Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The morning of the MasterChef premiere

I got to share my sesame chocolate bread pudding recipe with the whole state of Colorado on FOX 31's morning show, Good Day Colorado!  To answer some questions that my friends at home asked me:

1. Yes, the dress is new.  I got it a month ago and have been wearing it because I love it.

2. No, I did not buy that dress just for the show.

3. No, I did not wear it to match the set.

4. Yes, I can believe he didn't know what tahini is.  They were eating bratwurst at 8 o'clock in the morning for crying out loud!

Well enough about that.  Here's the video clip:


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tahini... it's not just for hummus

The problem with sweets, to me, is not only that they're lacking in umami, but from a nutritional standpoint, they're not much more than empty carbs which leave you hungry shortly thereafter.  And when you eat as often and in such quantities as I do, that can be a problem (even assuming that I like being pudgy, I cannot afford the time or expense to continually buy bigger clothes!).

Now, let's say you've just had a big cookout, and, as with every other cookout, there are people who fear those carbs so much that they eat hamburgers with a knife and fork, leaving you with lots of leftover hamburger buns.  What do you do?

In this kitchen, when life hands me lemons, I make lemonade.  And when life hands me bread, I make bread pudding.  The question is, when life hands me bread in the form of sesame seed buns, what am I supposed to do?  Do I painstakingly pick them off, one seed at a time?  I may be Chinese and I may be cheap labor (read: lowly government worker), but my time is certainly still more valuable than that.  Do I leave them on and hope no one notices the sesame seeds stuck in their teeth?  I'm a voracious eater who happens to love the texture of gristle and could chomp from end to end through a steak without giving a second thought to odd textures but I think even I would notice sesame seeds in a bread pudding.

The solution to both problems, the non-nutritious sweets and the leftover sesame seed buns, is what puts the um(ami) in hummus.  Tahini.  Just 2 tablespoons of the stuff will add 8 grams of protein, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 5% of your daily recommended intake of iron, and 15% of your daily recommended intake of calcium.

Rather than hiding the sesame seeds in a chocolate bread pudding, I would enhance them by adding tahini.  It's a very if-you-can't-beat 'em-join-'em approach to the problem. 

And it could be fatally flawed.  I checked The Flavor Bible. 
I looked under "chocolate" and nowhere in the exhaustive four-page entry on chocolate did sesame even show up.  Cross-reference under "sesame" -- two columns dedicated to black and white sesame seeds and chocolate was under neither one.

Well, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And so it was that this intrepid chef came to invent the dessert that protein-lovers could enjoy: Sesame chocolate bread pudding.
The result -- dessert with umami goodness.
Here's the recipe.

Sesame chocolate bread pudding

1/2 lb sesame seed buns, cubed
1 1/2 c whole milk
1/2 c heavy cream, plus more for whipped cream
1/4 c tahini
3/4 c granulated sugar
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/8 c cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp sesame oil (not seasoned or toasted)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, grated
2 pinches toasted white sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place the cubed bread in a 9"x6" baking dish.  In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, and tahini.  In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, brown sugar, and cocoa powder and mix well. Add the sugar mixture to the milk mixture and mix well.  Add the vanilla and sesame oil to the beaten eggs.  Combine the egg mixture to the milk mixture and mix well.

Stir the grated chocolate into the mixture.  Pour the mixture over the cubed bread in the dish.  Stir the mixture to make sure the bread is all coated.  Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, so the bread absorbs most of the milk mixture.  Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over the mixture.  Bake pudding for 50 minutes or until set -- pudding is done when a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
Serve the pudding warm, or refrigerate and serve chilled with whipped cream.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fruit of our labor

Not everything in our garden has sprung, but the stuff that has is perfect!  There are tons of kale, several varieties of tomatoes in various stages of ripeness, peas, and a few types of cucumbers.

Since my colleagues didn't get any of the rose cherry cobbler and (being the honest lawyer that I am) I felt the need to tell my boss what I didn't bring in, I felt I owed them a batch of kale chips.  So I donned the headlamp and headed out the back door with a bucket and a pair of kitchen shears to pay my penance (no amount of hard livin' and debauchery can undo all those years of Catholic school).  As I waited for the oven to heat up, I threw open my spice cabinet and thought long and hard about how to season the kale chips.  Curry?  Harissa?  Jerk?  On second thought, if my colleagues were to be running around smelling of the stuff, maybe it ought to be something more accessible so that everyone would enjoy it -- all for one, and one for all!  Sea salt and garlic was the poison I picked.  A 50/50 mix of fine sea salt and granulated garlic sprinkled on scantly olive oiled kale pieces.  Divine.

Then I turned my attention to the harvest that Mr. Rose brought in.  The last of the peas from the second flush burst with fresh, green goodness.  We'd had yellow and red cherry tomatoes, but the black cherry tomatoes are new arrivals, with an unusually rich sweetness.  And the pickling cucumbers have so much of that grassy cucumber aroma, but packed in a shorter, stubbier and slightly less crispy body, that we couldn't wait for them to be pickled -- they had to be eaten tonight.
The peas were shelled and boiled till just tender.  The tomatoes halved and sprinkled lightly with the garlic salt from the kale chips, and the cucumbers were peeled and diced.  Everything was tossed in extra virgin olive oil and peach-infused white basalmic vinegar, finished with cracked pepper, then tossed down the hatch.  This salad didn't stand a chance.
Now that dinner's over, I'm refraining from nibbling away at the kale chips.  They must make it to the office because I cannot handle another moment in the confessional with my boss, nor can I imagine what the self-prescribed penance would be.

P.S. If you must work with a recipe, here's a rough one:

Fresh pea, tomato and cucumber salad (serves 2)

2 handfuls of shelled peas
1 cup of assorted cherry tomatoes, halved
1 pickling cucumber, peeled and diced
1-1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tbsp peach-infused white basalmic vinegar
1/2 pinch sea salt
1/2 pinch granulated garlic
salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Put the peas in a small pot and just barely cover them with water, a pinch of sea salt and 1/2 tbsp of the extra virgin olive oil.  Bring to a boil and let simmer for 2-3 minutes, or till peas are tender.  Remove from heat, drain, and quickly drench in ice cold water.  Drain well.  Mix 1/2 pinch sea salt with 1/2 pinch granulated garlic and toss with the cherry tomatoes in a small bowl.  Toss the peas and cubed cucumber into the bowl.  Add remaining 1 tbsp olive oil and peach-infused vinegar.  Season with salt and cracked black pepper to taste.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Simple dinner and sour cherry cobbler redux - Rose style

The weather has finally cooled down enough where it's tolerable to turn on the oven.  And on this long rainy day, we got out of the office in just enough time to pick up some fillets of tilapia from Seafood Landing.  It was late for dinner, so simplicity was key.  The tilapia went into the oven, under a pile of parboiled potatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, and herbs, a smattering of olive oil and lemon juice, and wrapped in an aluminum foil pouch.  (Recognize these ingredients?)
I like this method of cooking fish because it feels like I'm luxuriously roughing it.  It's only one step away from how I like to eat when camping, the only difference being that I used an oven rather than the coals from a fire.  That and the fact that I shall sleep in a warm, dry bed tonight.
While the fish cooked, I explored the gardens.  In the hot spell that preceded today's rain, we got another flush of peas!  They were so perfect, and so I made quick work of shelling them.  One for me, one for the little dog, one for the bowl.
Paired with our abundance of mint and scallions, nothing could be more delightful.
Dinner came and went quickly, lingering only long enough to grace our palates.  Mr. Rose went back to work and I opened the fridge to explore my options.  Ku had returned from Peru to find more sour cherries adorning the forbidden HOA tree.  She brought enough for another sour cherry cobbler.  So I "rose" to the occasion and decided to give this one a twist -- a few dashes of rose water.
A refreshingly tangy flavor, with the floral essence of roses.  I think this is what cherry blossoms would taste like if you could capture a flavor from those beautiful pink petals.  And the smell is divine. Waiting on this cobbler was torture.
I briefly entertained bringing this in for my lunch hour meeting with folks in my office, but, frankly, I'm not sure I like those guys enough.  This might be something exclusively for Mr. Rose and me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Moonlight Classic

Yesterday was one of my most highly anticipated events of the year -- the Moonlight Classic, ranked second only to Thanksgiving, and above my birthday, Mr. Rose's birthday, our wedding anniversary, and even Halloween.  The Moonlight Classic combines several enticing aspects into one event.  Outrageous costumes, lots of bicycles, extremely loud music, a bathtub full of beer, and, of course, enough food to feed an army, twice.  The food isn't fancy, mind you.  It does have to feed an army twice, after all.  But it is always satisfying and there must be enough for the Moonlight Classic pre-party AND the post-party.

Every year, a couple dozen people park their bikes in our backyard at dusk, one of which has a serious sound system on the rear rack hooked up to a car battery which one rider must carry throughout the ride.  We feed these people, so they have energy for the slow and drunken ride.  People go back for seconds of brats, burgers and sides.  Round about midnight, we light up some glow sticks and flashing head and tail lights, and roll down the hill to the Capitol, where the Moonlight Classic starts.  And when we're done with our 10-mile loop around Denver, we reconvene at some pickup trucks strategically parked at the bottom of the hill, and transport our revelers back up the hill to our house to nosh on leftovers.  The last party-goers depart from the Speakeasy Kitchen, exhausted, but full and re-hydrated, in the wee hours of the next morning, about an hour before sunrise.

On the table this year were pico de gallo and guacamole with freshly fried corn chips, multi-colored potato salad, roasted corn salad, and pasta salad with cherry tomatoes and olivada.

The potato salad was simple and delicious, with multi-colored potatoes, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives and mint, tossed with a lemony herbed vinaigrette.  Not only was it a good side dish for the cookout, but it'll be excellent with eggs in the morning... the very late morning.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Waiting and Watching for MasterChef

Two years ago, I auditioned for Top Chef.  Yes, that's right, Season 5, the one where the guy who won was a professional chef from Boulder, CO.  Rather stiff competition, I suppose.  I was probably out of my league, but I felt like it was my big opportunity to dig myself out of an exhaustive document review and into a fulfilling new career.  Well, I didn't get on the show, but it did encourage me to do less semiconductor litigation and more cooking.

I cooked for my husband, my neighbors, my friends, my colleagues, and total strangers.  I steamed and roasted lobster.  I baked bread, stretched pizza dough, and made bread pudding.  I battered and fried chicken, al matone'd chicken, and shoved a beer can up a chicken's butt.  I made homemade cheese and grew my own mushrooms.  I perfected my curries and my poached eggs.  I poached fish.  I cooked every kind of food that came to mind.  I was having fun and getting ready for the next opportunity.

Then, MasterChef came to North America, and suddenly a door opened, and Gordon Ramsey, Graham Elliot, and Joe Bastianich walked through it.  They took my breath away.

And now, I will go fix myself a snack while I wait to watch the show.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

What to do with extra cherries

Three pounds of sour cherries is a lot of cherries.  After the cobbler, there was still over a cup of sour cherries left over.  What does one do with extra cherries?

I consulted the Outstanding in the Field cookbook that I recently received as a gift from my friend, Starr, author of the Rainy Day Ranch blog.  They had a recipe for grilled squab with sweet and sour cherries.  Perfect.

Except the only way I could think of finding squab would be to head over to City Park with a shotgun -- a flawed method sure to get me arrested.  Unwilling to drive to Whole Foods to buy frozen quail or cornish game hens, I opted for a small chicken from Wheat Ridge Poultry, the people who supplied me with the 27 lb bird for Canadian Thanksgiving last year.

A marinade of olive oil, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and wine covered pieces of chicken while the cherries simmered in kirsch, champagne vinegar, and sugar.  Peppery watercress tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper.  Chicken grilled.  Plates composed.  Amber lagers poured around the table.  Dinner is served.  Simplicity is bliss.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Finger food: miniature caprese salad

None of the big tomatoes have yet ripened on the vine, but that doesn't mean we can't have a caprese salad.  Red and yellow cherry tomatoes pair nicely with ciliegine (which frankly is a little easier for me to make than some of the other forms of mozzarella because of my small hands), and look lovely with the petite leaves of spicy globe basil.  Finish with extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, cracked pepper, and Turkish black pyramid salt.  Makes for great finger food while you wait for the grill to heat up on a rainy day.

As American as cherry cobbler

Ku asked us to dogsit for 3 weeks.  Not a problem -- Max and Maya collectively weigh as much as our little Margo Frances, so it would be (in theory) like having 4 dogs in the house, not 5.
Not so.  Maya, the heavy-breathing pug, appears not to know her name, especially not in combination with commands like "sit" and "come" or "no."  And, despite her labored breathing, she is really active and quick on her feet.  She is constantly in motion.  Max, sweet and responsive to commands as he is, is really intent on lifting his leg on our raised vegetable garden.  We've had more than 5 dogs in the house before, but never did it seem like this much activity.  Ku didn't warn me that her pups were so unruly.

I could be mad at her, except that (a) the unruly pups are so darn cute(!) and (b) she brought 3 lbs of sour cherries that she'd picked from the tree outside of her townhome,  HOA rules be damned.  Ku picked these tart and juicy cherries from communal property, at the risk of being glared at by snooping neighbors and, perhaps, a stern warning from the president of the HOA.  It was a bold act that brought to mind an old American story, that young George Washington, chopping down a cherry tree.  How very American was this gift of illicit sour cherries on the eve of this great nation's birthday!
Three pounds of little sour cherries are a lot of work to de-stone, especially when one does not possess a stoner.  It's well worth the money, but it was late and I was not in the mood to run to the store.  So I let the dogs out into the garden, with hopes that Mr. Rose's watchful eye would ensure that my kale would not get peed on, and set myself to work pitting cherries.  I used this Epicurious recipe roughly, though I had a 10" cast iron skillet so I had to increase my quantities a bit, and I used a convection oven, so baking times were decreased.

5-6 cups sour cherries, picked over, rinsed, and drained well
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

Remove pits from the cherries and reserving the cherries and any juices in a large bowl.  Stir the cornstarch, 1 cup of the sugar, the lemon juice, and almond extract into the cherries.  In a small bowl stir together the flour, the baking powder, the salt, the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, and the butter, blend the mixture until it resembles coarse meal, and stir in 1/3 cup boiling water, stirring until the batter is just combined. In a 10" cast iron skillet or flameproof baking dish bring the cherry mixture to a boil, drop the batter by heaping tablespoons onto it, and bake the cobbler in the middle of a preheated 350°F convection oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is golden.
The recipe calls for a peach and brown sugar ice cream pairing.  I will, instead, chop some peaches up into a thick Greek yogurt sweetened with honey, and throw that into my ice cream maker for a peach and honey frozen yogurt.  It may be no less fattening, but it feels like a more refreshing dessert on a hot day.  All together, it'll be a mouth-watering, tangy dessert, crisp and toasty on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside, and topped with a smooth and soft peachy yogurt.  YUM!

I love the weight a cobbler in a cast iron skillet.  It has gravity.  It makes me feel like I am doing something serious.  And it has a rustic, old-timey feel to it, as if I were making a cobbler for Mr. Washington himself.  So there it is, my patriotic American dessert for a July 4th celebration on my 10th year in the country.  No, it's not apple pie.  But not half bad for an immigrant in a country full of immigrants.