Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Healthy Option: Kabocha Squash and Lentil Soup

The Holidays are almost over and it is time to eat some healthier foods. I can't believe the abundance of candy and cookies around the holidays. I'm weak, so when they are around I eat them. I didn't make a single dessert this Christmas, but I probably ate more sweets during the last two weeks than I did during the previous four months. For my next few posts I am going to try to post some healthy meals that don't sacrifice flavor.

This recipe is based on a recipe I found on one of my favorite food blogs. The original recipe can be found here. I forgot to get a fennel bulb when I went to the market, so I improvised using what I had on hand. I plan to try this recipe again using the fennel bulb, but I am quite pleased with the outcome. This soup features the Kabocha Squash which is an excelent roasting squash, but any smooth textured squash would suffice. The addition of the kale worked very well and the garlic croutons puts this soup over the top.

(Kabocha Squash and Lentil Soup recipe follows)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Moroccan Tagine?

If you know me well, then you know I have a bit of an obsession with cookware. Recently I acquired a new pot like no other pot in my kitchen; it's a stove top and oven safe ceramic pot by Emil Henry. You read the title, but it's not a tagine. It's a 5.5 quart stewpot. I've wanted something like this for a long time. I have some very nice Le Creuset which are wonderful enameled cast iron pots, but this pot is like having a crock pot for the stove or oven with the advantage of being able to brown ingredients over higher heat. The vessel is the perfect size for soups and stews (I guess that's why they call it a stewpot.) It doesn't heat quite as evenly as cast iron, but the heat retention is considerably better than cast iron. I actually think this makes for better stews. This pot is a terrific alternative to the Moroccan Tagine. While I think the Tagine is a beautiful and very unique piece of cookware its utility is fairly limited. My new ceramic pot serves the same purpose as the tagine with more versatility. It is inevitable that I will someday acquire a tagine (maybe when I build my wood fired pizza oven), but for now I can't think of a disadvantage to this pot.

I've never made a stew in this style, so I wasn't sure my first attempt would end up worthy of an Oakland Skillet post. I should have had more faith in my skills and intuition. I based my recipe on two recipes I found on the internet. The first recipe is by Jamie Oliver and the second was published in Cooking Light. Neither of these recipes were exactly what I was looking for. The second recipe from Cooking Light suggests this can be done in 45 minutes which is preposterous. If you make this in 45 minutes, as the recipe suggests, the meat will be way too tough and chewy. Long cooking time at a low heat is the only way to make these inexpensive cuts of meat tender. Jamie's technique is of course right on, but I didn't have some of the ingredients his recipe called for and I wanted something a little richer. My recipe uses more spices and a richer stock. My first attempt at a Moroccan style dish could not have turned out better.

(Recipe for Moroccan Style Lamb of Beef Tagine with Butternut Squash Follows)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Black Bean and Calabrese Sausage Soup

The Calabrese or Salsiccia Calabrese is a pork sausage made traditionally in the region of Calabria, Italy. It is most similar to what most Americans know as the spicy Italian sausage. Calabrese is made with fennel seed, dried ground hot peppers like the cayanne, and a sweet paprika sometimes called pepe rosso which gives the sausage its deep red color. If you have never had a Calabrese and live in the Bay Area may I recommend: Top Dog. This spicy sausage is entirely underrated.

If there is one culinary custom I inherited from my mother it's soups. Growing up my mom would make a pot of soup nearly every week in the evening and we probably ate that soup for 4 meals that week. For a while I might have said I was fed up with soup. But soups are so essential to my culinary roots I could never get by without them. And, lets face it, as much as I love to cook I can't cook every day. I make a pot of soup on Monday and I'll have lunch and dinner for two or three more days.

This soup is my own recipe and I will admit it is a culture clash, but please don't call it fusion-food. The Calabrese is there as a flavor component and not the bulk of the soup. I think you'll find the bright heat from the New Mexico chili powder and the manzano pepper along with the moderately smokey flavor from the bacon and roasted pepper topped off with garlicky bitter greens a perfect combination. This soup will warm your insides as the winter continues to blow in. I promise you will love it.

(recipe follows)

My Bread and Butter

My Whole Wheat Bread
It seems the My Bread post was quite popular. I have been baking a lot of bread since that first loaf. It still blows me away that I can make an artisan bread at home in my 55 year old oven. I have tried a few different breads besides the standard Italian loaf from the original recipe. I've experimented with Olive Bread, Cheese Bread, Olive & Cheese Bread, and even a Pumpkin Yeast Bread. All of those are very good, but the recipe I have perfected is for a whole wheat bread. I started with the wheat bread recipe that was published in Jim Lahey's book "My Bread." However, I felt like his wheat bread recipe wasn't as wheatie as I like. I experimented with several ratios of bread flour and whole wheat flour until I got close to what I was looking for. Then, I could taste what was missing. In my recipe there is a small amount of rye flour. The rye gives the bread just a little bit of that tangy rye flavor. I really think it makes a wonderful whole wheat bread.

Homemade Butter Ball
When it comes to the standard Italian bread I like the bread by it self or with a really nice high quality olive oil. However, with wheat I tend to go for butter. Last night I was baking a loaf of my whole wheat bread for a potluck at work. I was thinking about going to the store to get my favorite brand of butter. I couldn't tell you what the brand name is, all I know is it is imported from Italy and it comes wrapped in wax paper with blue lettering and is riveted closed on both ends with brass rivets. The butter is quite different from your every day butter found in most grocery stores. This butter is slightly sweet and has a flavor closer to fresh cream than what I usually think of as butter. The trouble is I only know one place to get it and I didn't have time to go before the potluck today. My solution was to make my own.

I had never made butter before, but I can tell you it is quite simple and not very much work if you have some kind of machine to agitate the cream for you. I've been told that butter making is a great activity for kids. You give them a jar with cream inside and have them shake until it becomes butter. I can't wait to have kids some day. This should keep them occupied before meals. Anyways, I made my butter in my stand mixer, but you could also use a food processor or blender.

I think the key to making good butter since there isn't any real technique involved is to start with good cream. I used the best cream I could find at Trader Joe's since TJ's is only a short walk from my home, but I know that isn't the best cream available. The organic heavy whipping cream at TJ's is fine and it made a pretty good butter, but it is ultra pasteurized, something you should avoid if possible. Around the Bay Area and certainly in the East Bay we have a remarkable dairy, the Straus Family Creamery. The Straus Family Creamery's products are available in most better grocery stores. If it is convenient then by all means use their products, especially if you are going to go through the trouble of making your own butter. I will next time. Heavy whipping cream is all you are likely to find in the stores, but the best cream to make butter with would be manufacturing cream. Manufacturing cream has a butterfat content of 40% or more where heavy whipping cream is between 35% and 40%. It is really difficult to find manufacturing cream in the stores since the restaurants buy it all. If you find manufacturing cream please, please, please let me know where you got it!

Whole Wheat Bread and Home Made Butter Recipes follow

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dungeness Crab Risotto

Don't worry, he's smiling because I'm going to take care of him.
We are lucky here in the Bay Area. The San Francisco Bay Area is home to beautiful beaches, hills, and parks. The weather here and in the surrounding areas lends it self to some of the best farming regions in the world (think Napa). Demand here for high quality ingredients is quite high, and the farmers and farmers markets cater to our call. We have incredible visionary restaurants and chefs who are leading our country's healthy food movements. For these resources I feel truly blessed to be living in this culinary mecca. There is one distinct food that is a native treasure of the San Francisco Bay Area that I only recently came to truly appreciate. Dungeness Crab*.

In my formative years I probably ate Dungeness Crab a hand full of times. It wasn't until one of my best friends started working at a butcher shop that I became really excited about Dungeness Crab. The Dungeness Crab, in my humble opinion, is a second to no other crustacean. Lobster has too much of a snap in its texture for me, and its flavor just doesn't come across as well while you chew. Dungeness Crab, on the other hand, has a wonderfully delicate texture, the flavor close to that of fresh sea air with just a hint of sweetness.

Due to the crab's delicate flavors and texture it should always be featured with ingredients that support its characteristics. Serving Dungeness Crab with cheese, heavy cream sauces, or along side any land dwelling animal would be a mistake in my opinion. Of course Crab Cakes, salads featuring crab meat, crab salad (with only a modest amount of mayonnaise), and just plain Dungeness Crab with butter are excellent ways that highlight this delicacy. I've made frittata's, eggs benedict, and simple pastas with Dungeness Crab. All with marvelous results.

One of my objectives with Oakland Skillet is to explore the seasonal foods and tune my recipes to take advantage of our regional opportunities. Yesterday I was I was thumbing through one of my cookbooks contemplating recipes for my next post to Oakland Skillet. I came across a recipe for Lobseter Risotto. Given my nature to one-up the recipe I immediately thought Dungeness Crab. I did a quick Google search to see if the Dungeness Crab season had opened. Good timing! Dungeness Crab season opened November 28, 2011.

*Dungeness Crab is also a responsible choice as far as seafood goes. It has been rated a Best Choice on the Monteray Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch.

(recipe for Dungeness Crab Risotto follows)

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Simple Seasonal Dinner (Fall - Winter)

Some weeks I just can't find the energy to cook a super fancy meal. In case you haven't noticed I still like to eat. This post is just a really simple meal using ingredients that you'll find aplenty in the late fall and early winter.

Roasted Chicken Breast, Roasted Beets and Braised Greens. These greens happen to be Swiss Chard, but if you buy your beets with the greens still attached then you might as well use those. I'm a big fan of greens. It's really about cooking them correctly and not overcooking them. The softer greens will cook quite quickly, so make sure everything else is ready before you start them.

Recipes for Super Simple Roasted Chicken Breast, Roasted Beets, and Braised Greens Follow

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Better Pumpkin

I have never been successful at making a pumpkin puree suitable for pumpkin pie. I have done all the right things. I used the sugar pumpkin baked for long enough and pureed in a food processor, but it is always too fibrous or stringy. My sister and I discussed this a few years ago. Our assumption is we aren't getting the right pumpkins. Pumpkins are squash, so any squash puree could theoretically be used in place of pumpkin. Butternut Squash happens to be the right color, close in flavor, similar in sweetness, but it is also the perfect texture when roasted. There is a dispute as to which one of us came up with the idea to use the butternut squash, but since my sister remembered this year I'll give her credit, although we are not the first to consider butternut squash. However, the real credit goes to my Great-Grandmother Louise Larson for the recipe we based ours on. Karin and I made this for Thanksgiving this year. This was our first attempt and I wouldn't change a thing. This is the best "pumpkin" pie I have ever tasted.

Butternut Squash Pie
(Recipes Follow)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are good. You can quote me on that. Growing up as a kid my mom would make Brussels Sprouts a few times a year when they were in season. She usually steamed them and served them with a heavy squeeze of lemon. I will admit that I still like them cooked this way, but steamed Brussels Sprouts can be less than enthralling next to the other roasted flavors they would often be served with this time of year.

They way the salty and smokey flavors in the bacon play with the bitterness of the Brussels Sprouts is about as complementary as food gets. I add the shallots for a bit of sweetness when they caramelize. Finally finished with a squeeze of lemon which helps cut the greasy flavors from the bacon fat and offset the bitterness in the Brussels sprout.

With Thanksgiving Day arriving in less than a week I thought I would do a trial run of my Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots
(Recipe follows)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

Last June some friends of mine took me to dinner at a very nice restaurant in Sonoma, the El Dorado Kitchen. The dinner was a tasting to determine what would be on the menu for their July wedding. It also happened to be my birthday. The rule for ordering was we had to choose something from the restaurant's menu that the kitchen would be able to prepare for the wedding. Plenty of choices. We ordered Lamb Chops, Salmon, Halibut, and Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin. While I am a huge fan of pork, especially the tenderloin, it is a risky choice for wedding food. I gather there are quite a few folks who steer clear of pork. Religious reasons aside, who would have problems with tender pork wrapped in more delicious pork? The EDK pork tenderloin was, without a doubt, the best pork tenderloin I have ever had. (Thank you, and congratulations S&B)

I was so impressed with the EDK tenderloin that I had to try and make my own. This is my version inspired by the El Dorado Kitchen.

Pork Tenderloin is to Pork as Filet Mignon is to Beef. In fact they are essentially the same muscle in their respective animals. The meat is very tender because it doesn't do much work while the animal is alive. Like Filet Mignon this muscle isn't particularly flavorful by itself. However, pork tenderloin takes on added flavors very well. It does have a tendency to dry out since it is a lean muscle. This recipe is pretty forgiving though. Brining the tenderloin serves two purposes, first it adds a lot of flavor to the meat and second it helps ensure that the meat doesn't dry out. Cooking the tenderloin wrapped with what is essentially a layer of fat will further ensure that the meat stays moist. So even if you make a mistake or aren't paying attention and let the pork cook to medium-well (160º F) it won't dry out.

Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Braised Greens and Mashed Potatoes
(recipe follows)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stuffed Butternut Squash

Fall is here. I'm going to miss the wonderful tomatoes, avocados, arugula, basil, and berries that filled my kitchen during those warmer months. But, I have to say, I welcome the fall produce. I love the hearty harvests of the fall; the greens, the root vegetables, and of course the squash. I think this recipe is quite representative of fall. It's one of those dishes that helps stave off the damp chilly air that comes in with the fall here.
This recipe is more or less my own creation, but it was inspired by something my sister once made for me. You'll notice that there is no salt in this recipe. Feta has plenty of salt and I love how the cheese doesn't really melt, so you get bites of salty varied with bites of sweet. The aroma and natural sweetness of the squash is enhanced by the cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper. This dish is all about bringing out the natural sweetness in these ingredients, but I'm not looking for a desert.

 Stuffed Butternut Squash
(recipe follows) 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

My Bread

I was recently in New York City taking a badly needed and well deserved holiday. I stayed with a friend of mine from high school. When I arrived at his apartment in Brooklyn he had a loaf of the most wonderful home made bread. He has been telling me for a few years now about the no-knead bread method pioneered by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan. Jim's method became wildly popular with food lovers after it appeared in Mark Bittman's column The Minimalist. Jim's method really does allow a home baker to produce a loaf of bread that is every bit as good, if not better, than the artisan bread bakerys here in the Bay Area.

While I was in New York I decided to visit the Sullivan Street Bakery. I tried the Pizza Puttanesca and a half piece of the Artichoke Strecci. I wasn't wild about the puttanesca sauce on the pizza. In my opinion the fishy flavor from the anchovies overpowered the flavors of the bread and was a little too prominent for a sauce that is so liberally applied to the thin crisp crust. The strecci was bliss. Artichoke hearts and garlic baked in an Italian baguette. Perfect!
While I was eating at the bakery I discovered that Jim wrote a book about his no-kneed bread method called "My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method."  I have to say I was a little skeptical about the idea that one could produce a bread that was anything close to what comes out of commercial steam ovens, but baked in a home oven. After tasting my friends bread and the bread baked at the bakery from whence this method came I bought the book.

This was my first attempt at baking a yeast bread, save for pizza dough. Jim suggests in his book that you start with the basic recipe before trying some of the more extravagant recipes in his book.

I won't go into great detail on the method as it is pretty well covered by Mark Bittman in his column. The recipe can be found here.
Basically you mix the flour, salt, yeast, and water into a very sticky wet dough. The dough isn't worked or kneaded and looks pretty messy at first. The dough is allowed to rise for 12 to 18 hours during which the gluten in the flour is developed slowly. The long rise also allows naturally occurring bacteria and fermentation to bring much more flavor to this basic bread than found in a quick rise bread.
Once the dough has risen it is placed into a heavy pot or dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, preferably made of clay or cast iron. The bread is baked in the pot in a hot oven with the lid on for the first 30 minutes of baking. Since the dough is relatively wet baking it with the lid on mimics a commercial steam oven. After 30 minutes the lid is removed and the bread is allowed to bake for 10-30 minutes longer. This allows the crust of the bread to caramelize and become, well, crusty. If you make this bread do yourself a favor and allow the crust to become really dark, but not burned. It will add a wonderful texture and really add to the flavor of the bread.

I can honestly say that the loaf I made this morning is the best bread I have ever tasted.

I baked my bread in an oven that was somewhere between 475º F and 500º F. I made a mistake and put the bread in the pot with the seam side down, but I rather like how that turned out, so I may continue to bake the bread this way. I believe that it made the bread rise a little higher at the expense of a wider loaf. I used flour for dusting the dough.


Coffee Cake

The other day I was given a large bag of very ripe bartlett pears. For a long time I didn't like pears. Mostly because of the pears we got with snack or lunch in elementary school. I have since discovered that not all pears are hard or mealy. This bag of pears was especially good and very ripe. I ate most of them just by themselves, but as they began to get over-ripe I had to find something to make that would use up my remaining stock. I searched my favorite internet sites for recipes featuring pears. My criteria was that the recipe could only call for ingredients I had on hand. I settled on this recipe for Walnut Pear Coffee Cake.

This was my first attempt at baking a cake from scratch and I think the results were spectacular. The one change I made to the original recipe was made out of necessity. I substituted the cup of sour cream in the original recipe with 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of plain non-fat yogurt. This recipe has made it in to my little black book of recipes calling for the substitution ingredient rather than the original.

Walnut Pear Coffee Cake

  • 1 + 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (total 1 1/2 cups but separated)
  •  1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
  • 3 medium ripe pears, peeled and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon plain non-fat yoghourt 
Preheat the oven to 350º F

Crumble Topping
In a small bowl combine 1 cup of walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl add the flour. Flour your fingers and work the butter into the flour until it becomes a course texture like little pebbles. Most of the flour should be in little clumps. Combine 3/4 cups of the walnut mixture with the flour and butter add the remaining 1/2 cup of walnuts.

The remaining nut mixture from above is part of the filling (the mixture without the flour and butter).

Toss the pears in the lemon juice. 

Cake Batter
Cream together the 1/2 cup butter and sugar using a stand mixture and the paddle attachment. Add 1 egg at a time and mix until incorporated. Mix in the vanilla and almond extract.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Mix 1/3 of the flour with the butter and sugar mixture. Alternate with 1/3 of the yoghourt until all of the flour and yoghourt and butter has been combined. Use as little mixing as possible to combine the ingredients.

Pour 1/2 of the cake batter into a greased (with butter) 9 inch spring form pan. Sprinkle with the nut filling (the stuff without butter). Lay the pear slices in an even layer on top of the nut mixture. Pour the remaining cake batter over the pears and spread the crumble topping evenly over the top.

Bake in a 350º F oven for 50 - 60 minutes. When a toothpick is inserted into the middle of the cake it should come out clean.
Remove from the oven and cool the cake on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the pan and release the spring form and allow the cake to cool for 1 hour.

The batter was much thicker than I expected, yet the cake turned out light. The cake rose much more than I expected, so be careful if you use a shallow pan. I actually feel that the cake was best after sitting out for 12 hours. I don't feel like the sour cream would have made this cake much better, so I have elected to reduce the calories and fat in this excellent coffee cake recipe.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

First Post

Hi and welcome to The Oakland Skillet. This is the cooking  +more blog of Bradley Hilton. Check back here soon to see what adventures, culinary or otherwise, I get into.