contrast, the turning slicer seemed to magically and effortlessly multiply my single potato into a beautiful web of thinly sliced strands, the perfect shape for frites (or a frites nest I should say).

In sum, if you’re in the market for a mandoline, I highly recommend the Benriner, but I would sleep better knowing you purchased a pair of kevlar gloves along with it. And if you have room for another gadget, the Benriner turning slicer (I’ve discovered this past week) does in fact have a place in the kitchen — for certain vegetables it is a much safer and better tool to use than a mandoline, and if you’re at all frightened by the idea of using a mandoline, the turning slicer might be the way to go.

fried potatoes

slicers & kevlar gloves

This salad is so summery and refreshing, perfect aside grilled meat or fish.
cucumber, feta and mint salad

potatoes & slicers

Benriner slicers

One note: I used a cucumber that I had sliced on the turning slicer for this salad. It was beautiful but a little bit awkward to serve — the turning slicer creates insanely long strands of whatever it is slicing up. One way to avoid this situation is to either use a mandoline or a knife (neither a turning slicer or mandoline is necessary to cut up cucumbers — just slice the cucumber into thin rounds or small dice) or to chop up the cucumber “nest” created by the turning slicer before tossing it with the feta, mint and dressing.

Cucumber, Feta and Mint Salad
Serves: However many you like

cucumbers, julienned or diced or sliced into rounds
feta cheese
mint, thinly sliced
extra-virgin olive oil
white balsamic vinegar

1. Combine cucumbers, feta and mint in a bowl. Toss with equal parts olive oil and white balsamic. As a reference, I used 1 tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of vinegar for the 1 cucumber I sliced up. Season with salt if necessary — I found that the feta added enough saltiness so I didn’t add any additional salt.

cutting board

cucumber, feta and mint salad

fried potatoes

The Bran Muffin To End All Bran Muffins

Nancy Silverton's bran muffins

Many of you already know of this bran muffin, a Nancy Silverton creation served at the widely adored La Brea Bakery. Made with toasted wheat bran, freshly grated orange zest, and simmered and puréed raisins, it is one of the most delicious muffins — bran or otherwise — out there. This is a true bran muffin, not a brown muffin under the guise of bran muffin. Despite being nearly one hundred percent whole grain in makeup, it is perfectly sweet and super moist. This is a muffin you feel almost OK about eating by the half dozen and one you feel truly OK about packing into lunch bags and taking on road trips.

Is it a little fussy? Toasted bran, grated zest, plumped and puréed raisins? Yes, a little bit. But I would argue that the bran muffin to end all bran muffins deserves to be so. I think you’ll agree.

orange and raisins

puréeing simmered raisins

batter

scooping batter into the pan

scooping batter

Nancy Silverton’s Bran Muffins
Adapted very slightly from Nancy Silverton via More Than Burnt Toast and David Lebovitz
From Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery

Notes: Because I don’t love the texture of raisins in baked goods, I puréed all of them in step 3 versus saving a half cup to fold in at the end. If you like the texture of raisins, however, by all means, save a 1/2 cup to be folded in at the end.

2 cups (125g) wheat bran
1 1/2 cups (190g total) dark raisins
1 1/2 cups (370ml total) water
1/2 cup (120g) buttermilk or plain low-fat yogurt (I used buttermilk)
zest of one orange
1/2 cup (105g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 cup (65g) flour
1/4 cup (35g) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or grease with butter or oil or use these free-standing paper liners, which are fun and pretty.

2. Spread the wheat bran on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for six to eight minutes, stirring a few times so it cooks evenly. Let cool.

3. While the bran is toasting, heat 1 cup of the raisins with 1/2 cup of the water. (Note: I simmered all of the raisins (1.5 cups) at once with 3/4 cups water, then added the remaining 3/4 cup water to the batter (step 4) afterwards.) Simmer for ten minutes, or until the water is all absorbed (I simmered for 10 minutes and all of the water was not absorbed, but I figured it was OK, and it was). Puree the raisins in a food processor or blender until smooth.

4. In a large bowl, mix together the toasted bran, buttermilk or yogurt, 1 cup water (or 3/4 cup water if you have simmered all of the raisins with 3/4 cup water), then mix in the raisin puree, orange zest, and brown sugar.

5. Stir in the oil, egg and egg white.

6. Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and sift (or not) directly into the wet ingredients. Stir until the ingredients are just combined, then mix in the remaining 1/2 cup raisins (if you haven’t puréed all of them already).

7. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, making sure the batter is mounded slightly in each one. Because muffin tins can very in size, if your tins are larger, make fewer muffins.

8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the muffins feel set in the center.

Nancy Silverton's bran muffins

Summer Squash Spaghetti

zucchini spaghetti

Several years ago I bought a Benriner turning slicer. It is a ridiculous (but fun) tool that sits in my cupboard 364 days a year. To justify hanging on to it, I pull it out every year, just once, at the start of zucchini season, when I set out to make one of my favorite spaghetti recipes, the very dish that inspired its purchase.

I had read about the turning slicer in Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne Cookbook, which extolled the tool for its ability to cut vegetables into long spirals, perfect for making cucumber salads or for preparing potatoes for the deep fryer or for turning out zucchini slices for this very spaghetti recipe. That sounded like fun, I thought, and I ran out to Fante’s to see for myself.

While the gadget works beautifully and while it, unlike some of my other slicers, poses no risk to my fingers, my experimentation has extended no further than this single recipe. Truthfully, I prefer the shape of the long thin wisps created by a mandoline.

While neither tool is required to prepare this pasta recipe, having one helps. The beauty of the dish lies in the delicateness of the zucchini and summer squash strands, which cook in the final minute of the assembly process while they’re being tossed with the just-boiled spaghetti.

The sauce for this pasta is simple: extra-virgin olive oil heated briefly with minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Lemon zest and lots of chopped basil and parsley add a touch of freshness. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano is a must.

I love this pasta. It’s simple and summery, and it always inspires me once again to unearth such a promising gadget. Maybe this summer will be different? Maybe we’ll take to feasting on whimsical cucumber nest salads and carrot and daikon radish slaws? Maybe we’ll grow accustomed to sliding our grilled steaks onto beds of crispy potatoes? It’s unlikely, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

benriner turning slicer

sliced zucchini

zucchini & summer squash

Love my Benriner mandoline:
benriner mandoline

ingredients

adding the parsley & basil

Zucchini Spaghetti
Adapted from Michael Chiarello’s The Tra Vigne Cookbook
Serves 2 to 3

Notes: The original recipe called for 3/4 lb. spaghettini, 3/4 lb. zucchini and 1/2 cup olive oil. I have reduced the amount of pasta and olive oil, but essentially kept the amount of squash the same. I also added lemon zest, which goes nicely with zucchini and adds a touch of brightness. Also, don’t be confused by the photo with the halved lemon and reamer — I don’t actually add any lemon juice, though I can’t imagine a squeeze would do too much damage. Your call.

1/2 lb. spaghetti
kosher salt
1/2 lb. or more zucchini or yellow squash (I used 11 oz. weighed after being trimmed sliced)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more or less)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
zest of one lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup finely chopped parsley (optional — sometimes I just use basil)
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
freshly ground pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a big pinch of salt. Meanwhile, using a mandoline or Benriner turning slicer, cut the squash into long thin strips. Alternatively, cut the squash with a knife as thinly as you are able. Place the sliced squash in a colander in your sink. Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid (though you might not even need it — I never seem to with this dish).

2. 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.)

3. Drain the pasta over the colander containing the squash, then transfer pasta and squash to a large bowl. Add the garlic-red pepper oil to the bowl. (Note: I add all of the oil at once, because I like the pasta to be nicely coated, but I could see how some people might find it too oily. If you are wary of oil, add about half of the oil to start, then add more as needed.) Add the zest and the herbs. Add the Parmigiano. Toss. Taste. Season with kosher salt (if necessary — I add a lot of salt to the pasta water so I usually don’t have to add any extra salt) and pepper to taste. If necessary, add some of the reserved cooking water (I didn’t need any), more olive oil (didn’t need it) or salt and pepper.

Have a nice weekend.
graham & ella

Butterscotch Budino Ice Cream

butterscotch budino ice cream sandwiches

This is what happened. My husband, who dislikes butterscotch, went out of town. I took the opportunity to make butterscotch budino, a dessert I discovered at Pizzeria Mozza several years ago, one that (along with the pizza) inspired many a 70-mile drive up to LA despite the inevitable, incessant, insane traffic.

I made the New York Times recipe (adapted from Pizzeria Mozza), which I discovered (too far along in the process to turn back) yields enough budino for a small village. My husband was only out of town for one night. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

After four too many budinos, I needed to take action. I couldn’t toss such a delicious creation, but eating it at the rate that I was seemed excessive. To prevent myself from assuming the role of small village, I dumped the remaining budino into my Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment and let it churn.

Never has such an intervention been more rewarding. I’ve never tasted salted caramel ice cream, but I’m pretty sure this is exactly how it would taste. And it is absurdly delicious. Budino, in its new frozen carnation, prevented me from becoming a small village, but only for one day. The ice cream disappeared from my freezer as quickly as the budino had from my fridge. And the recipe was revisited shortly thereafter, the new batch made with a few adjustments, namely without butter — I mean, butter in ice cream, as delicious as it was, is kind of gross.

The new butterless batch was just as, if not more so, delicious. I don’t know if it’s the relatively high amount of cornstarch or the presence of rum, but there’s something about this custard that produces the nicest textured ice cream. I made a third batch, too, and decided, just for kicks, to make ice cream sandwiches with about half of the batch. The cookies, made from a Fine Cooking recipe, taste just like the soft chocolate cookies flanking classic ice cream sandwiches. I have a feeling I’ll be making them all summer long.

Finally, Commenters, five of you — Trish, Kamilla, Elisa, Judy, and Dorothea — will receive a bag of Tipo 00 flour. With the exception of my friend Bates, who foremost deserves a bag, I used a random generator. I have emailed you. Wish I could send you each a bag.

ice cream maker

butterscotch budino ice cream

My aunt sent me these Everything Clips in the mail a few weeks ago. They are awesome for everything, but especially for securing parchment paper to pans:
pan clipped with parchment

batter spread in pan

baked batter

soft chocolate cookie, ready to be cut

cookie cut in half

fluted cutters

cutting cookies

cookie rounds ready for ice cream

sandwiches, ready to be topped

Butterscotch Budino Ice Cream
Adapted from the butterscotch budino recipe served at Pizzeria Mozza

If you just want to make butterscotch budino (versus the ice cream) follow this recipe.

for the custard:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup milk (I used whole)
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon rum

1. Combine cream and milk in bowl or pitcher, set aside. Whisk egg yolks and cornstarch (read note in next sentence first) in medium bowl, set aside. Note: There has to be a better way to whisk egg yolks and cornstarch than what I have been doing, which causes the yolks to clump all around the whisk. This is what I’ll do next time: Crack yolks into bowl. Spoon a little bit of the cornstarch into the yolks. Stir with a spoon until incorporated, then add more cornstarch and continue this process until all of the cornstarch has been added.

2. Combine brown sugar, kosher salt and 1/4 cup water in pot. Place over medium-high heat and let sit until edges start to brown. Tilt pot as needed to even the browning until caramelized, nutty and deep brown, about 10 minutes. Notes: The mixture should be bubbling (not crazily, however) the whole time, so adjust heat as necessary. Do set a timer. It’s hard to tell visually when the mixture is ready, but every time that I’ve made this, 10 minutes seemed to be the magic number.

3. Immediately whisk in cream mixture, mixture will steam and caramel will seize. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Whisk a cup at a time into egg mixture until half is incorporated. Remove from heat, and immediately whisk egg mixture back into pot until custard is very thick, about 2 minutes.

4. Whisk in rum. Pass through a fine mesh strainer. Transfer to a storage container (preferably glass or pyrex). Cover with plastic wrap, allow to cool, and refrigerate until completely chilled, the longer the better.

5. Transfer mixture to ice cream maker and freeze according to your machine’s instructions. Freeze until ready to serve.

for the ice cream sandwich cookies:

I followed the recipe on Fine Cooking for the cookie recipe.

Notes:
I used my 2.5-inch round fluted cutter to make individual sandwiches, which is fun, but also wasteful. If you go this route, you’ll get about 12 sandwiches per batch of cookie recipe. What is nice about this method is that the ice cream doesn’t have to be too soft — mine was a little too soft, in fact — in order to start the assembly process. If your ice cream is scoopable, you are good to go. Also, I froze my scraps from the cutting process. These could be crumbled up and sprinkled onto the sides of a cake or toasted and crumbled onto ice cream or … I’m sure you have some good ideas? Again, what isn’t nice about this method is the waste as well as the extra steps cutting/scooping/etc. Next time, I think I’ll stick to the traditional method. Also, the flavor of the butterscotch budino ice cream I found got a little masked by the cookie. Next time, too, I would choose a different flavor ice cream, probably vanilla, to use for the sandwiches. I’m thinking the best vessel for the butterscotch budino ice cream might be a thin chocolate wafer cookie bowl or something of the like? Will report back if I discover something.

ice cream sandwiches

Straining the custard after it thickens is important — it removes all of those curdled little bits.
straining the custard

Tipo 00 Flour — Worth Paying For Shipping

fig jam, caramelized onion and blue cheese pizza

A series of fortuitous events in the past few months have led to a number of wonderful discoveries: an ingredient — Tipo 00 flour; a technique — minimal handling of dough; and a reward — the best pizza I have ever made at home.

Let’s start from the beginning. Five trips in three weeks to 2Amys Pizzeria in NW Washington DC (over an hour drive from my house) convinced me it was finally time to get my hands on some Tipo 00 flour, a soft-grain flour requisite in the production of D.O.C. Neapolitan pizza, an ingredient I’ve been thinking about for five years now.

I hate to admit it and in retrospect it pains me, but a $7.25 shipping charge has been the sole barrier between me and Tipo 00 flour for about a year now. Am I wrong to expect everything to ship for free and arrive the next day? (I know, so bratty! Sorry.) Anyway, to soften the blow, I ordered 10 bags, which made the total price per bag $4.22, a nominal fee especially when each bag yields six pizzas.

About the time that my flour arrived, I received a text message from a friend who had been experimenting with the Jim Lahey pizza dough. The message read: “Help!” While she had been having great success flavor-wise with the Lahey recipe, her pies were less than picturesque. (Click on the link…it will make you chuckle. I love you, Bates.)

I had to come to my friend’s rescue. She had requested video guidance, which I was certain was out there and which I was determined to find for her. My quest for her, however, may have proven to help me equally as well. A video and a note published on Serious Eats made me realize that for all these years that I have been making homemade pizza, I have been majorly overhandling my dough, at least for the sort of pizza I strive to make.

The note from Lahey read as follows:

While I’m not picky about the flour — either bread flour or all-purpose is fine — what does concern me is how the dough is handled. Treat it gently so the dough holds its character, its texture. When you get around to shaping the disk for a pie, go easy as you stretch it to allow it to retain a bit of bumpiness (I think of it as blistering), so not all of the gas is smashed out of the fermented dough.

Having just spent $42 on 10 bags of flour, I sort of wished Lahey felt more strongly about the type of flour he used, but ultimately I agree that the handling of the dough is more important than the type of flour used. As soon as I began really paying attention to how I shaped my pizza rounds — gently/minimally — I noticed a difference in the finished product. The air pockets pervading the unbaked round (video/photo below) really affect the flavor and texture of the baked pizza.

I’ve made the Lahey dough many times now, and it is always delicious, regardless if I use bread flour or Tipo 00 flour. I do feel strongly, however, that the Tipo 00 flour produces a superior product, especially in texture. The unbaked dough is softer, more delicate and easier to shape — it doesn’t resist the shaping as much as the dough made with bread flour. The crust of the baked pizza, too, is a bit more tender, and the outer edge has a bit more chew.

Again, regardless of the flour, with the Lahey method, I’ve finally been able to achieve that quintessensial Neopolitan ballooned and blistered outer edge. I think I’m ready for my wood-burning oven. Santa, I hope you’re reading.

Finally, Readers, as you might imagine, I have a few extra bags of Tipo 00 flour on hand. Since you won’t be able to find this product without paying for shipping, I’d love to share my remaining bags with a few of you. Leave a comment if you’re interested. Just tell me you’re favorite thing to eat or you’re most valued kitchen tool (one of mine is commercial-grade plastic wrap, see below) or what’s next on your to-make list. Thanks so much for reading.

fig jam, caramelized onion and blue cheese pizza

fig jam, caramelized onion and blue cheese pizza

2Amys Pizzeria serves D.O.C. Neapolitan pizza, which means they follow the strict requirements outlined by the Italian government for producing authentic Neapolitan pizza. The guidelines cover all the bases: the oven (wood-burning); the shaping (by hand); the final size (no larger than 11 inches); the ingredients (dough must be made with tipo 00 flour, fresh yeast, water and salt and the toppings extend to Italian plum tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and dried oregano).

2Amys Menu

If you’re looking for more information on Tipo 00 flour, this link on Forno Bravo is helpful.
Antimo Caputo tipo 00 flour

dough rising

Jim Lahey dough, ready to be divided

dough, divided

dough balls

I know it is terribly ungreen of me, but one thing I cannot live without is heavy duty plastic wrap. Nothing makes me want to tear my hair out more than a box of super market cling wrap. If you’re OK with having a hideously large shape sitting out in your kitchen for all to see, this product might just change your life.

commercial grade plastic wrap and dough balls

I made this video for my friend, Bates, who was struggling with shaping her dough. I advise watching the one on Serious Eats first. My main goal with this video was to capture the air pockets that pervade the dough when it is handled minimally — the presence of these air pockets make a difference in the final product.

dough with tape measure

pizza, just out of the oven

fig jam, caramelized onions & blue cheese pizza

Fig Jam, Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese Pizza with Jim Lahey Dough
Pizza Dough Source: Bon Appetit vis Jim Lahey’s book: My Pizza.

Note: If you buy Tipo 00 flour, this recipe comes together in seconds — each bag conveniently weighs 1000g, which is what the recipe calls for.

For this pizza you’ll need:

caramelized onions
fig jam, thinned out with a little bit of water for easy spreading
blue cheese, any type you like
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Jim Lahey Pizza Dough (recipe below)

7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (1000 grams) plus more for shaping dough
4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

1. Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups water; stir until well incorporated. Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball. Transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature (about 72°) in a draft-free area until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature in the room).

2. Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, gather 4 corners to center to create 4 folds. Turn seam side down and mold gently into a ball. Dust dough with flour; set aside on work surface or a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions.

3. Let dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Wrap each dough ball separately in plastic wrap and chill. Unwrap and let rest at room temperature on a lightly floured work surface, covered with plastic wrap, for about an hour or two before shaping.

4. To Make the Pizzas: During the last hour of dough’s resting, preheat oven to its hottest setting, 500°–550°. Working with 1 dough ball at a time, dust dough with flour and place on a floured work surface. Gently shape dough into a 10″–12″ disk handling it as minimally as possible. Arrange dough disk on parchment-lined baking sheet; top minimally with desired toppings: to make this pizza, first spoon some of the thinned out fig jam over top, then top with caramelized onions, the blue cheese, and finally the Parmigiano Reggiano. Bake pizza until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat with remaining pizzas.

Shots from our lunch at 2Amys a few weeks ago:
Green tomato, ramp, Grana & egg pizza:
green tomato, ramp, Grana & egg pizza at 2Amys

The margherita pizza at 2Amys is just about the ideal — pizza, food, meal, everything. It is so unbelievably delicious.
margherita pizza at 2Amys

Norcia pizza:
Norcia pizza at 2Amys

Two Ways to Cut an Onion

onions, diced & sliced

OK, I know most of you know how to cut onions. If you’re one of them, please stop reading. I don’t mean to bore you.

This post is intended for those of you who might just like a little extra guidance at the chopping block. The way I cut onions is the way I learned many years ago while working at a restaurant. When I was there, the chef at the time made the most beautiful salads, relishes, ceviches, and most notably, salsas. Depending on the season and on the celebration (and on his mood), the star ingredient of the salsa always changed — from tomato (of course) to roasted poblano pepper to grilled pineapple to jicama to mango to corn to pickled red onion to tomatillo. The supporting cast, however, remained constant or nearly constant: there was always some sort of herb (cilantro, mint, Thai basil), some sort of acid (lime juice, lemon juice, vinegar), some sort of heat source (jalapeno, Thai bird chili, Tabasco) and always red onion.

The red onion — diced into perfect little arched diamonds — was always the prettiest of all of the shapes comprising the salsas. Sometimes it was super thin (when used in a delicate mixture topping a fresh oyster, for example) and sometimes it was super thick (when used in tomato bruschetta, for example). But the cutting method was always the same. I’ve included a video below. The key, which might be hard to pick up in the video, is in the final slicing step: when the half moon slices of onion are stacked, and you are ready to start creating your dice, you always want to keep your knife 90º to the curve. Does this make sense? I know this is nothing earth shattering, but once you learn out how to do this, you’ll be so happy (I was at least) to see those little red diamonds amassing on your board — they make the prettiest additions to salsa, of course, but also to potato salads or whole grain salads or bean salads etc.

finely diced onions

Note: This is not a technique to improve speed — the goal is to create beautiful delicate red diamonds.

sliced onions

There’s no story to go along with the second method, slicing, but I also learned this method at the restaurant. A video is probably unnecessary, but I’ve included one below anyway. When I need to sauté an onion or to caramelize it or to slice it for a Greek salad, for example, this is how I do it:

cutting board

Pesto & Pesto Pasta

pesto

You know pesto can be made with anything, right? No basil? No pine nuts? No parmesan? Pesto can still be done. All you really need is a bunch of herbs, a handful of nuts and some sort of hard salty cheese. While nothing perhaps marries quite as well as basil, pine nuts and parmesan, variations made with with other herbs, nuts and cheeses do the job quite nicely.

Earlier this week I pulled two tired bunches of cilantro and parsley from my fridge, and after refreshing them in some cold water (and extracting a few slimy strands), I buzzed them in the food processor with some raw almonds (all I had) and some grated Pecorino (all I had). With the exception of the herb quantity, I followed Darcy’s recipe to a T — it is fantastic. It didn’t need a pinch more salt nor a squeeze more lemon.

All week long I’ve been slathering the pesto on anything I can justify — eggs, roasted red pepper caprese salads, pasta. I’ve never felt more prepared for tomato season. It couldn’t arrive a day too soon.

cilantro pesto ingredients

cuisinart with pesto ingredients

cuisinart with pesto

pesto

dry Gragnano pasta

Pesto
Adapted from The Garden of Eden

Note: Darcy (from the Garden of Eden) made a basil pesto, so if you would like to follow her instructions, find the recipe here.

3 cups herbs* such as basil, cilantro, parlsey, chives, etc., rinsed
1/4 cup nuts such as almonds, walnuts or pine nuts**
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice (I juiced half a lemon)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly-ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated dry salty cheese such as Pecorino or Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano

* I probably added double the amount of herbs? I didn’t measure. My goal was to clean out the refrigerator. Also, I always add stems and everything — no need to pluck leaves for pesto.

** Darcy used toasted pine nuts.

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and purée until nicely blended. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Note: Darcy first processed the basil, nuts, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper until almost smooth, then slowly streamed in the olive oil with the food processor on. Finally, she stirred in the parmesan cheese.

Final note from Darcy: To prevent discoloration when storing pesto, it is best to put a thin layer of olive oil over the pesto and then cover it.

Pesto Pasta
Serves 2

1/2 lb pasta, something like gemelli or orecchiette
1/4 to 1/2 cup pesto
1/2 cup pasta cooking water
Parmigiano Reggiano for serving (optional — I did not find additional cheese to be necessary)

1. Cook pasta al dente, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water before draining.

2. Add 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid back into the pan. Place the pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a little simmer and add 1/4 cup of the pesto. Stir with the water until blended. Add the pasta to the pan and stir/toss until the pasta is nicely coated. At this point, keeping adding pesto to the pasta one tablespoon at a time. You might not need the full 1/2 cup — I did in fact use a 1/2 cup of pesto for the 1/2 pound of pasta, and it was delicious, but perhaps may have been just as delicious with a tablespoon or two less pesto.

3. Serve pasta passing grated Parmigiano Reggiano on the side if desired.

pesto pasta

pesto pasta

Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA, Light Brioche Burger Buns, and Preparing for Memorial Day

Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA

A couple of friends of ours take beer drinking very seriously. Never is their freezer not stocked with frosted pint glasses, nor their fridge with craft beers. If you drink beer at their house, they insist it be in a glass, not a bottle, and if they drink beer at your house, you best have chilled glasses on hand. Beer needs to breathe, they insist, and they pour hard, ensuring a nice foam head develops.

They’ve converted us. Pint glasses now dominate our freezer door, and various six-packs, almost an entire level of our refrigerator. One variety in particular, Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA, we can’t seem to live without. It is so good. Seriously, at every first sip, “perfection” is the only thought that comes to mind.

There are a few certainties for the upcoming holiday. We will be drinking Dogfish Head. We will be eating grilled burgers with roasted green peppers on light brioche buns (recipe below). There will be a kale caesar salad, and some sort of bubbling-fruit crumb-topped concoction, a cobbler or crostata or maybe something new.

Final note: With salad season upon us, I’ve compiled all of my favorite dressings and vinaigrettes onto one page.
kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

We’re keeping things simple this Memorial Day: burgers, salad, beer. I love the above-pictured kale caesar, but a Greek salad or a simple romaine salad with blue cheese dressing would accompany the burgers just as well.

And while I’d love to try out something new for dessert, I might just have to turn to some old favorites. Memorial Day has to be celebrated with pie or crisp or cobbler, right?

peach-blueberry cobblernectarine-blackberry crostatas

A few months ago, a NYTimes recipe that has been circulating the blogosphere for some time now usurped my favorite burger bun recipe. Try it! You’re burgers will never taste so good.

light brioche buns, baked

Before reading this article, I had tried countless recipes for brioche, none of which produced the texture I had hoped for, all of which made me cringe at every step of the process — the amount of eggs and butter I wasted on unimpressive loaves is sinful. This recipe is it. Search no further. Yum.

Light Brioche
Source: The New York Times
Yield: 8 to 10 buns

3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened.

1. In a glass measuring cup, combine 1 cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat 1 egg.

2. In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, unfloured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts. (Note: I think dividing the dough into 10 pieces rather than 8 yields better sized buns — when divided into 8 pieces, the buns are rather large.) Gently roll each into a ball and arrange 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let buns rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours.

5. Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

light brioche, unbaked

light brioche, baked

Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA

Dead Easy Steak Marinade

grilled grass-fed t-bone steak

It’s always nice when dead easy produces damn delicious. This little marinade — equal parts Worcestershire sauce and olive oil combined with a healthy sprinkling of lemon pepper — is a good one to have on hand this time of year. While you’re busy scraping off your grill grates, refueling your propane tank, perusing your various grill-time-cooking guides, worry not about how you’re going to add flavor to those steaks. This marinade is it. What’s more, it produces just about the best tasting leftovers, though I can’t promise there will be any.

steaks from our "cowpool" cow

Above: T-Bone steaks from our “cowpool” cow (steer, actually). If you’re interested in joining a cowpool check out this site: Eat Well Guide. Type “cowpool” into the keyword search box. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, try Eat Wild.

marinade ingredients

steak covered in lemon pepper

marinating t-bone

Dead Easy Steak Marinade

Note: Adjust the quantities based on how many steaks you are cooking. The below quantities yield enough marinade roughly for 2 t-bones, ribeyes, New York strips, etc. or for a large flank steak or for a couple of skirt steaks.

for the marinade:
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt-free lemon pepper*

just before grilling:
kosher salt

* Salt-free lemon pepper can be hard to find. If you only can find the lemon-pepper containing salt, don’t add it to the steaks until just before grilling. And omit the kosher salt (see steps below).
* You can always make your own lemon pepper, too: For 1 teaspoon lemon pepper substitute 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest + 1/8 teaspoon fine ground pepper

1. Whisk together Worcestershire sauce and olive oil in a bowl or in a vessel in which you plan on using to marinate the steaks. (Alternatively, pour ingredients into a ziplock bag.) Liberally sprinkle steaks on both sides with salt-free lemon pepper. (Note: If you are using lemon-pepper containing salt, do not add any during the marinating process.) Place steaks into bowl with marinade or into ziplock bag and submerge with marinade. Let sit for 20 minutes and up to 24 hours.

2. Just before grilling, remove steaks from marinade and place on a plate. Discard marinade. Season steaks on both sides lightly with kosher salt — Worcestershire sauce is salty, so you just need a light sprinkling here. (Note: If you are using the lemon-pepper containing salt, season steaks with it on both sides in this step and don’t add any kosher salt.)

3. That’s it. Fire up that grill.

Falafel with Lima Bean Salad

falafel, just fried

When you live in a land where your best options for ethnic food reside in the hot-food buffet line at Wegmans, you have to take matters into your own hands. Several days ago, after finding myself pedalling to Christos’ falafel cart in a daydream, I hopped off my bike, pulled out my “bean” file, and thumbed to a Bittman recipe I’ve been meaning to make for five years now:
For the Best Falafel, Do it All Yourself.

And so I did. And now I’m kicking myself for having waited so long. Especially when, as it turns out, there is nothing tricky about making falafel.

A few notes: 1. Plan ahead — dried chickpeas or fava beans have to soak for 24 hours. 2. A food processor (or a good blender) is essential. 3. Deep frying is required, but don’t be scared — falafel, as Bittman says, “is perfect for novice deep-fryers.” If you’re at all wary, watch Bittman’s falafel-making video — it gave me just the boost of confidence I needed before game-time.

Falafel is delicious. Also, filling. You won’t miss the meat. With some pita or naan (store-bought naan is quite delicious these days), a few chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, and some sort of spicy sauce (recipe below), you have a meal. I made a lima bean salad but any green or chopped vegetable salad would complement the falafel nicely.

A note on this lima bean salad: Last fall, I received an incredible package in the mail. It was filled with Rancho Gordo beans. I ate those beans for months and then ordered some more, including some large white limas, the foundation for one of my favorite dishes at Amada, a fava and lima bean salad, served warm swimming in olive oil aside toasted bread. It is delicious. Elements from the Amada salad — roasted red peppers, sliced red onion, fresh fava beans (or frozen edamame in a pinch) — have inspired the lima bean salad featured here.

A note on Rancho Gordo beans: I’ve made this salad several times now and must say that while Rancho Gordo beans (or any heirloom beans) are not essential, they do make a mighty tasty salad. My dear friend’s mother, Ruth, a bean connoisseur, said it best: “I like beans when they’ve cooked enough to start creating their own sauce rather than clinking around together in the water.” We had been discussing beans over email and analyzing the differences between heirloom beans and standard super market beans. For Ruth, the biggest difference comes down to texture: the RG beans are able to maintain their integrity — their skin provides just a bit of resistance before giving into the tooth — while still creating a creamy sauce. I couldn’t agree more.

One final note: Sike. So many notes here! No more notes. I promise.

bite of falafel

lima bean and roasted red pepper salad

falafel mix

Apparently in Egypt, falafel is more often made with fava beans than with chickpeas.
fava beans

falafel ingredients

falafel ingredients in cuisinart

falafel ingredients in cuisinart

falafel, with lima bean salad

roasted red peppers, red onions, scallions

lima bean and roasted red pepper salad

lima bean and roasted red pepper salad

Homemade Falafel
Source: Mark Bittman and the New York Times
Watch Bittman prepare the recipe here.

1¾ cup dried chickpeas or fava beans (I used favas)
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 small onion, quartered
1 teaspoon ground coriander*
1 tablespoon ground cumin*
Scant teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used espelette, so crushed chili flakes will work, too)
1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro (I used a mix of both and probably triple the amount)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, for frying

*I was feeling ambitious and toasted the cumin and coriander seeds before grinding them. Just a thought if you feel like taking the extra step.

For serving:
pita bread or naan bread (I used Wegman’s brand naan — delicious)
chopped tomatoes, cucumbers or lettuce (optional, especially if you’re serving a salad on the side)
spicy dipping sauce (recipe below) or Sriracha

1. Put beans in a large bowl and cover with water by 3 or 4 inches; they will triple in volume. Soak for 24 hours, adding water if needed to keep the beans submerged.

2. Drain beans well (reserve soaking water) and transfer to a food processor. Add remaining ingredients except oil; pulse until minced but not puréed, scraping sides of bowl down; add soaking water if necessary to allow machine to do its work, but no more than 1 or 2 tablespoons. (Note: I did add the 2 tablespoons of soaking water, but I might not have needed to had I been more patient. Try to be patient and scrape down the sides of the machine several times before adding the liquid. You might not need it.) Keep pulsing until mixture comes together. Taste, adding salt, pepper, cayenne or lemon juice to taste. (Note: I didn’t adjust the seasoning at all.)

3. Put oil in a large, deep saucepan to a depth of at least 2 inches; more is better. The narrower the saucepan the less oil you need, but the more oil you use the more patties you can cook at a time. Turn heat to medium-high and heat oil to about 350ºF (a pinch of batter will sizzle immediately). Note: My deep-fry thermometer (mind you, probably the least reliable kitchen gadget I own) read 300ºF when the falafel sizzled immediately signaling the oil was ready for action.

4. Scoop heaping tablespoons of batter and shape into balls or small patties. Fry in batches, without crowding, until nicely browned, turning as necessary; total cooking time will be less than 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. (Note: As Bittman notes in the video, the whole process will take less than 10 minutes — that means frying all of the falafel takes less than 10 minutes. I found that each individual ball cooked in about 1 minute total, and I felt comfortable cooking no more than five at a time.)

Lima Bean Salad
Serves 4

1 cup dried lima beans or any dried bean you like — you need about 2 cups cooked beans
kosher salt
roasted red peppers, cut into strips (about a cup)
red onion, thinly sliced (about a 1/2 cup)
4 scallions, thinly sliced, white and light green parts
1 cup cooked shelled edamame or cooked fresh fava beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

1. Cook lima beans: I did not soak my beans. I followed the “quick-soak” method on the bag, which called for boiling the beans for two minutes, then letting them sit for an hour. Then I simmered the beans until they were tender, about 40 minutes, and then let them cool completely in their cooking liquid. Once I turned the burner off, I added a big pinch of kosher salt.

2. When the beans are cooled, make the salad: Drain the beans and place in a large bowl. Season with a large pinch of kosher salt. Add the roasted red peppers, red onion, scallions and edamame to the bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar and toss. Taste, adjusting seasoning as necessary with more salt, oil, vinegar, or pepper if desired.

Roasted Red Pepper – Yogurt – Sriracha Sauce

This is just a super simple sauce you can whip up to your liking. Finely chop 2 (or more) roasted red peppers (to yield about 1/4 cup) and place in a bowl. Add in a few heaping spoonfuls of Greek yogurt (about 1/4 cup as well). Season with kosher salt. Splash with Sriracha or the hot sauce of your liking. Stir to combine. A food processor or blender will produce a smooth sauce, but then you have to clean them. Your call.

roasted red pepper, Sriracha & Greek yogurt sauce